Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Iron-Man: A Review


Metal To the Max...

Little known fact: Ayn Rand loved the Iron Man comics and read them voraciously. She read and re-read them while writing Atlas Shrugged, and even based the central character of John Galt on Tony Stark. At her death, it was discovered that Rand owned a complete collection of Iron Man issues, which were later auctioned off to fund an Objectivist Studies Institute in London.

Actually, I made all that up: I have no way of knowing if Rand had ever even HEARD of Iron Man, let alone read them (I doubt it). However, while watching Iron Man, I couldn't help but think that the Objectivist guru would have fallen in love with Tony Stark: a billionaire industrialist who is unapologetic about making billions and who uses his intelligence to expand his fortune and that of his company as opposed to such foolishness as "charity". The fact that he's a weapons manufacturer would have been icing on the cake. Stark would be her Ideal Man, someone who is completely aware of the "virtue of selfishness".

Iron Man, as envisioned by writers Mark Furgus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway and director Jon Favreau (who also has a small role as Stark's driver Hogan), is a true comic book film: it entertains while also dealing with current issues. Few films in general would begin or even tackle the Afghanistan campaign, let alone have the Americans as the good guys, which is where Iron Man begins.

We have one Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), brash, extremely self-confident, cocky. After an ambush, Stark is captured by a Taliban-like group that demands he build for them the same weapon he is trying to sell to the American forces.

We get a quick backstory in the form of an awards presentation, where Stark's friend Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Terrence Howard) is going to give him an award but Stark is not there, so Stark's right-hand man Obidiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) accepts. We later see Stark is busy playing the casinos, too interested in the tables and a beautiful reporter inquiring about his business dealings to care. Stark is a total narcissist and charmer, whom every woman dreams of. Every woman except his loyal aide, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who basically runs his life.

Back to the present, where the attack caused Stark serious injury, especially shrapnel near his heart, and he's being kept alive for one purpose: build that weapon for the jihadists. Back at the cave, Stark, along with fellow hostage Yinsen (Shaun Tomb), start working on what appears to the jihadist to be their longed-for super-weapon. Little do they know...

Once Stark escapes, he reevaluates what his weapons are doing and wonders how the jihadists are getting HIS weapons. He ponders about the machine he built to escape the group, and ponders some more about the device he created to keep him alive. With all his thoughts, aided by the supercomputer Jarvis (voiced by Paul Bettany), he creates a new kind of machine: Iron Man. Of course, the jihadists also want their version of this machine, and there's one person deep inside Stark Industries willing to sell it to them, just like HE'S sold them other weapons, and just like HE'S hired them to kill Stark so as to allow him to succeed him (one guess as to who this villain is).

This is the plus of Iron Man: it takes the time to introduce the world to people who have no knowledge of the comic books. The performances are all-around excellent. Downey, Jr. has this swagger and brashness to Stark, a rapid-fire wit who throws off lines with great aplomb. When asked to comment about being compared to Leonardo DaVinci, he says that's not accurate. "I don't paint," he adds. When asked about a second nickname, The Merchant of Death, Stark pauses, then states that he likes that one. It is one thing to be this excessively arrogant character, but Downey, Jr. also manages to create great empathy in his Stark.

In the scene where he cannot rescue someone who has been helping him he shows a genuine hurt and loss, a rare moment for Stark. Paltrow shows her Potts to be a smart woman, though sometimes lacking in confidence of her own abilities. Bridges veers dangerously close to chewing the scenery as Stane, but it still manages to stay within the lines of the adequate menace without fully going over the top. Perhaps the weakest performance was Howard's, who had no real range between being irritated at Stark's antics and being stiff at his duties. Given that Howard is a good actor, his almost total lack of emotion is surprising.

In a film like Iron Man, it would be tempting to dismiss the story or script. However, it was witty and smart, and the four writers did a good job of making the story believable and entertaining (side note: I wonder if having four writers was a case of too many cooks). An action film requires that the action scenes be vital in the success of the project. They were done well, without the effects overwhelming the scenes and drawing attention to themselves.

They did what few action/comic book films do nowadays: serve the plot instead of drowning out everything for the sake of being there. The concluding fight between Iron Man and what I call Megabot was exciting and was moreover, relevant to the plot. The battle between Iron Man and the jihadists where the final version of the Iron Man suit makes its debut is also exciting and moreover, relevant to the plot. My least favorite was when he fought against (through no fault of his own) the U.S. aircraft--I thought it was too long and frankly not relevant to the plot.

In fact, that is one of my complaints about Iron Man. At 126 minutes this aerial combat could have been trimmed or cut altogether without losing much. I also wonder, minus starting the film with a literal bang, did we have to hopscotch back and forth between when Stark is captured and when he's free. I know we needed a way to give exposition and get the characters rolling, but I wonder if a more linear manner could have worked as well.

Finally, my biggest complaint: being left out. Yes, Iron Man did well in introducing the characters without someone having to know every detail, but what is all this business with the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistic Division (aka S.H.I.E.L.D)? If you stay to the end of the film, past the credits (which you should if you want to see the whole thing), you get introduced to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), talking to Stark about the Avengers Initiative.

I am not a big-enough nerd (never having read comics) to understand what is going on. I can guess that Nick Fury and the Avengers has something to do with some organization of superheroes (a bit like the Justice League from the cartoon series), but I have no idea about all this. The good news is that all this is kept to a minimum.

Iron Man. Ayn Rand. They sound so similar, don't they? I know I could never finish Atlas Shrugged, and while Iron Man is a bit long as well overall it moved well, the action scenes had genuine excitement, the touches of comedy well done, and all anchored with Downey, Jr.'s rapid-fire manner with dialogue and intelligent reading of the title role. Iron Man should be enjoyed by those who know every bolt in Stark's armor, as well as those (like me) who still couldn't tell the difference between DC and Marvel. Well worth keeping an Ayn (I mean, eye) on Iron Man.

Next Marvel Cinematic Universe Film: The Incredible Hulk

1 comment:

  1. Hola, Ricky! Although, I personally would`ve given this movie an A, this was still an EXCELLENT review nevertheless! I just have a few comments.

    First of all, this was an excellent choice for Robert Downey, Jr. to play Iron Man. That is because Downey IS Tony Stark! Like Stark, he`s a hard-working, hard-drinking, brash, arrogant compulsive perfectionist dedicated to his craft. And like Tony, he also got into the business by following in his father`s footsteps. This was like his life story -- well minus the super-hero part, of course!

    Secondly, this was a better film than the sequel but not by much. I agree with you that the second movie was goood in its own rights, on its own merits. I guess in this first movie they were still "ironing" things out. But at least they didn`t let the sequel get too "rusty!" This movie was like its soundtrack -- very "Heavy Metal!"

    Just one more comment, or question, if you will. Who the Heck is Ayn Rand !?!?! I`ve NEVER heard of her before! Or maybe I have. Just how exactly do you pronounce her name?


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