“Don’t waste it”
There was a big question mark looming over the theatrical adaptation of Marvel’s Iron Man property. It was in the guise of director Jon Favreau. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the Favs, but when I heard he was helming a big budget comic book flick … let’s just say I was a little worried. Once his cast was set and the fanboys started humming across the internet I started to ease into the decision with high anticipation. Thankfully, after finally seeing the finished product, I was not disappointed in the least. With a great mix of the professionalism and stakes seen in both Spider-Man and X-Men and the comic wit and sheer fun of Fantastic Four, Iron Man shows how a comic can be brought to the screen successfully without all the added drama and weight. We finally have a film with the essence of what makes these picture books so popular, the action and mythology along with a sense of adventure and humor. Favreau never bogs us down with overwrought emotions nor speaks down to us with gags and poorly written jokes. Instead he delivers on his promises and gives us a solid initiation into what could be a great trilogy or more.
Favreau seems to have had an idea to get an origin story out while not boring us with long drawn out backstory. His ability to give us dual information at once is nicely orchestrated, showing Tony Stark in his basement creating while the tv in the background explains what is happening in the outside world of the Middle East and inside his own company. We as an audience are allowed to put the pieces together amidst the witty banter of Stark and the wonderful special effects. By the end of the film it is quite amazing how much information you will realize you now know, all culminating in a decent final battle, but more importantly a segue into the inevitable sequel. We are allowed entrance into the character evolution of Stark as he goes from war profiteer to man of action and cause, all while seeing the technology improve and advance before our eyes. Much like Batman, we have a hero here that needs help in fighting crime. He has no superhuman abilities besides his brain and being able to see his thoughts go from paper to reality is a feat of magic. Every stage is shown, every failure and success. It’s quite the ride in and of itself, but when you add onto it the threat of global war and destruction, it can only get better.
The real success here is in the bold move of casting an actor over-40 to be a superhero. This takes guts, because no matter how appropriate it is, most studios would have said, “no, change the story and make him younger so we can churn out as many of these babies as we can.” I don’t know how he did it, but Favreau got Marvel to get Robert Downey Jr. to play Stark, a sarcastic lothario with the brain capacity of Einstein. I truly can’t think of anyone better suited to the role and he proves it by nailing every single scene. I’m sure there was some ad-libbing, but even if not, his comic delivery and ability to switch on a dime to a sincere seriousness at will shows his masterful craft.
As for the rest of the cast, they all do well. Jeff Bridges plays the bombastic creature of villainy over-the-top, but appropriately so; Terrence Howard is nice as the friend and military liason, not given much to do, but definitely sowing seeds for the future; and Gwyneth Paltrow is good as the sweet assistant Pepper Potts who at times seems a little underwritten and more female prop than anything else, but comes through with some nice moments in a very comic sort of way. I also really liked Shaun Toub as Yinsen, Stark’s savior, and Clark Gregg as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Good to see Favreau giving another actor turned director props, (Gregg’s directorial debut comes out later this year in the form of Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke). I just wish he would have shied away from putting himself in the film. It’s one thing to be seen split-second, (like Stan Lee), but its another to give yourself a thankless role with multiple scenes, just adding fuel to the fire on people’s opinions of egotism stemming from the drinking game created off of the tv show “Dinner for Five” and how many references to Swingers was made each episode. I’ll forgive, though, because, once again, I’m a big fan.
One can’t forget that this is an action film above all else, so we can’t just praise the actors; every effect is also quite brilliant. Those scenes of Iron Man flying amongst fighter jets in the trailer seemed really lame, but when in context they deliver. The suit itself is amazing as well, through every mach stage right to the end. My main highlight, however, was with the computer systems that Stark utilizes. The multiple screens, instant holographic reproductions, and ability to actually interact with those 3D representations is stunning. We can create them in fantasy, but it’s just too bad we can’t yet in real life.
Now Iron Man is not a perfect film, nor even a perfect comic book adaptation. What it is, though, is a fun, comic actioner that should light up the box office. The final showdown is a bit of a whimper in comparison to the backstory and machine creation; a crucial element is saved from destruction in the one contrived bit of screenwriting, (not quite utilized in the way I thought, although still for the same means); and some moments seem a tad campy rather than witty, but otherwise this is some topnotch cinema that should definitely be seen on the big screen. I can’t wait to see how the story progresses in a couple years.