Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Iron Man" movie review by Ben Kenber

Alright folks, the Summer 2008 movie season has now begun! Not only that, but it has started off with a highly entertaining bang with the long awaited release of “Iron Man” which stars Robert Downey Jr. as the egocentric weapons maker turned world protector Tony Stark. Here’s hoping the rest of this summer’s releases can keep up with this movie which has now set the bar high for the rest of the blockbusters. It makes me remember how much fun a movie like this can be, and it also makes me realize just how much “Daredevil” sucked. I thought it was okay when I first saw it a while ago. I now stand corrected.

The movie starts with Tony Stark traveling along the Afghanistan desert with a military convoy which is soon attacked by terrorists. Tony flees the hummer transporting him, and almost gets killed by one of the missiles he designed. When he comes to, he is held captive in a cave, kept alive by an electromagnet attached to his torso which keeps whatever shrapnel in his body from going into his heart. The terrorists, led by Raza (Faran Tahir) force Tony to build them one of his most destructive missiles on pain of death. Of course, the terrorists will end up killing Stark when he is finished, so he instead takes the parts they give him, and he creates a suit that is bulletproof and which allows him to escape his captors in spectacular fashion.

When he gets back home in America, he has a press conference where he says that he will turn his company from a weapons making factory into something that doesn’t promote endless destruction. Having seen what his weapons of mass destruction have done to others, he has had a change of heart and works to protect those from the weapons he has created. Having saved himself with his iron suit, he works at perfecting it into something strong and seemingly indestructible. It gives him the ability to fly, and to get back at all of those who foolishly took advantage of his destructive creations.

“Iron Man” is a tricky movie to make because it is the type of movie that is meant primarily to set up this particular superhero, and then move on to the inevitable sequels which never come soon enough. This is what typically drives me crazy with these types of movies; they are all set up, and the payoff doesn’t come until the sequel comes out. It is a credit to director Jon Favreau (“Swingers”) that the characters are as interesting as the action is exciting. Unlike some of the more recent comic book adaptations, this story feels much more grounded in reality, and it is not subject to characters that seem anything but real. Unlike Peter Parker who got way too emo for those who remember him from “Spider-Man 3,” we have a hero who is not wasting time feeling sorry for himself when he sees so clearly what he needs to do.

The real masterstroke of “Iron Man” though (and we all must have seen this coming) is the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Robert is without a doubt one of the best actors working in film today, and it is impossible to picture anyone else in this role after seeing this movie. When he first appears, he clearly acts like the man Weird Al Yankovic was talking about when he sang the song “I’m Such A Groovy Guy.” Both brilliant and sexy (and all the more aware of those facts), you would almost believe that Robert is playing himself to a certain extent. But in the end, that would be an unfair criticism. Robert makes the character’s transition from selfish egomaniac to protector seem almost seamless and never less than believable. He gets at the heart of his character and plays it out from there. Inside that cool and ever so confident exterior, there lies a man who is taking his life and company in a direction which may kill it completely. No one could play the role of Tony Stark better than Downey Jr. No one.

That brings me to another thing; Tony Stark is one of coolest comic book heroes I have seen in a long time. Most of the comic book heroes we have grown up with are emotional wrecks and understandably so. Batman saw his parents murdered in front of him, Superman only got to see his parents at that Crystal Palace and lost his human father earlier than he should have, Spiderman lost his Uncle when he was murdered, and Daredevil… I’ll just leave him out of this for now. I can’t even remember what his deal was.

But Tony isn’t necessarily waylaid by a series of emotional disasters the way all those characters were, not at the start of the movie anyway. While many of us want to spit on those who look like they had everything handed to them on a silver platter (George W. Bush), Tony more than earns his confidence, and you never doubt his abilities as a creator of things extraordinary.

Also, Tony has quite the lifestyle for himself that most guys will definitely be envious of. He has one hell of a mansion up in the hills of Malibu, California that has the most incredible view you could ever hope for. His own personal jet is equipped with a pole that comes out of the floor for his very lovely stewardesses to take advantage of. I saw this movie in a theater with some friends of mine at work in a theater we thought wouldn’t be as crowded as the others (it was though), and one of them leaned over to me and said:

“This is the only way to live!”

In retrospect, this kind of character is a relief of all those other male superheroes who turn into whiny crybabies that remind me too much of myself. You notice that the female superheroes don’t fall into this category much at all, so it does make you wonder what gender is truly the stronger one. I guess all reached a peak last summer when we had the tremendous disappointment that was “Spider-Man 3” (I guess we’re all still recovering from that one). Peter Parker’s moaning and groaning about how way too complicated his life is finally got on a lot of people’s nerves. My friend Pam, who despised this movie to no end, said it best:


Aside from Robert, the rest of the “Iron Man” cast is perfectly chosen. Jeff Bridges remains after all these years one of the most underappreciated actors working in film today. His character of Obadiah Stane, one of the main heads of Stark Industries, is slimy corporate executive whose outer exterior projects a man of kindness and trust that Stark relies. That trust is utterly betrayed when Stane files an injunction against Stark to gain control of the company, and to put it back in the direction it was going before Stark started changing his ways. Unlike Stark, Obadiah has no creativity or brilliance of mind to rely on. All Obadiah has is selfish desires, and a misplaced loyalty to Stark’s father who helped build the world’s first atomic bomb. Although he may have the makings of another villain whose sole interest (other than sex) is world domination, Stane represents those who are all too easily threatened by the winds of change. Sounds like some of our country’s leaders now, doesn’t it?

Jeff, like Robert, gives this character some dimensions you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in this character. This is not just some one-dimensional bad guy like some of the others in the film, and it is a credit to the brilliance of Jeff Bridges that he makes this all the more clear. Trust me, there is so much more to Jeff Bridges than just The Dude (not to take away from “The Big Lebowski,” which was a great movie).

Also on board for “Iron Man” duty is Gwenyth Paltrow who is a wonderful presence here as Tony’s longtime assistant, Virginia 'Pepper' Potts. Although it may seem weird for Gwenyth to playing assistant to a man, and it almost does seem like a role that is beneath her, she imbues her role with beauty, smarts, intelligence, and heart which Tony more than depends on his life for. She also shares great chemistry with Robert (what actress doesn’t?), and their relationship is key, and probably will be for the inevitable sequels. Gwenyth also has one of the movie’s best lines as she meets up with a writer from Vanity Fair that Tony made out with the night before:

“So you just spend your time taking care of everything Tony asks you to do?

“I take care of all duties that Tony asks of me to do. That includes taking out the garbage.”

We also have the great Terence Howard as Tony’s military consultant and close friend, Jim Rhodes. Jim is the one who tries to keep Tony grounded in reality, but he never really succeeds. Terence is great here, even if he is a bit underused here. Plus, this is the second movie I have seen where he plays a character constantly giving press conferences (“The Brave One” was the other one). Terence, if you’re reading this, you might want to steer clear of scenes like these for your next couple of movies. Judging from the way he looks at one of Iron Man’s suits, I think we can expect Jim Rhodes to become an even bigger player the next time around.

The movie has a lot of great action scenes where you are justified in saying, “that’s cool man!” When he fights off terrorists in a war torn country, it is an entertaining sequence where Iron Man finds creative ways to dispatch of his enemies (they’re too good to reveal here). Also, there are scenes where Robert Downey Jr. is shown testing out different parts of the suit. This can usually be seen as the boring set up part for the superhero, but there are moments that make you jump out of your seat because you end up laughing out loud. Suffice to say, there is never a boring minute to found in this movie. The ending is a little disappointing in that does quite give the movie the full climax it deserves, but that may be because the makers of the movie are more interested in the characters then they are in creating totally original action scenes (if such a thing is still possible).

“Iron Man” is a great way to kick off the summer movie season in high style, and it quickly raises the entertainment bar for the rest of the movies you can expect to see this summer. But the one guy who really makes this movie a success is Robert Downey Jr. who gives us more than the average super hero. Robert gives us one with brains, smarts, and most importantly a soul. It doesn’t matter if you have great special effects if you don’t have the story or the characters to match up with it. “Iron Man” has that, and it has the acting demigod that is Robert Downey Jr.

***1/2 out of ****

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