With this movie, Marvel have possibly taken their biggest risk to date, as far as the cinematic arm of the company is concerned, at least. Taking a director like Jon Favreau, who’s biggest hit to date was Christmas comedy Elf, and putting him in the big chair on this reportedly $185 million epic was a risk. Turning down the bankable likes of Tom Cruise and Nicholas Cage to play the lead in favour of possible loose cannon Robert Downey Jnr was a risk. And making this movie, with this character, who’s fan base pales in comparison to the likes of Batman or Spiderman, and financing it entirely on their own, was a very big risk. But, thankfully, it would seem that it has all paid off.
Paying homage (but never blatantly ripping off) the likes of RoboCop, the original Superman, some of the darker Bond movies, Batman Begins and even some Clear And Present Danger, this film is quite possibly the first bonafide great Superhero Movie that doesn’t feel like its just a set up to a bigger and hopefully better sequel.
From the beginning, you can tell Downey is perfect for this role. When Christian Bale plays his scenes in Batman Begins in the hotel lobby, acting drunk and supposedly having fun with two women, it doesn’t feel natural. Whereas Downey’s Tony Stark plays the extremely intelligent, extremely rich tycoon with both dramatic gravitas and comedic perfection. While the script, from the writers of Children Of Men, is pretty fantastic, appearantly Favreau preferred the actors to ad lib as much as they could whenever possible, so its difficult to tell if Downey is just reading his lines to perfection or allowing what must be his natural smirky charm to shine through into the character.
And the film doesn’t waste any time in the set up. We’ve got 2 hours to get the character of both Stark and Iron Man created and confirmed, and within the first 5 minutes we’ve got our first couple of explosions, with Stark held hostage in an Afghani prison camp, and a small piece of metal in his chest kept from piercing his heart by an electro-magnet. What he goes thru over the following 3 months (which whisk by in about 10 minutes) changes his once selfish persona into a new-found do-gooder, who decides to the shut down the weapons division of Stark Industries. From this point, Stark tries to perfect the weaponized body armour that he used to escape the prison camp, and use it to help those in need of protecting from the weapons that he once helped to create.
So thats basically your lot. But during all of this, there are many characters interested in Stark’s new character arc. His assistant Pepper Potts, played by a never cuter or less annoying Gwyneth Paltrow, is the Moneypenny to his Bond, with a constant will-they-won’t-they simmering under all of their conversations, particularly during the scene where she finds her arm wrist deep in the whole in his chest. And she is never reduced to Mary Jane levels of Damsel-In-Distress, indeed many times it is her saving Stark’s behind. Terence Howard plays Jim Rhodes, his best friend and army commander contact, and this character for the most part is comic relief, with several of his scenes cutting from “I’m not doing this” to the next shot of him doing exactly what he said he wouldn’t do; getting drunk, lying to the press, etc. And Jeff Bridges really looks like he’s having a blast playing Obadiah Stane, Stark’s right hand man in Stark Industries, and eventually the Iron Monger, this movie’s main villian. While the motives behind his actions are never entirely clear, Bridges imbues the character with a total sense of foreboding menace.
So far, so perfect. But this isn’t entirely the case. While doing his best in grounding the whole experience in the real world and the here and now, alot of the technology is seems far to futuristic for the modern day, while some of the action sequences strain credulity, especially one which has Stark fall several hundred feet out of the sky and somehow survive with barely a scratch on him.
But these are somewhat minor niggles when compared to some of the action sequences, particularly the final robot monster mash on the streets of L.A., and the entire film is laced with top-notch CGI and model work.
And fans of the comic books will be squirming in delight at the inclusion of some SHIELD characters (but not Sam Jackson as Nick Fury, in case you were wondering), hints at the The Mandarin and War Machine as well as some other future characters.
So, overall, the summer has started here, and with the blockbusters of the year so far being pretty lame (Jumper, 10,000 BC), we finally have our first enjoyable popcorn experience of 2008. Lets hope some of the other comic book heroes, like Bruce’s Banner and Wayne, will up their game accordingly.
Eight Out Of Ten