But why quibble? No matter what you call this movie, Iron Man rocked.
(The following review is all qualitative, and does NOT contain any spoilers.)
First of all, I’ll say it, even though you’ve already heard it from a thousand other people. This movie is what it is because of the performance put in by leading man Robert Downey Jr. Which was only possible because of director Jon Favreau‘s good sense to not only cast RDJ in this role, but then to get out of his way. As I heard Favreau express in an interview yesterday, this philosophy is at the core of his movie making style, and it served him well both with Vince Vaughn in Swingers and Will Ferrell in Elf. Like a good coach, you need to build a team with strong players, point them in the right direction, then let them do what they do best.
Rewinding a bit, I should point out that going into this movie, I wasn’t really a die hard Iron Man fan. In fact, my list of favorite core characters from the Marvel Universe probably goes something like this: Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Avengers, Iron Man, Daredevil, Thor, and whoever else. I’ve acquired a better appreciation for the character over the past couple of years, thanks in part to the “Civil War” story line. But I can probably count the number of actual “Iron Man” comics I’ve bought over the years on one hand.
So Friday, I went into the theater thinking that Sam Raimi’s first and second Spider-Man movies are about as good as you can get, knowing that I’d probably like this latest superhero flick simply because I’ve enjoyed Favreau’s and RDJ’s previous work, and because I have a high tolerance for comic book movies. Instead, I walked out of the theater an Iron Man fan. I’m still not sure if I liked this movie better than the Spider-Man flicks — and really, I’m not going to make myself decide — but I certainly liked it just as much, and suspect that as with Spider-Man, I’ll probably like the inevitable sequel even better.
Critical to the appeal of the Tony Stark character in this movie for me wasn’t his playboy persona — which certainly yields plenty of laughs — but rather the more reclusive Howard Hughes aspect. As portrayed here, Stark is a genius who mostly lives inside his head, and only comes out now and then to play with others. He easily has enough money to be surrounded at all times in his workshop by well-educated assistants who could do all his dirty work for him, but instead, he surrounds himself with a “staff” of robotic arms on wheels that (mostly) do exactly what he tells them to do. The world perceives him to be a weapons manufacturer, but as portrayed by RDJ in the many workshop scenes, we see an eccentric artist whose clay happens to be electronics and alloys, and it’s an exciting process to watch.
Equally critical is the convincing evolution of Tony Stark from douchebag to superhero in the span of just two hours. Favreau sticks very close to the traditional origin story for Iron Man, so anybody even vaguely familiar with the character knows exactly WHAT is going to happen. “Shallow wealthy industrialist gets captured, builds a suit of armor to escape, uses that armor to become a superhero. The end.” But it’s one thing to start with that premise and another thing entirely to sell it as it’s happening, and to make the audience care even though they already know where the story’s going. And this movie sells it, thanks both to RDJ’s range as an actor and Favreau’s uncanny knack for knowing which scenes should be funny, which should be sad, which should make your heart race, and which order those scenes should be in. It might sound like this is Film Making 101 … but we’ve all seen enough crappy superhero movies at this point to know — it’s not as easy as it sounds.
As for the special effects, do I even need to tell you? Presumably, you’ve seen either the trailers or the cell phone commercials (and don’t get me started on the Burger King tie-in), and as good as those look, the movie itself looks ten times better. Favreau went right to the kings, LucasFilm’s Industrial Light & Magic, the pros behind last summer’s big hit, Transformers. The result is that there really are no “special effects” in this movie — just one scene after another of amazing things that look and sound real. To some extent, it’s probably easier to create this illusion for a hero like Iron Man, who is inherently artificial, than it is for a spandex-wearing hero like Spider-Man who, if you don’t get it just right, can come off looking a bit rubbery. Regardless, the effects here were spot-on.
Have I gushed enough yet? Seriously, go see Iron Man. Even Gwyneth Paltrow is good in it! And Jeff Bridges’ performance as Obadiah Stane is the cherry on top. And if you’re a comics fan at all, be sure to stay through the credits — there’s a cool little treat at the end there. And if you don’t understand why it’s cool, just come back and ask, and I’ll tell you.