Iron Man — Cool!
I’ll admit it right up front; I grew up with Iron Man as my favorite Marvel super-hero. I can’t say why exactly, although I really liked the armor and the gadgets and when Gene Colan began drawing his adventures, I loved the artwork.
So, you might imagine, I was predisposed to enjoy the movie which opened today. The idea that Iron Man would ever become a feature film was one I never really imagined and all through the years o development, I kept hoping. Still, as cool as it might have been to see Tom Cruise as Tony Stark or see what Nick Cassavettes would have done as a director, I was perfectly content with Jon Favreau as the director. After all, from the moment he started writing on MySpace, you could tell he got it. He understood what set the character apart.
Whereas fantastic things happened to Peter Parker, Susan Richards and Bruce Banner, among others, what happened to Tony Stark was very real world. The notion of shrapnel threatening the munitions manufacturer was a just irony and showed that Stan Lee was very plugged into the Cold War fears of the day.
It took All-American ingenuity to fashion the crude armor that allowed Stark to escape his captors and return to his Military-Industrial complex. However, the experience changed him and he knew he had things to atone for.
Favreau updated the worldview to today and the switch from Vietnam to Afghanistan was smart. Seeing so much of Stark Industries’ wares in the hands of the bad guys was also a great wakeup call and yes, the near-death experience made him a changed man.
All the elements of those early Iron Man stories are excellently updated and made to feel fresh after the previous Marvel films. This one felt more grounded in our world and we could easily accept the higher level of technology. He made Stark Industries cutting edge and by integrating Obadiah Stane into Stark’s life is the one major change and it works for a film.
Robert Downey Jr. superbly inhabits Tony Stark and makes us care for him as he evolves from the callow genius to the responsible global citizen. He’s aided by Gwyneth Paltrow as the sharp-tongued Pepper Potts and Terence Howard, a tad underused as James Rhodes (although when he looks at the Mark II armor, he tells the audience, “Next time”). There’s another tip to the comics as Stark’s chauffeur, Happy Hogan is there, played quietly by Favreau himself (he’s now a sidekick in two Marvel franchise films, a neat trick matched by Sam Elliot).
There are other nice touches such as the animated theme music repurposed into a nice jazz piece for the Las Vegas sequence and Jarvis being the name of the A.I. butler along with the sly introduction of SHIELD.
The story themes of taking responsibility for one’s actions are nicely handled and help ground the film. It’s a very contemporary set of issues being raised and strengthens the film.
Where the movie veers into conventional Hollywood storytelling is the final act. Stane entering the Iron Monger armor to fight Iron Man was telegraphed and frankly, their fight wasn’t as awe-inspiring as one might imagine (especially after Transformers in similar circumstances). Fortunately, the film works for the most part and while the final act not may have been all it could be, the final scenes and the post-credit scene more than make up for it.
Kudos to Marvel for launching their first self-produced film in such a successful manner. It raises the bar for all others, including their second product, next month’s remake of the Hulk. A fine film for fans of action, adventure and super-heroes.