CLASSICS: Iron Man (2008) ****
April 28, 2010
Our CLASSICS series of reviews sheds a light on what we consider to be classic films, whether in recent or distant past….
(originally written on May 6, 2008)
written by: Mark Fergus, Matt Holloway & Hawk Ostby
produced by: Avi Arad & Kevin Feigue
directed by: Jon Favreau
rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content.
runtime: 2 hrs. 6 min.
U.S release date: May 2, 2008
DVD & Blu-ray release date: October 27, 2008
When it was first announced that Robert Downey Jr. was cast as billionaire/inventor/playboy Tony Stark for the big screen adaptation of Marvel Comics Iron Man all I could think of was….genius. I was already excited to see what actor/director Jon Favreau would do with the comic book icon. After all, he has over forty years of material at his disposal. Then once the rest of the cast had been locked, my confidence in this film was reassured. With Favreau being a fan and four award-winning actors locked in, the possibility of this movie getting it right on all levels was strong. And that’s exactly what happened! Believe the hype cuz there is now a comic book movie that delivers and exceeds all expectations. Before I get into why the movie is worthy of repeated viewings, let’s get familiar with the world of Tony Stark….
Stark Industries is a global manufacturing corporation that sees most of it’s revenue come from their creation of various weapons. Tony’s father, Howard Stark, built the empire with partner and friend Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) and once Howard died, Tony took over at age 21 with Stane as his mentor. Graduating at the top of his MIT class at age 15, Tony doesn’t claim his inheritance ignorantly although his cavalier lifestyle might show otherwise. He’d rather zip around in one of his sports cars or hit the casino with some hotties than bother with accepting an award from his best friend and military liaison Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terence Howard). But then again being a friend of Tony’s means you expect such behavior. It would take something life-changing for Tony to see not only who he is but what he’s responsible for.
That something takes place in Afghanistan where Tony makes a business appearance demonstrating his new cluster bomb, the Jericho. The trip turns out to be quite literally a bust when Tony’s military Humvee entourage is attacked by an insurgent terrorist group known as The Ten Rings. They throw their injured captive in a cave with another captive, Dr. Yinsen (Shaun Toub) a scientist who winds up saving Tony’s life by installing an electromagnetic device in his chest, keeping deadly shrapnel away from his heart. It is here in the cave that we see who Tony Stark is. Stripped away from all the conveniences that he’s used to having at his disposal, he is faced with something he often does not think of….mortality.
The terrorist leader, Raza (Faran Tahir) demands that Tony build a Jericho bomb for them “or else” but the tables are turned. Out of the scrap they give him for materials (much of which are from Stark Industries) Tony and Yinsen builds a small arc reactor, basically a longer-lasting replacement to the device on his chest as well as crude but formidable full body armor. Soon an armored Tony escapes, barreling his way through the terrorist camp, flinging soldiers, destroying their weapons and spraying flame every which way before he is able to launch himself in the air and out of harm’s way. When he’s picked up by Rhodes and military crew, we know that things have changed for Tony Stark, although he still wants an American cheeseburger upon arriving on U.S. soil.
A press conference is held where Tony surprises everyone by announcing that effective immediately the weapons division of Stark Industries will close down. Not only does this shows a different side of Tony to the public but also infuriates Stane who was just fine when Tony took no actual role of his company’s business dealings. He’s not the only one effected by Tony’s new social awareness though. His taken-for-granted Girl Friday Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is shocked by his new seclusion from Tony’s usual party self. Potts is the one who has endured the most from Tony, handling pretty much everything (like memorizing his social security number) and everyone (like escorting that blonde cutie the Morning After) for him. She has to deal with the mysterious Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) who follows her around with several questions regarding the events that took place upon Tony’s escape. During his seclusion, we see Tony tinkering away in his workshop/lab with his A.I. servant, Jarvis (voiced by the uncredited Paul Bettany) on a new, souped up and sleeker suit of armor. Well, you just know these scenes are coming and they are some of the best scenes.
While Tony builds a more powerful and reliable arc that can power both his heart and his suit he also learns that what misdeeds his company has made. Turns out Stane was supplying arms not just with the U.S. but also with terrorists, specifically the ones who kidnapped Stark. Hmmmm. After several test runs, an incensed Tony suits up and blows through the atmosphere in a super-sonic red and gold blur! As much as I thoroughly enjoyed all the character-building moments of the film (something rare in a comic book adaptation) these are truly the “geek out” moments that every fanboy and girl have been anticipating! It’s an exhilarating payoff!
That’s right, seeing Iron Man soar to Afghanistan to save Dr. Yinsen’s village from The Ten Rings is the awesome cinematic action that this comic book geek desired! He gets shot outta the air by a tank and then deals with it accordingly. The coolest thing is that Tony is still getting used to the armor but he’s willing to risk his life in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Here’s a guy who just wants to atone for his mistakes and he has the power to do so. He’s not thinking of any U.N. rules nor is he thinking how Rhodey will have to cover for him somehow when his body appears as an unidentified blip on the USAF screens. It’s just another thing that Tony doesn’t have time for but such behavior requires he include Potts and Rhodes, the only two people he trusts.
Since Tony hasn’t functioned without Pepper Potts and has come to heavily rely on her, he has to involve her. She knows about the suit, about the flying and really doesn’t know quite what to think of all of it. She does know though that he’s putting himself in harm’s way and makes it clear she wants no part of it. Tony sees this and knows she deserves an explanation. His witty wise-cracks she continuously suffers won’t suffice. She’s capable and knows she can help him, it just might take persuading her to believe in herself. Tony also knows there’s no way he can’t include Rhodes seeing as how he’s monitoring the skies with the military. Once this two are with him, Tony is free to suit up once again and tackle the man he at one time called mentor.
Yes, it becomes clear throughout the film that Stane is up to no good and he is the requisite villain which requires a climactic standoff.
At times it might become a bit too obvious that Stane is the villain and really that’s my only qualm of the film. I’m guessing it’s just the way the character is written rather than Bridges handle of Stane. It took me a second to believe that Stane would don his own armor but then again I suppose all weapons dealers have a propensity to play with their toys. What I liked most about the final battle that starts at Stark Industries and then spills into public streets is that it was kinda clumsy which is kinda expected. After all, we have two guys who are still new at wearing these armored suits. At one point, Iron Man gets run over by a family in an SUV after he saves them. It’s funny but at the same time you think “yeah, that would happen”.
Throughout the film, we know what’s going to happen, it’s a pretty straightforward origin story with very obvious bad guys. Admittedly, I’ve kinda grown tired of origin stories (except “Batman Begins”) but here I see the need for it. This isn’t mindless exposition, there is an actual reinvention of character here with Tony Stark. It’s a definitive role for Downey Jr., who not only fits perfectly nails the casual apathy of a billionaire playboy weapons dealer but also nails the naive way the guy doesn’t fully understand that it’s not just the good guys that play with his toys. He brings a needed depth to an unlikable character that you can’t help but be won over by. So, while there may not be a surprising twists and turns for a change there is actual character development in a comic book movie.
I was surprised by what I enjoyed and appreciated most about this film. The whiz-bang action was fun of course (that’s a given) yet it’s the characters that really stand out here. It was actually refreshing to see actors play their age and provide characters that have some life in them. In her mid-thirties, Paltrow is the youngest and while she may be an actor I usually don’t care for, she shines here giving a lively performance that keeps in step with Downey’s snappy charisma to form a Dave & Maddy chemistry. Not much more can be said about Downey, this is his film. I now have no choice but to hear his voice the next time I read an Iron Man comic. It will be said that the always enjoyable Terrence Howard isn’t given much here and while I liked what I saw from him here, I know there’s much more for him in the sequels. That’s right, the core cast has signed on for at least three more films!
Favreau has made a funny film without being dumbed-down or heavy-handed with dazzling action sequences that actually enhance the story rather than distract us from the lack thereof. He gives the fans what they want while delivering an intelligent and fun summer blockbuster to everyone else. There are plenty of in-jokes and hints for the fanboys, especially after the credits. So, sit in your seat! Setting the tone for the rest of the summer, this is the film to beat right now…at least till Memorial Day weekend when a certain man with a hat and whip will be back!