Sunday, May 11, 2008

I don't really know what else to add to the almost universal praise I've seen all over not only the Blogosphere, but in "real" media as well, for IRON MAN. Practically everybody has responded very positively to its sharp mix of drama, politics, action-adventure and plain old geekery, and I certainly won't deviate from the throng this time.

For decades, I've lamented the scripting on the various attempts to bring superheroes to the big screen- too often, it seemed like the scriptwriters and filmmakers simply had no respect for the source material, thinking that they had to play it broadly, for laughs, or at least with a wink to the audience as if to say "Hey c'mon- we're not fanboy nerds...we couldn't possibly take this seriously, and we're sure you don't either". Thing is, though, as time went by more and more people- "fanboy nerds" in many cases- coming up through the ranks said- "Wait- we do take it seriously and we want to do it right!" The Spider-Man films were a step in the right direction, although as if to overcompensate for the lack of smirk we got a lot of sodden drama. The latest Batman film had a down-to-earth tone as well, although casting and scripting problems plagued it. The Ghost Rider film tried (a little too hard) to be a fast-paced trash-cinema romp, and almost succeeded, with a 60-40 stupid to cool ratio. Although the Fantastic Four and Superman films were steps backwards (although in my opinion the FF flicks had their moments), there was a sense that eventually, someone would get it right. Throw enough crap at the wall, and some of it's bound to stick eventually, no?

Against all odds, Iron Man is that film. It's got just about anything you could want in this sort of film- intelligent, spot-on casting, a script that is fast-paced, with a nice balance of drama and action, and just the right amount of humor to keep it from devolving into a Hulk-like torpor. There are even some subtle (and not-so) shots at the military-industrial complex, timely these days. Robert Downey, Jr. delivers his most memorable turn since Chaplin oh so long ago, able to veer from cynical to sarcastic to idealistic and sincere at the drop of a hat and dominating practically every scene he's in, but not to the detriment of the other actors, who get room to shine as well. I was afraid at first that he was going to be too glib, too shallow in his depiction of Tony Stark, but he soon got in a groove and stayed there for the duration. I'm fairly certain he won't get an Oscar nomination, but he sure as hell ought to be at least considered. Gwyneth Paltrow brings a lot of subtlety to a character which was never really developed all that much in the comics, or at least not when I've read them. I've not always liked her in films before (she was all wrong in Sky Captain, just to name one) but here she's a great foil for Downey's Stark. Jeff Bridges is solid as always in the role of the bad guy; he underplays so well that when he does finally snap at the end, it's surprising. Terrence Howard, normally a fine actor, isn't given much to do as Stark's military buddy Rhodey, but he does have a few nice scenes and a memorable line or two. Cast and script aside, you also can never underestimate the glamour and appeal of the tech- it's one of the reasons that last year's Transformers did so well, all the cool robots and how real effects technology can make them these days- it adds to the verisimilitude and convinces us that this world we're seeing can happen. I also appreciated the lack of turgid melodrama which many scriptwriters think they have to infuse scripts of this sort with- it practically ruined the last Spider-Man film, to name one example.

Of course, you probably know by now that you should sit through the (really long) credits to see the little fanboy-servicing coda at the end; it points to the direction that Marvel Films, if not necessarily the Iron Man franchise, might go. It also points out how much of a template the Millar/Hitch/Neary Ultimates series are for how the House that Jack Built wants their properties to be portrayed. And as someone who used to watch the old 60's semi-animated Marvel Super-Heroes cartoons back in the day, it was great to hear the swanky, ring-a-ding-ding IM theme song referenced not once, but twice.

Of course, I can nitpick; I thought the choice of comparatively recent, comics-wise anyway, Iron Man villain Obidiah Stane was an odd one. If I may slip into comics-geek talk for a minute, perhaps it's just that name that bugs me; it's as if Stane's creator Dennis O'Neil (who, to me, seemed to completely lose his mojo when he left DC for Marvel) was just trying to come up with names by looking through a list of some sort, and "Stane" was chosen because it's pronounced the same as "stain" and that word's connotation. I'd be willing to bet that there's no one in the world with that surname. Anyway, don't get me wrong, I suppose the writers thought they should go with as realistic a character as they could, to maintain the tone of the film. And believe me, I don't think the likes of the Unicorn or the Melter would have been a better choice. Bridges is able to invest him with enough charisma to make him work, because he's just that good, but the character is still lackluster, even in that Iron Monger armor. I'm betting that in a sequel, we could get a really nicely done Mandarin, especially if they refer to the recent Enter the Mandarin miniseries. I also have a hard time believing that as soon as Stark returned to civilization after escaping his captors, he wouldn't simply have the shrapnel removed rather than create a brand-new, upgraded power source for his chest device. And how deep exactly is that conduit that said device fits in? It looks deep enough to be sticking out his back, especially in the scenes in which he asks Pepper to adjust the wire down in there. But really, I find it hard to believe that the medical technology and surgeons someone like Stark would have access to couldn't remove that stuff and free him from having to wear that snazzy little night-light. Of course, that thing drives the plot, so we can't have that...but still. Obviously, I'm in the minority of people who even have a problem with this. Also, it's a bit of a stretch for me to believe that under those conditions (even though, I know, he had a lot of his tech there at that insurgent camp) Stark could rig a suit of armor that would be as impervious to harm as it is, achieve flight, and enable him to survive a drop of several hundred feet. Sure, sure, suspension of disbelief- and believe me, this film makes it easy.

I may nitpick, but really- none of this was a major detriment to my appreciation of this hugely enjoyable film. Who'da thunk that Iron Man, of all of Marvel's multitude of licensed properties, would get a showcase like this. Almost gives ya hope for Ant-Man, doesn't it?

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