Kevin's Review: Iron Man - Raising The Bar, Big Time
by Kevin Powers
May 2, 2008
Robert Downey Jr. is definitely a wily character who has managed to leverage his frenetic genius all over Hollywood throughout recent memory (albeit in fits and starts) - a guy well-known for getting high and arrested back when such behavior was truly self-destructive as opposed to self-aggrandizing. Over the past few years, Downey has slowly molded a stronger (and more sober) foundation for himself in Hollywood, through supporting roles in Zodiac and Charlie Bartlett for instance. With this solid footing in place, I doubt anyone would have expected the actor to rocket off into the mainstream consciousness again via, of all things, a comic book adaptation. But that's just what Downey has done with the help of director Jon Favreau, and the result is pure gold. Well, red and gold, actually. With Iron Man, Downey and Favreau have bested nearly every comic book-turned movie in the last decade and delivered a perfect introduction to the character, setting a bar so high that few, regardless of respective superpower, have or will ever reach.
Downey Jr. assumes the character of arms genius (and heir), playboy Tony Stark, your typical self-obsessed billionaire for whom being gratuitous and blithe are as complementary and essential as shoes and socks. Stark is blown back to reality when his humvee is attacked in Afghanistan following a demonstration of a new rocket. The attackers kidnap Stark and demand he manufacture a missile for them, pieced together from Stark's own company's munitions; they are, in fact, a customer of Stark Industries. That realization, along with his motivation to survive, finds Stark building an early-stage suit the likes of which the kid next door might piece together out of garbage cans. It's an ugly first attempt, but it gets the job done. Once back home in his Malibu mansion, Stark sets his mind on refining the suit that freed him and bettering his company and influence so that weapons no longer end up in the hands of bad guys. He's a changed billionaire all for the better. Naturally, various greedy and nefarious individuals take issue with the new Stark, resulting in much of the film's conflict. And what a great a conflict it is.
Cuddly fanboy and director, Jon Favreau, has seemingly come out of nowhere. With intimate action shots, sweeping flight sequences, and CGI like no other, Favreau has put together a career-worthy reel that will certainly set his schedule for years to come. Let's at least hope so. For a minute, even, his taste of score and heroic shot seemed reminiscent of Michael Bay. (The action-sequencer side of Bay, that is.) The guy has a great eye and has wonderfully balanced some amazing action and eye-candy with Downey's deadpan wit.
The richness and realism of Iron Man's Mach III suit and stunning flight sequences are rivaled only by Downey's full embodiment of the Tony Stark character. It seemed an likely exaggeration when comic book writer Matt Fraction told GQ that Downey's casting was "absolutely perfect." But he's right. And though Iron Man is not a dramatic or particularly deep tale, Downey still finds a way to imbue the comic hero with such a spectrum of emotions (e.g. cockiness, insecurity, addiction, caring, heroism, etc) that should surely make the character's originators smile.
Of course, films of this ilk all have their standard plot holes and Iron Man is no exception. For instance, how is Stark able to fly from Malibu to Afghanistan in what seems like 15 minutes? Or how is he able to develop a self-sufficient energy source in the setting of a cave? How exactly does he have such intuitive and kindly robots? The questions are numerous, sure. But in the light of such deafening coolness, the inner inquisitor is easily drowned out. And after all, this is the Marvel universe, so you really just have come to accept such leaps of faith.
The only other adaptation in recent memory that rivals Iron Man is the dark and brooding Batman Begins released in 2005. However, the two films' similarities pretty much end at being based in sequential-art paperbacks. Batman is far more moody and dramatic compared to Iron Man's flashy, fun and humorous disposition. And that is in large part what sets Iron Man so far apart from anything we've seen in the world of big-screen comics; and, really, anything we might see in the future.
The upcoming Wolverine and Incredible Hulk flicks both promise to explore the rage and wrangling of the title characters. So what a treat it is, then, that Downey and Favreau give us a story that is stuffed with garish gadgetry, deft comedy and some good ol' high-tech ass-kicking. To call this movie a fun ride would be like calling Tony Stark's ice-silver Audi R8 a grocery-getter. Iron Man, simply, is so much more than it promises to be and crushes nearly every other comic adaptation in recent years, putting many to shame and leaving future ones in question.