Saturday, May 17, 2008

Movie Review: "Iron Man"

I raved about this movie right when I saw it, and I haven't changed my mind as I post a full-length movie review! (This review is especially for the Cinema-Mad Sibling. Thanks for taking me to see the movie.)

I hope you’re thirsty, movie fans. “Iron Man” is a huge fresh keg of adrenaline, testosterone, and sheer summer blockbuster movie fun in all its vivid, bombastic glory. More to the point, Robert Downey, Jr. taps this keg with a sledge hammer, wielded with a grin and a wink. Drink up! CHEERS! *Cue here too the excellent soundtrack, thumping and rocking with everything from AC/DC to Black Sabbath. I actually have “Driving With The Top Down” playing as I type.*

Currently the #1 movie in the country, it is quite possibly the best movie of this summer. All subsequent summer flicks have a tough act to follow. If you have been disappointed by the movies so far this year, and if you were disappointed with last summer’s sequel-filled and mostly lackluster movie season, “Iron Man” is a reason to celebrate with loud raucous abandon. And add this note for the bean-counters: You can celebrate too, guys: since its May 2 release, “Iron Man” has been an absolute money magnet, already pulling in nearly $200 million in the US alone as moviegoers flock to the theaters. Of that, about $25 is from the Sibling and me, and we are assuredly going to add more, since we’re determined both to see it again AND bring friends to the party AND get the DVD.

The star of the show (in all manner of ways) is the extraordinary Robert Downey, Jr. in the lead role of Tony Stark, the technological genius, colorful and fast-living playboy, and billionaire weapons tycoon who becomes the titular hero, Iron Man. Frankly, I had my doubts about Downey’s ability to pull off this role. All I could associate with him were rather misty roles as Charlie Chaplin in 1992’s “Chaplin” and as a 17th-century noble in the arty period film “Restoration” (1995). Add to all this the long parade of degrading tabloid fodder of Downey’s real-life personal struggles with drugs, self-destructive behavior, and time in jail, and I wasn’t convinced this apparently washed-up, battered soul of 43 years had recovered to be superhero material. I have never been so happy to be so wrong about a casting decision.

My kudos to the fine folks who cast Downey. “Iron Man” not only relaunches his career; it hurls that career straight into the stratosphere. He is absolutely perfect for the role, and his performance alone is worth the price of admission. The man can ACT, and he portrays Stark with a mix of witty intelligence, sheer guts, swaggering bravado, frothy insouciance, sardonic humor, towering confidence, and even glimpses of vulnerability that makes Stark a human as well as a hero. You can’t help but cheer for him and forgive his shortcomings and peccadilloes (of which he has plenty). The danger in playing Stark is that an actor may make the character too glib, too slick, too offensively self-centered, too much of an arrogant jerk. Downey made him both real with flaws yet believably super-heroic as a lovable rogue. Iron Man is the awesome butt-kicking robot suit; Stark is the human being within. (Hm, there’s probably a metaphor in that somewhere about technology and humanity, but I’m not on campus and refuse to think deeply!)

(And a note. This is girl talk, so if you guys don’t care to read, you can skip to the next paragraph. I can’t help myself; I have to say it. I am vastly relieved and delighted that the lead in this film is an unapologetic grown man. FINALLY, a grown man – an adult who has some depth and substance to him! Really. Downey, Jr. is not like the endless hordes of effete young pretty-boys who swarm over the cinema screens like a plague of plastic Ken dolls run amok. Thank goodness Orlando Bloom isn’t anywhere near this movie! I don’t care if pretty boys are fashionable. I don’t want one. Be honest, girls: Aren’t you even a little tired of watching sniveling twentysomething-year-old boys preen, pose, and prance around? If I compare them all to cotton candy, pretty but inconsequential and ultimately empty, then Downey, Jr., older, in the prime of life, and bursting with a raw and slightly dangerous energy, was like a gorgeous steak kissed by the open flame. Save room for dessert, though – that’ll probably be Christian Bale as Batman in the upcoming “The Dark Knight,” but I’m getting ahead of myself here.)

A quick plot summary is in order. “Iron Man” is based on the comic book hero of the same name. Don’t worry if you know nothing about the comic books (I didn’t either); the film unfolds its story and leaves nobody behind. Stark, while in Afghanistan to demonstrate a new weapons system to the U.S. military, is wounded in a bomb blast and captured by cave-dwelling Afghan terrorists. (By the way, was I the only person surprised that this film dares to do what most films now won’t do – and depict terrorists as actual bad guys?) His captors demand that he build a weapon for them; he agrees, but while constructing a device to keep shrapnel from entering his heart and killing him, he also builds a crude but effective robotic suit for himself. In fine fashion he administers a gigantic butt-kicking to his tormentors and escapes into the desert, eventually to be rescued by the US military. Along the way, he makes the grim discovery that somehow stockpiles of Stark-manufactured weapons are in the possession of the bad guys. Once back in the States, he builds a second, more advanced flying robotic suit (a process that includes several amusing complications along the way), and turns himself into a weapon. More on this in a minute.

Aside from Downey, Jr., the supporting cast is also solid. Gwyneth Paltrow, returning to the movies after some time off being a mom, is cute and effective as Stark’s assistant Pepper Potts. Terrence Howard has a lovely turn as Stark’s faithful (and often exasperated) friend, Lt. Col. James Rhodes. He also has a few of the best lines in the film, delivered with a lightly humorous touch.

I’ve mostly raved about the film so far. Does it have flaws? Well, all films do. “Iron Man” has a few little things that I can point out, though these are all minor things.

One: The first hour of the movie is nearly perfect (one of its many memorable lines is simply “My turn.” If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. My fellow moviegoers were yelling their delight at this one!). The second half comes up a bit short in comparison, but only in places. My problem isn’t really about the actual plot as much as it’s about character motivation. After escaping from his Afghan captivity and returning to the US, Stark calls a press conference and announces that he will no longer manufacture weapons. He’s horrified to find that some of his armaments have ended up in the hands of America’s enemies, and he now decides that the way to stop this continuing is to stop making weapons at all. Well, OK. That’s one approach. It’s also the wrong one. Seriously, what’s to stop the bad guys from getting weapons from some place else? Meanwhile, you’ve deprived the good guys (i.e, us) of advanced weapons. How’s disarmament supposed to defend us? What you ought to do is figure out how the weapons are leaking to the enemy and stop that. And as things turn out, Stark -- and we -- eventually discover that Stark’s own corporate partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges, who doesn’t quite give enough of a villain performance) is behind these dirty dealings . . . and also determined to get rid of Stark. Cue the nemesis and the ultimate smackdown. (Anyway, on this point Stark was better in his pre-captivity days when he was boldly in favor of peace through strength. Libertas has a few related thoughts as well, so I’ll link to his comments and spare you more of my babbling.)

Two: (Spoiler Alert, so skip this paragraph if you won’t want to hear some details about the final action sequence.) In the final climactic showdown between Iron Man and Stane (all kitted out now in his own robotic suit), I didn’t like the fact that the resolution came with Pepper Potts pushing a button. I mean, REALLY. We see two huge metal hulks engaged in scene-ripping mortal combat, and then the end comes with a mere BUTTON? OK, so it was a button pressed by Pepper’s immaculately manicured finger, but still! It was such an anticlimax. I wanted to see Iron Man personally turning his foe into scrap metal.

Three: There is no way that Gwyneth Paltrow can run for her life while wearing those cute ankle-strap high heels she had on. She’d either break a heel or twist her ankle. It’s just that simple. OK, OK, this third complaint is a joke – well, mostly. YOU try running in these heels, pal.

In the end, what about “Iron Man”? This is not a subtle movie. This is not an understated movie. It is not a movie that concerns itself with morally ambiguous nuances, existential questions, social issues, or political hand-wringing. There is a time and place for all that, but this is neither the time nor the place. This is summer! “Iron Man” is about unabashedly enjoying the movies at last after a wearyingly long stretch of cinema gloom and doom – and it’s about embracing the essence of the summer blockbuster. Look, sometimes I just want to turn off my brain and watch a cool guy put on an awesome robot-suit, make wisecracks, blow stuff up, and save the day. Is that really too much to ask for? It’s all-American action fun, and “Iron Man” delivers like Fed Ex. Pass the popcorn!

“Iron Man” runs for 126 minutes and is rated PG-13 for action sequences, a very brief love scene, and some suggestive language.

Mad Minerva gives this movie a grade of A for sheer fun and summer movie eye-candy.

Yes, an A! MM almost never gives As, so pay attention when she does! (Admittedly, this happened after an intense cellphone argument with the Cinema-Mad Sibling, who argued passionately on behalf of the film . . . and I was so happy to be done with school and so relieved to get a decent movie at last that I was feeling extra generous! Apparently I’m not the only one, because . . .)

RottenTomatoes gives “Iron Man” the astonishingly high rating of 93% (!)

This is the official website for the film.

PS: A Nerd Note: In one scene, Stark and a hostile reporter carry on a conversation that calls out two elite universities by name and slams them for their famous leftist tendencies – a scene that absolutely made me laugh out loud.

What are you still doing here? Get out there and go see “Iron Man”! (And be sure not to leave until ALL the credits are over. There is a cool little surprise at the end of the credits.)

UPDATE: Follow-up comments and a second look here.


Anonymous said...

Saw this Saturday and I agree - can't wait to see a sequel, though with more innovative technical wizardry and not just a bigger suit.

Downey was great and I loved Pepper Potts - a real sparky old-time heroine like Lois Lane.

"have ended up in the hands of America’s enemies, and he now decides that the way to stop this continuing is to stop making weapons at all."

well, the suit was a weapon, wasn't it? I didn;'t quite get that point, I thought he decided to not make weapons which could just be shipped to the bad guys, but stuff which protects US soldiers he might go for. Just my take.

Besides, that minature reactor was pretty cool tech and apt to lead to a lot of great technologies both civilian AND military, possibly even medical.

Think of that baby powering a car, Maddie! No more stupid corn ethanol, no more gas pumps, just seal off the Middle East and watch the mullahs starve as nobody wants their frigging oil anymore. That's what something like that could mean - my kinda 'peace'.

Mad Minerva said...

"Besides, that minature reactor was pretty cool tech and apt to lead to a lot of great technologies both civilian AND military, possibly even medical.

Think of that baby powering a car, Maddie! No more stupid corn ethanol, no more gas pumps, just seal off the Middle East and watch the mullahs starve as nobody wants their frigging oil anymore. That's what something like that could mean - my kinda 'peace'."

Now THAT I like! A LOT. That would be something fabulous...and the tiny arc reactor would be the perfect MacGuffin, too.

And I don't think Stark ends up ever really becoming a pacifist peacenik. That suit -- and that was an awesome suit -- is a gigantic weapon, as you said.