At The Picture Show
Strong as 'Iron'
Favreau, Downey Jr. kick off summer-movie season in dazzling style with 'Iron Man'
Director: Jon Favreau
Screenplay: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow,
Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Leslie Bibb and Clark Gregg
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 6 minutes
Opens May 2, 2008
(out of four)
Two bad movies came to mind while watching Iron Man - and I mean that in the
most complimentary way possible. The two movies are Fantastic Four and
Transformers, and while they covered similar ground as Iron Man, and came
before Iron Man, Iron Man is the perfect argument against both. It is the movie
that reinforces that both of those movies sucked, and that Tim Story and Michael
Bay both suck for making them.
Like Fantastic Four (among others), this film
chronicles the unlikely origin of a reluctant superhero (just one this time - not
four). Like Transformers, it involves crime-fighting pieces of weaponized
machinery. And like both of them, it requires heavy special-effects work and
extensive action choreography.
Unlike the above films, Iron Man does these things successfully. Fantastic Four
felt the need to pander to its audience as if it were made up exclusively of small
children, and so what should have been an interesting metamorphosis from
scientist to superpowered mutant ended up just coming across as silly. And then
there's Transformers, which Iron Man repeatedly calls to mind during its action
Director Jon Favreau (Elf, Zathura, Made) doesn't have the pure technical gifts
that Bay does, but he knows how to use what he's got. What he does know is how
to tell a coherent story, and how to use what visual style he has to enhance that
story. Bay has still not learned these skills. He makes footage that looks great in a
trailer; Favreau's footage works in an actual movie.
Iron Man is easily Favreau's biggest and most
accomplished film to date - and it better be, right? He has at his disposal one of
the most fascinating of comic-book anti-heroes, Tony Stark, once a boy genius at
MIT, now an irresponsible billionaire weapons manufacturer and irrepressible
womanizer. Not the hero type, as he puts it. That is, until he gets kidnapped by
Middle Eastern militants and charged with creating a weapon . . . only to turn the
tables on them and create a metallic, weaponized, flying suit of armor, the
prototype for what will eventually become Iron Man.
To get the character - and indeed one of the only ways that could have made Tony
Stark more interesting than he already was - Favreau cast Robert Downey Jr.,
himself once an infamously irrepressible partier, which always drew attention
away from the fact that he was one of the most exceptionally talented actors in the
world. He's recovered now, and after award-worthy showings in Kiss Kiss, Bang
Bang, Zodiac and A Scanner Darkly, he's taken center-stage in a big-budget action
I loved the choice of Downey when it was first
made. Not only did it take balls, but it virtually assured that the character would
actually be a person, rather than someone who looks good in a costume. (Movies
like this and Batman Begins and Spider-Man took the correct approach. Superman
Returns and Daredevil? Not so much.)
Though we first get introduced to Tony as an arrogant, hard-partying,
Machiavellian so-and-so, what we see for the bulk of the film is a completely
vulnerable version, broken by being held captive in a cave for three months and
for the first-hand revelation of the kinds of havoc his weapons wreak on mankind.
Not only that, but his own survival is always, and will always be, at risk. For
reasons the film will explain, he's had an electromagnetic "arc reactor" implanted
into his chest that is his only means of survival.
When he escapes from his captors and returns to civilization, he wants to change
the entire infrastructure of his company . . . a plan that doesn't go over too well
with his all-too-loyal second-in-command Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges - who, like
Downey, is one of the very best actors around), who took charge of the company
while Stark went missing.
I'll let you figure out who the bad guy is.
Favreau doesn't overload the film with action
sequence after action sequence - he's smart enough to realize that there's too
much going on with the characters to forget about them just so we can see stuff get
However, when things do start to get blown up, when Iron Man finds himself an
adversary or two, Favreau and cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Requiem for a
Dream, The Fountain) pull them off in fabulously entertaining style.
Iron Man lacks some of what would typically be essential for this type of film, but
it's able to make up for it with its depth of character. Oddly, there is not one clear
Great Villain, which would usually be a superhero film's undoing. In this case, it
is not; Iron Man's greatest villain is Tony Stark himself - not the man necessarily,
but the havoc he has helped create and the guilt that will haunt his conscience
forever. This is a more multi-faceted superhero character than most, and in what
will inevitably be a new money-making franchise for Marvel Studios, Iron Man is
a great start.
Note: You would be well-advised to stay through the end credits.
Read more by Chris Bellamy