Iron Man Review
Whilst in Afghanistan to demonstrate his latest creation: the multi-war headed ‘Jericho’ missiles, weapons industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is ambushed and kidnapped by a terrorist organisation known as ‘The Ten Rings‘, led by Raza (Faran Tahir) who demands of him to build for them their own ‘Jericho’ arsenal. Stark, who during the fierce ambush, sustained serious injury to his heart, finds himself alone, save for being under the care of Dr. Yinsen (Shaun Toub) - a mediator between Stark and the terrorists - and a man responsible for keeping the billionaire alive thanks to a crude, battery powered magnetic device that prevents shrapnel from piercing the organ. With no choice but to comply to demands, Stark spends the next few months in captivity constructing a type of armour, whilst leaving his captors none the wiser. Eventually he finishes and manages to flee his prison; Yinsen is killed during the escape, but his last words to Stark remain with him.
Upon his arrival back home in the States, Stark announces to the media that Stark Industries will no longer manufacture weapons of mass destruction. What he once thought saved countries, he now realises does nothing but cause misery. He decides that he’ll no longer have a tainted legacy and sets out to begin work on a new project, much to the chagrin of his business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). Stark then spends every waking hour reconfiguring and perfecting the Mark I armour design that saved his life. Upon completion, and after some serious testing, he heads back out to Afghanistan and gains the attention of the US Air Force, whom his friend Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) works under. Only Rhodes, Stane and Stark’s assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) knows that he is the ‘Iron Man’, but Stane simply won’t let things lie, and soon Stark will find himself not only fighting against terrorism, but also one of his best friends.
With comic book movies being a dime a dozen these days, it’s not often we get something that’s truly encapsulating. Most are fun diversions if nothing else, but many often fall by the wayside for not respecting their source material nearly well enough, thus alienating even the hardcore fan base who have kept many a franchise afloat. It doesn’t help that more often than not these films are helmed by guns for hire who have no perfect understanding of comic book ideology, but need to keep hungering studios happy during the big summer period. Very few directors have taken the comic book genre and spun pure cinematic gold. Those reading this of course will know straight off the bat who have managed to succeed and fail, so I needn’t go into huge details and what not, suffice it to say that in my humble opinion Iron Man is as close to adaptation perfection as Spiderman 2 was, therefore making it one of the best transitional genre movies in years. And so now we can add Jon Favreau to the elite list, for he’s rather successfully realised one of the most intriguing comic book characters that Marvel has ever produced, keeping the core characters and comic book spirits alive and well. And to be perfectly honest he had to. Iron Man isn’t a comic that’s strictly tailored for all audiences, least of all children; it’s designed to appeal to a more adult fan base, which is no more evident than in its heavily conflicted protagonist, who might otherwise not be deemed a hero in the truest sense.
Fans will find little to complain about here. Favreau has managed to stick very close to the source material. It feels inevitable that he had to transplant the Vietnam origin plot with that concerning a modern middle-eastern threat, yet this doesn’t really feel shoehorned in for the sake of it; it never gets overly busy with making political statements about the war on terror. They are of course there, and not without relevancy, but more as a needed plot device to keep things moving along; after all Stark is a weapons specialist, so it would make little sense to not include some form of commentary on the state of global war. The role of Obadiah Stane has been a little downsized in what is a considerably condensed portrayal of events, and the final confrontation between he and Stark is over in a flash. Nevertheless his purpose is served and Favreau dispatches with him quickly enough to allow new faces to appear later on down the line - and indeed this film has clearly been prepared with sequels in mind as several great nods to past storylines will testify, such as The Ten Rings sub-plot, which we can take to mean that ‘Mandarin’ is just around the corner. Now it’s not perfect; the storyline does stick to cliché in many respects and the character of Stark is portrayed more as an egotistical womaniser, than the equally hopeless alcoholic he should be. One hopes that in future, however, this is rectified, especially on account of Favreau’s cunning teasing involving the potential future of ‘War Machine’ and for fans reading, they’ll know exactly how that comes about, although things can certainly change in the movies. But there are otherwise many neat little additions from the comic universe, such as Stark’s car battery operated heart and the attempted cover-ups of Iron Man being nothing but a paid bodyguard. It’s more than enough to keep the hardcore and casual fan happy.
The film, then, follows the comic book mythology reasonably well. Yes, there are fanciful moments for children to enjoy - though parents would be best warned as it does get a tad violent - but they’re few between, meaning that the little un’s patience may be tested. Certainly during my experience there were a few restless kids who only seemed to express glee once the first act was done with and the film subsequently dispatched a few set-pieces. I should say that despite Favreau not being an action director as such, he does an awfully good job of delivering the carnage. Iron Man is exceptionally easy on the eye, with flowing, balletic action sequences that really get the adrenaline pumping. The detail is there, and we can enjoy it immensely. Iron Man himself feels realistic; he has weight to him, and the flight scenes from ILM prove to be some of their best in a while, certainly up there with last year’s Transformers. Whether or not they get nominated for the next Oscars and win remains to be seen, but so good is their work here, alongside Stan Winston’s designs that you’d be hard pressed to spot any obvious CGI moments. Proof then that the first trailer did indeed feature non finished effects, and that the producers delivered on their promise. While there is only two or three key sequences, the wait is worth it to see them.
But even these few moments are somewhat beside the point, as ultimately Iron Man is resoundingly effective because of its central players, where real characterisation and ruthlessly fun dialogue is the key to glory and success. Regardless of any slight character alterations the cast put in absolutely spot-on performances. Robert Downey Jr’s casting is truly inspired. He’s simply terrific as the sharp and dry-witted industrialist. I’m not sure just how good the film would have been without him because for all intents he is Stark, and it’s refreshing to see the versatile actor take on such a huge Hollywood blockbuster role, though this could well be on account of his own personal troubles. In fact he’s so effortlessly entertaining in spouting off zippy dialogue like nobody’s business that you can quite happily sit there without actually wanting him to don the red and gold, while the rapport shared between he and his robot assistants is the best thing since Bruce Dern in Silent Running. He puts his all into Iron Man and ends up providing a suitably well-rounded figure. Gwyneth Paltrow is equally very entertaining as Pepper Potts, sharing an endearing relationship with Downey, which on occasion serves up cute and heartfelt moments, while Terrence Howard proves to be the good sidekick of sorts, trying hard to keep Stark on the rails, while tipping his hat toward things to come. And for the big villain, Jeff Bridges does a fine job. His portrayal isn’t that of the typically over-the-top megalomaniac, but of a man who feels genuinely threatened by unexpected change. Both he and Downey Jr. play characters whose lives are suddenly altered for better or worse: while Stark is a man of change, Obadiah is one of desperation. Both players flesh out there relationship well and inject some very real sentiments, which considerably ups the stakes. This really is a marvellous roster of top grade talent.
One gets the feeling that Marvel Studios, in a joint production venture with paramount, are finally taking things seriously. Iron Man is the first in a major financial deal which will see several other famous characters hit the silver screen in the next few years, from Hulk and Thor to Captain America, Hawkeye and The Avengers. They’re off to a great start. Iron Man fires off on all cylinders; brilliantly witty, sweet, dramatic and tense, it’s a triumphant feature from director Jon Favreau. The franchise is certainly in good hands now, and I for one can’t wait for the next instalment - whichweallknowtherewillbe.
Oh, and be sure to stick around for the end of the credits.
I’d like to thank Cineworld for cocking up the first few minutes of this feature by blaring out classical music and then informing the audience that they wouldn‘t be resetting it. Good thing I’d seen most of it in the previous trailers though. Gits