Friday, May 02, 2008
'Iron Man' Comes out Swinging
Sometime ago I wrote a poem which began--
'ashes to ashes,
dust to dust,
the men of iron,
have turned to rust.'----
I must confess that Iron Man was not my favorite of the many Marvel Comics of my youth. I enjoyed reading it once in a while, but Iron Man (no, not the one in the Black Sabbath song, though that is the end theme of the movie), had largely faded into dust in my memory. Then comes this movie which frankly, blew me away. No rust on this Iron Man for sure. Let me explain why.
First of all, there are some really good actors and acting in this movie, capped by the performance of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, but ably assisted by Jeff Bridges as Josiah Stane, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, and the every present Terrence Howard playing yet another military officer. All four of these actors make the most of their roles, and the script is not bad either. There is some repartee, there are a few zwingers, and very few mis-steps.
This film is in some ways like the old Mission Impossible TV shows where the real hero was the technology, and it is on full display in this movie. Very little of anything in this movie looks like cheap CG. Even the Iron Man costume looks real, or at least believable. And the director and producer of this film resisted the temptation to flex the muscles of the technology too soon, or throw in too many gratuitous chases and the like. Good for them.
The story drives and dictates the scenes, not the other way around. And the interaction between the major actors in this drama is especially good-- I particularly enjoyed the interaction between Downey and Paltrow. When is the last time you saw several Oscar worthy actors and actresses in a comic book movie? There is a reason why this movie is the best reviewed movie of the year thus far (clicking in at a 94% approval rating at the moment at Rottentomatoes.com).
For those of you who do not know the storyline a brief synopsis is in order. Tony Stark is a billionaire head of a major weapons manufacturing company called Stark Industries. He is also a major league playboy. He is certainly not your prototypical squeaky clean super hero. And unlike a character like Spiderman, this is not something that he becomes as a youth, but rather in mid-life. Call it his mid-life crisis. What precipitates the change from play boy to brave man is a wake up call while he is visiting the troops in Afghanistan and is kidnapped by insurgents there, only to discover that they are some of the biggest fans and purchasers of his weapons, for his company has been selling to everyone, and thereby selling out his own country, not to mention most of the free world.
This experience both transforms, and literally galvanizes Stark to do something about this situation, as he escapes from his captors by building a proto-type Iron Man suit in the bowels of an Afghan mountain. When Tony returns to civilization (aka his killer pad hanging on a cliff over Malibu) he concludes he must do something to change 'business as usual'. of course the part of this story which rings painfully and ironically true is that the United States is indeed one of the biggest if not the biggest arms dealer in the world, and not just arming the good guys either.
The two hour and a bit movie with the PG-13 rating (a quotient of violence, one rather awkward and silly sex scene) concentrates on making the main story the main thing, and there are not a lot of distractions or subplots, which is befitting a comic book story. What there is, is a not too subtle message about technology, including even military technology being used for human good and benefit, not for human destruction. There are a few twists and turns to the story line, but we know who the real villain is long before we get to the end of the film. By the end of the film the only real mystery is whether the professional/ personal boundary between Stark and Potts will be shattered by a steamy ending, like so many Bond flicks (think 'Moonraker' for example). I will not spoil the ending here, but will simply say, that it is-- a surprise :)
This Marvel movie is frankly better than all its Marvel predecessors in many ways, with the possible exception of some moments in the Spiderman movies, and it certainly excels them all in the level of acting and dialogue. At the center of it all is Robert Downey Jr. who I could never have predicted would make a good Marvel super hero good guy (maybe a villain, but not a hero), but he pulls it off with panache. In fact, this may be the first Marvel movie that gets a marvelous nomination at Oscar time.
Whatever else one can say, one thing is sure. This movie has set the bar very high for the run of summer popcorn movies, and I doubt few if any will leap over it as a genuine and genuinely entertaining film which is not pure fluff. Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones better put on some power boots like Ironman's if they want to be remembered as the best film of this summer.