Monday, May 5, 2008


Review: Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr., welcome back to the land of the living. After spending most of the 90’s in a haze of coke, smack, and firearms, it’s nice to see you firmly on the wagon. After testing the waters of the 2000s with a few indie larks and a role in the enjoyable but little seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, RDJ has reemerged into the spotlight in the already blockbusting Iron Man to reclaim the title of Movie Star that he really should have held onto after his Oscar nominated turn in Chaplin (which I really must get around to renting).

Despite a title that a layman could mistake as pertaining to triatheletes or perhaps the history of Black Sabbath, Iron Man is the first silver screen adaptation of one of Marvel Comics’ lesser known superheroes with a history in the funny pages dating back to 1963. Downey plays Tony Stark, an arms dealer with enough cash and smarts to make Bruce Wayne look like a piss-poor dumbass and a taste for booze and ladies that James Bond himself would envy. A PR trip to Afghanistan results in Tony tasting the receiving end of his explosive handiwork and before you can say “poetic justice”, he’s a cave bound hostage being kept alive by an electromagnet in his chest cavity. He turns the tables on his terrorist captors by making a suit of armor that looks like the Michellin Man at a renaissance fair, and then it’s back to the states to renounce his old ways with the help of a far sleeker set of metal duds. The movie’s running time drags a smidge in the prelim, but that’s a minor gripe at best.

Iron Man soars in a figurative and literal sense on the wings of Downey’s career redefining performance that is earnest without being mopey or sappy and sarcastic without being annoying or feeling like obligatory comic relief. Along for the ride are fellow high caliber thespians Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, a next-gen Miss Moneypenny, Terrence Howard as Jim Rhoades, Tony’s steadfast military buddy who (spoiler alert) is likely due for a metallic upgrade of his own in the sequels, and Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane, a subtly megalomaniacal corporate suit who proves Bridges’ versatility by being about as 180 from The Big Lebowski’s Dude as they come.

Finally, three other parties who deserve applause for their contributions to Iron Man’s triumph are its director, its studio, and the CG jockeys who make him fly. Jon Favreau, helmer of cult classic Swingers, Christmas classic Elf and family adventure Zathura (which should have been a classic) shows off an effortless eye for character with his genius choice to let Downey improvise and a deft eye for action with set pieces that feel dramatic but not overly staged. And Marvel Studios proves the recent decision to independently produce their own features to be a rousing success and the dawning of an exciting creative unity that will stretch across multiple Marvel features for years to come, as evidenced by a dynamite cameo in a hidden post-credits scene, a Tony Stark cameo in the upcoming Incredible Hulk reboot, and an Avengers feature on the horizon that will almost assuredly dodge all the headaches and legal wranglings associated with the on again/off again Justice League feature. Also, mad props to the untouchable wizards at Industrial Light and Magic who make the Iron Man suit itself alive with a sense of weight, technological realism, and fallibility that makes you think it might be showing up at Japanese car dealerships by August.

Grade: A-

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