Iron Man - Slugfest

A movie review article by: Shawn Hill, Paul Brian McCoy, Jim Miers, , Chris Murman, Kevin Powers, Nicholas Slayton,, Ray Tate, & Dave Wallace



Shawn Hill 3.5 Bullets

It was with some trepidation that I approached the Iron Man movie on opening night. The ads seemed to gibe with a pro-war, pro-global-military-industrial-complex message. That seemed the safest route to take to commercial success as our own war drags on and all the more critical war movies of the past few years have failed to attract audiences. Marvel movies have only been raked over the coals in recent years when they failed to burn up the box office.

Certainly a gung-ho approach seemed in line with the widescreen violence so vital to the success of the Ultimates comic book universe, which has had a major conceptual influence on most of the recent Marvel films (did the Ultimate Universe designers realize they were auditioning for Hollywood with every updated character from the very start?).

And who better to play an indifferent playboy womanizing alcoholic than the dissolute but glamorous Robert Downey Jr.?

My radical left-wing cabal of buddies had already condemned the film as some sort of Michael Bay/ID4 mishap. But this cabal isn't the same as my comic geek cabal, who were simply unabashedly excited. I decided to take a risk and hang with the latter group.

And I was very pleasantly surprised. Here was a movie about a war-mongering corporation I could actually enjoy. Tony Stark doesn't have quite the wake-up call to a serious life of heroism that Bruce Wayne got in Batman (re-) Begins. He didn't lose his family in a tragic act of violence. The major threats were directed squarely at his own person as the primary target, and his struggle to survive as a P.O.W. evinces a different sort of hero than the frightening, vengeful Batman. Iron Man is the over-privileged genius who earns his wealth through practical hard-working applications of that genius, not to mention defiant sneakiness.

This is a movie about the boys-own-story fantasies of laboratory invention of astounding devices (many of which are glorified guns and rockets) without a lot of sexism at its core. Oh, Tony is a womanizer, but it's interesting that the two (only) major female roles in the film are held by working women. Leslie Bibb plays a reporter (albeit one who finds it hard to resist Tony's charms), and her first and last scenes are both in a work context where she puts Tony on the spot.

And Gwyneth Paltrow, shockingly likable for once, plays Pepper Pots not as Stark's secretary or maid, but as his majordomo, an updated "his girl Friday" with even a little bit of that old Hollywood Rosalind Russell flair and style. Pepper is adept in all the ways of dealing with an intimidating genius (including not taking any of his copious BS), and quite resourceful when called to act as his agent in dangerous contexts. Downey and Paltrow have a sparky chemistry that only lets them down when the script veers into unlikely (but thankfully brief) moments of mush.

The suit looks great, better than expected. There's some real choreography involved in the movements of Stark's "bodyguard" in metal alloy, and he's a sleek and streamlined creation that acknowledges an evolutionary link to a sort of "best home kit motorcycle" ever. But the suit doesn't overshadow Downey Jr., who carries the entire movie from start to finish. He's note perfect as Stark, silly and flippant when time allows, dreadfully serious and enraged when under distress. This is a Tony Stark that could make some sense of the emotional confusion of the Civil War story (if some version of it ever makes it to film); Downey Jr. is an open live wire throughout the movie, one that allows empathy and identification, that in fact demands it, and with very little hamminess. Like Stark himself, he's on his game.

There is a major flaw to the film, though, and that's the villain. Updating the war to the unspecified recent Gulf unrest of the current day, we're dealing with terrorists who very loosely evoke the Mandarin (cursory gestures, Easter eggs for fanboys only). But mostly war crimes are envisioned as mercenary greed, personified by Jeff Bridges. He tries his best to give some shine to his enabling mentor, but it's a stock role and the blandishments of F. Murray Abraham probably couldn't have revived this pale and bitter Salieri. The movie lacks a satisfying resolution due to the simplistic fisticuffs at the end, but then the last 15 minutes spend most of their time screaming "sequel," which is nothing but good news.

The ending isn't rife with giant plot holes, it's just depressingly formulaic. Perhaps I only notice because the rest of the movie achieves so much more, making these four-color fantasies human, vulnerable and real in such satisfying and entertaining ways. If talent of this level can be applied to the upcoming Marvel adaptations and updates, the future looks bullish indeed.




Paul Brian McCoy: 5 Bullets

Short Version: Best superhero film I've ever seen. And I've seen them all.

How can I say that? Well, let's think about it.

Contemporary superhero films were really born with 1978's Superman, a sappy, sentimental film--yet loved by millions. After a peak with the second film, that series quickly devolved into painful-to-watch schlock, culminating in the unwatchable Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1986). Batman started fresh in 1989, but followed the same pattern: weak start, better second effort, then crashing and burning with 1997's Batman & Robin. We won't even mention what Marvel had going on through these years.

So essentially, between 1978 and 1997, there were only four superhero films worth paying any attention to, and all four were from DC's flagship properties. Then, in 1998, Blade redefined what was possible with the genre by taking things seriously and placing the stories in the real world (which has always been one of Marvel's strongest appeals). Spider-Man and X-Men soon followed, providing strong flagship titles for Marvel. But, as with DC's franchises, each of the Marvel properties started strong though not perfect, then seemed to peak with their second films, only to slide downward in quality with each of their third outings, though admittedly, not to point of self-satire that Superman and Batman wallowed in. And if they weren't a part of the two big franchises, Marvel's outings were met with decidedly mixed responses.

Then, by the release of Blade: Trinity in 2004, Marvel films were no longer even breaking new ground. Films were hampered by both budgetary and conceptual problems. The studios didn't seem to know what to do with these properties anymore, and we were "treated" to a string of nice-looking films, most of which were fairly vacuous when it came to story, vision, and scripting. Again, the Spider-Man and X-Men sequels were the strongest outings, but even they weren't very well received.

DC then struck gold with Batman Begins, essentially borrowing the original Marvel plan for success, with its blend of realistic characterization and high quality acting, script, and direction. Audiences were still hungry for believable superhero action that treated the subject matter seriously. The poor response to the overly nostalgic, and at times, silly and poorly conceived Superman Returns seems to bear this out.

Then, in 2005 Variety reported that Marvel would begin producing their own films, retaining the rights to the characters and situations. This opens up all kinds of possibilities regarding a shared Marvel Universe and crossover possibilities in years to come. However, all of that depends upon Marvel being able to successfully bring their films to fruition, and if Iron Man is any indication of how they're going to go about this, then things look very, very good. Hulk has me worried, though.

But, as I said, this is the best superhero film I've ever seen. But what's so great about Iron Man, you ask? Just about every element of the film. And I'm not exaggerating. Plus, there’s a cameo by Rage Against the Machine's guitar god, Tom Morello as the first terrorist to feel Iron Man's big metal fist.

The script is a solid piece of work (by the writers of Children of Men) that does an excellent job of pacing the development of both the character of Tony Stark and the process of creating Iron Man. While this is a standard trope for the origin film, what makes Iron Man stand out for me is Tony Stark and his journey. What could be boring and tedious is creative and at times, downright hilarious. It was also refreshing to see a hero develop from the self-obsessed lothario, without actually losing the qualities that made him interesting to begin with. Stark isn't tortured and putting on an act to disguise the hero inside. Stark is the hero.

Yes, it takes a dramatic set of circumstances to awaken his sense of moral outrage and personal responsibility, but character isn't sacrificed to reach this stage. Stark is confronted with a horrific situation, faces his own culpability in that situation, and chooses to change how he lives his life. There’s death and some guilt involved, but it’s about social responsibility more than personal tragedy. This empowers me as the audience in a much more satisfying and less cliché way than your typical superhero mythology. Iron Man is about self-empowerment through intellect and responsibility rather than through accidents of birth, childhood tragedies, or absurd coincidences. Of course, oodles of cash don't hurt the process.

But this is really an ensemble piece, and it's also about teamwork and friendship, because Iron Man wouldn't win this fight without Pepper Potts actually lending a physical hand and Rhodey providing military clearance. Sure, Pepper gets threatened and chased around, but she's never the hostage, used as a pretty weakness with which to threaten our hero. In fact, when the going gets rough, she's there to blow the roof off the place and save Stark's life.

The friendships work so well thanks to the performances. Terrence Howard plays Rhodey against type, softly, almost effeminately. Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts is confident (most of the time) and naturally intimate. Both actors find ways to make you believe that their characters have known Stark for years, just with inflections, glances, and a casualness with each other that seems completely real.

This is then driven home by Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as Tony Stark, which is at turns, manic, sleazy, funny, deathly serious, determined, frightened, and filled with childlike wonder. When you see Downey interacting with robots and making it work, you can see just how talented he really is. And if he can make inanimate objects seem like characters, it allows Howard's and Paltrow's work to shine all the more.

The improvisational interactions and the way the characters speak over one another (in much the same way characters did on The West Wing or Studio 60) also lends to the believability of the relationships. These people talk to each other the way longtime friends talk to each other. The crosstalk is conversational rather than melodramatic, natural rather than forced. These characters don't spout trite dialogue or bad catch phrases. These people speak and relate to one another in ways you rarely find in a genre film.

The special effects, a mixture of wearable costumes, models, and CGI, only slip a few times in action sequences late in the film, drawing attention to themselves as effects. For the most part, thanks to the subtle, and again, casual, inclusion of a variety of advanced technologies (security doors, computer terminals, holographic design software, etc.) when Stark actually builds the Iron Man armor, we can buy it, hook, line, and sinker. This film creates a world where the Iron Man is not only possible, but is absolutely believable. This is further enhanced by the amount of time that is spent on the development and testing of the armor.

Whereas in Batman Begins, this process of becoming the hero sometimes came off as a bit too convenient and easy, having Wayne Enterprises developing the variety of items that he needs for his costume and devices or even ordering them from other manufacturers, with Iron Man, there's a hands-on quality that makes it much more effective. He's not just buying the toys he needs. He's building them from the ground up. And anyone who's ever put their own computer together, upgrading and improving the machine as you need to, knows how much more satisfying it is than just buying one off the showroom floor.

Thanks to John Favreau’s direction, this whole film feels effortless, like a love letter to old fans, and an intelligent, sexy seduction to the new.

The thing that I like the most about this film, though, is the last spoken dialogue before the credits roll. When Stark looks at the press conference, comments on the absurdity of trying to pass off Iron Man as his bodyguard, and just says, "I am Iron Man," it's a kick in the teeth of every mainstream superhero film ever made. It says screw the tired, cliché of trying to find a place to change without anyone seeing; trying to make excuses for why Stark and Iron Man are never in the same place at the same time; pretending to be a vacuous billionaire playboy with a tortured, secret personality (and possibly profound mental illness). Not this time.

Stark is the hero. Stark is Iron Man. Stark makes the conscious decision to change his life and be a better person. This isn't about fate or guilt; it's about personal responsibility and self-determination. For that alone it goes to the top of my list of favorite superhero films. Throw in the outstanding performances, virtually seamless special effects, and the groundwork that is laid for future films in both its own franchise and as part of a larger Marvel Universe and there's just no argument. Outside of sentimental attachments to certain characters, I don't see any way to claim there's been a better overall superhero film.

And then the credits finish rolling and one final scene plays. And it doesn't get any better than that. You know the scene. Perfect.




Jim Miers: 5 Bullets

Thanks to Jerry Wall of Atomic Comics in Oklahoma City, I attended an advanced showing of Iron Man in the new Haskins Theater in the Bricktown district of downtown Oklahoma City, OK.

Personal bias: I've never been a huge Iron Man fan, but after finding the "Armor Wars" TPB, I was kinda hooked and definitely kept cursory interest in what was happening with Iron Man. With the exception of the Iron Man cartoons on Fox or the latest animated straight-to-DVD movie, I just didn't keep up with much of the day-to-day life of Iron Man, especially after the part he played in the Marvel Civil War saga. I did though read the two Ultimate Iron Man limited series, which is a contemporary retelling of Iron Man's story without all of the 20–30–40 years of continuity and retcons and reboots and retellings, etc. I HIGHLY recommend the Ultimate Iron Man series!

I'm not going to belabor the point, but I wanted to set the expectation appropriately that I am not a huge Iron Man fan and the movie will stand on its own merits without the Iron Man fanboy getting upset about continuity issues.

Marketing: The marketing that Marvel and Marvel Studios has launched has been pretty phenomenal this time around. They've released proactive teasers, trailers, sneak peaks, etc. without me being as aware of it as I have been for other movies. Maybe I've just been living under a rock, but I haven't felt the onslaught of the marketing machine for this movie as I have for other movies past. In other words, there has been just enough marketing to make me aware of the movie and pique my interest without being overwhelmed.

The Trailers: The trailers that have been released certainly show a lot of action, both flattering to Tony Stark and not so flattering. The extra clips and DVD extras features shown Sunday on F/X added to the buzz surrounding the premiere release. I'll have to say that this certainly pumped me up for the premiere, but I didn't experience the movie through the trailers. The best parts in the movie cannot be seen in the trailer.

Cinematography: I first noticed this with Firefly, but many of the "action" sequences are not in clear focus and not in the middle of the shot. That is to say that the camera captures the action more as the eye would catch it so the illusion of actually being there is presented rather than one of passive spectating. This is particularly true in the blazing fast flight sequences. It actually adds to the credibility of the shots.

Special Effects: The very purpose of special effects is for them to not be noticed as being special. If you can watch and pick out how the blaster actually sounds like a .44 Magnum pistol instead of a laser, there's a problem. I remember when Star Wars Episode 1 was released and there were many fanboys who said that the special effects blended in too much and weren't "in-your-face." But that's the whole point. You're supposed to be drawn into the movie without looking at it technically.

While a very large portion of this movie is CGI and special-effects intense, Iron Man is extremely credible and believable from a camera perspective. The effects certainly do not detract from the character development, nor are they there just for eye-candy. The special effects were spot on.

Continuity Issues: I know I said that I would not be going on a rant about continuity issues, and I won't, but I think it's valid to compare the origin story presented in the movie to the one originally presented in comic books over 40 years ago. Tales of Suspense #39 (in which Iron Man was introduced) presented a conflict centered within the Vietnam War. Of course, the Vietnam War ended over 30 years ago. Instead, we’re now actively engaged in both Afghanistan and Iraq which the movie reflects, so there will be quite a bit of change in that regard. Plus there is a 40 or so year difference in history regarding technology, civilization, etc.

The Casting: I'll have to admit that I didn't think that Robert Downey Jr. could pull it off, but I was sorely mistaken. He was able to bring his past personal experiences into the role and BECOME Tony Stark. I've seen several interviews where he stated that he was able to ad-lib large sections of dialogue. It shows but only in the most positive way. There's a believability that comes from that type of raw improvisation. Plus the on-screen chemistry between Tony and Pepper was palpable. Gwyneth Paltrow was the perfect choice for Pepper. As for Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) and Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard), they're also perfect choices to complement Tony and Pepper.

Overall Review: This is the first totally Marvel movie, and it shows! This was a complete homerun fitting of the Marvel legacy. There is nothing that I would do differently. The story of Iron Man, like so many other Marvel characters, is a morality play of great responsibility coming from the possession of great power. The movie explores that theme without being preachy. This is NOT the typical brooding superhero movie nor is it the typical campy superhero movie. This is a movie that my whole family could watch (Did you hear me parents?) that has action scenes without being gory, that has humor without being staged or completely corny, and that has a message of personal responsibility that should be an example for kids to look up to. Isn't that what superheroes are really for?




Chris Murman: 4 Bullets

I'm going to play the anti-fanboy and say that I could care less of the movie's accuracy to the source material here, mainly just because we as viewers were treated to an interesting movie that was full of action, great acting and special effects that were very well done.

Granted, I'm not judging it as a Tony Stark aficionado. That place in my heart will always be reserved for Bruce Wayne, but Marvel's version of the super hero with no powers somehow finds a soft spot in my heart even though he's not really that likable of a character. On the drive home from the theater, I was explaining what I knew of the comic version of Iron Man to a buddy who wasn't funny-books savvy and he said to me, “It would appear that while Bruce Wayne has a black and white of morality, Tony Stark is full of gray areas.” Scratch that, Scott named exactly the reason why Stark's an enjoyable character.

This writer isn't breaking any news by saying Downey nails this role, but we knew he would the minute he was announced as Stark. The parts I was even more impressed with were played by Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard. Obadiah Stane is a bit of a mystery to me mainly because the little that I have read of him has been written all across the board, but I bought into Bridges' take all the way. Howard makes the perfect yin to Downey's yang as his moral compass. He didn't come across as the mental giant Jim Rhodes has been written to be in the past, but that didn't necessarily fit in this script.

The action and effects were well coordinated, probably because ILM continues to get better with each generation of movie technology. I'd love to give more credit to budding genre director Jon Favreau, but there were a ton of people who made him look good starting with Avi Arad. He's been a part of some really well done comic movies, and with him helming Marvel's independently run movie department I think we will see many more like it. The flying scenes were more laughter material than “ohs and ahs,” but the fight scenes with Stark in armor gave fans what they were hoping for a couple of summers ago.

I've heard that this movie was the opposite of Superman Returns, and while I agree I don't necessarily think it's for the same reason as others. Sure we would have loved to see more punches from Clark a couple of summers ago, but there were things from that movie Favreau could have paid more attention to. For one, genre movies of this nature need that one awesome hero shot with our title character in costume. This is only my take, but the few attempts this movie took with the hero shot left me a little something to be desired. While not necessarily shot poorly, I think there were many opportunities for it to be done a little better for me. That's merely my taste, so I wouldn't count that as that big of a negative.

The rest of my nitpicks are the same, so take them for what they are worth: a grain of salt. The director could have also left himself out of so many shots if he was so insistent on playing one of Stark's bodyguards. The romance between Downey and Paltrow was necessary to the story most likely to establish for future roles, but I could have done without it. The back and forth between them is fine, but the kiss on the balcony halfway through and the faked slough off of it at the end wasn't. Finally, I would have loved to see Stark struggle a bit more with alcoholism. My buddy Scott was very interested to hear me tell of the stories involving Tony and said struggle that were part of the quintessential run years ago. If there is a sequel I would love to see that addressed.

This was a great way to spend time with buddies on a Saturday and sparked a lot of cool discussion afterwards, which I've always said marks a good movie. Rarely is a film in this genre perfect, but I wasn't expecting it to be as such. It's great for kids, and for those that dare a date. Spending $7.50 couldn't have been spent better for this reviewer.

That is until The Dark Knight of course.




Kevin Powers: 5 Bullets

Finally, after months of hype and about a week and a half's worth of positive reviews, Iron Man has come to theaters nationwide. This represents the first solo outing for Marvel Studios where their character is not licensed to a studio. By now, I'm sure everyone has either read a bazillion reviews of the film, has seen the film, or has probably had their fill by the time you get to "Powers" on this slugfest list. So I'm actually going to try and keep this review short and to the point. I loved this movie. In fact, I'm probably going to go see it at least once more while I wait for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Iron Man is probably the best Marvel movie yet, and the more I think about it, the more I think it might be better than the first Spider-Man. Yes, it's true, I do not think Spider-Man 2 is the greatest superhero/comic book movie ever. Iron Man is better. I'll even say that Iron Man is one of the best superhero/comic book movies ever.

Iron Man is a movie that works on many different levels. I'll just break it down quickly and succinctly. The cast is perfect. Robert Downey Jr. nailed Tony Stark. Everything from the arrogant, suave playboy to the man whose life changes at the very sight of all the turmoil and evil his work causes. The evolution of Tony's character is clear; it's genuine and fully believable. The whole process of him becoming Iron Man is fantastic and paced extremely well. Of course, with Tony Stark comes Pepper Potts. Gwyneth Paltrow was the only cast member I was a little unsure about, but she was fantastic as Pepper. She played the part extremely well, not just as some flaky assistant to the womanizing Tony Stark, but a woman that Tony would be a mess without. Paltrow plays the part very well and brings an intelligence and great depth to Pepper. She is as much a hero in this film as Iron Man.

Terrence Howard is also great as Rhodes. The chemistry between Howard and Downey is very good as they make the Rhodes/Stark relationship believable both on the business level and on the personal level. There's also a nice nod to War Machine that fits perfectly with the story and the inevitable coming of Rhodes' alter ego. Jeff Bridges made a great villain. While I may never see Bridges as any other character besides the Dude from The Big Lebowski, he brings a ruthlessness to Obadiah Stane that truly makes him an evil man. Stane becoming the Iron Monger also works because Bridges plays Stane very much as a man that when he wants something done, he's going to do it himself.

I also really liked that Jarvis was an A.I. rather than an old guy. The character is pretty much inconsequential when it comes to Iron Man, especially considering Alfred's role to Batman. So making Jarvis an A.I. seemed to work a lot better, especially when the program uploads into the armor.

The story is well-done. The pacing is perfect, and the story flows from point to point without too much lagging. The only time I felt the film ever dragged was when the time was needed to explain Obadiah's motivations. Other than that, there is the perfect balance of humor, action, drama and suspense that truly makes a comic book film work. The creative team did a perfect job tying every small detail together in this film to make an extremely well-crafted story. Tony Stark is not a teenager who all of a sudden is endowed with powers. He's a grown man who has an epiphany about his role in the world and realizes he does not like the man he is. This is truly the key to the character's evolution and why he works so well on film. What I also found extremely important to the film is that Iron Man pulls no punches. He actually kills people, albeit they are bad people, terrorists, he still does what is necessary to protect the innocent. It's realistic, and we have seen the "superheroes don't kill" mantra so much that it's refreshing to see that even a superhero movie realizes the world is not all black and white. Marvel has always been a bit more "down to Earth" when it comes to superheroes, and this is most certainly the case here. There are lines that must be crossed, and the way Iron Man is set up in the film, he is a weapon. This also makes this film work extremely well as an origin story because Tony Stark is a grown man who has an established life and personality before his imprisonment.

Speaking of these terrorists, I love the heavy innuendo towards the Mandarin. The terrorist group is called the "Ten Rings." The apparent ring leader, Raza (the bald guy), may or may not be the Mandarin. I first made the connection when his first speech to Tony was about Genghis Khan. Then the man says "I want to rule Asia," and then of course there is the fact that he constantly plays with a very large ring on his finger. My biggest question coming out of the movie is whether or not Raza is actually the Mandarin. And that of course is the perfect set up for the inevitable (and very welcome) sequel.

The action is fantastic, the CGI is near flawless. There were times I couldn't tell if the special effects were actually special effects. The production team did a really great job with this film and made everything fairly believable. The final fight scene was fast-paced, a little short, but overall got the job done. I don't want to spoil plot details for those who haven't seen it, or regurgitate what everybody has seen, so I'll just say I loved this movie and found very little, if anything, "wrong" with it. Even Tony Stark's last line in the movie was a bit surprising but makes perfect sense. I will be seeing it again, maybe even two more times.

Okay, so now that the actual review is out of the way, I'm going to talk about the "Marvel Movie Continuity" for a second. Stay after the credits of this film as I am sure you have heard, Samuel L. Jackson is indeed Nick Fury, ready to start the Avengers. S.H.I.E.L.D. is all over the place throughout this film. There's one main agent chasing down Stark and Potts for a "debriefing." When we finally see multiple S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, it's actually pretty cool because they all stand the same, walk the same and hold their guns the same. Anyways, I want to address the "Nick Fury scene at the end of the credits" thing. Some people have complained that it should have been in the film, but if it were, it would have completely disrupted the pace, the story and the general flow of the movie. I think the scene should have been included earlier after the end credits began, similar to the Bullseye scene in Daredevil, but I'm not complaining. Any way you look at it, the Nick Fury scene was badass. I'm actually really excited for The Incredible Hulk now as Nick Fury and Tony Stark are set to appear. Also, the rumor going around town is that the "government secret" that Bruce Banner steals is the super-soldier serum. Oh yes, if you look at the new trailer, Banner "stole military secrets," Banner's body is property of the "U.S. Army," "they want to use it as a weapon," and the serum injected into Emil Blonsky has a very patriotic blue coloring. If you don't see it, Marvel is setting up Captain America… brilliant. While Iron Man is a fairly classic depiction of the character, Incredible Hulk looks to be a bit more "Ultimate." Marvel is on to something. They are on to something BIG.

Okay, so that was longer than I originally outlined. But do go see Iron Man. You will be entertained, you will laugh, you will be on the edge of your seat, and you will see a very well done story and character evolution piece. This is truly one of the best comic book/superhero films ever made. While it's an entirely different type of film as Batman Begins (one of my favorite movies, and also a film many have asked me to compare to Iron Man), it's certainly on the same level. Also, if Iron Man is any indication, this summer could be one of the most kick-ass summer movie seasons in a long time.




Nicholas Slayton: 4.5 Bullets

Marvel's track record for movie adaptations has been hit or miss. For every X-Men or Spider-Man 2 there has been a Hulk or Elektra. While Marvel is great at churning out super-hero movies at a quicker rate than Warner Bros./DC Comics, there has not really been a really great movie from Marvel in a few years.

Iron Man fixes that.

This is without a doubt the best movie Marvel has made. Its quality is right up there with Batman Begins and Superman Returns, the two greatest superhero movies so far, in my humble opinion. The production quality, script (with wonderful adlibbing from the cast), and a smart direction make this one of the most enjoyable films of this year.

This is one of those films where the cast is perfect for the part. Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark; there is not really any other way to put it. Downey is able to capture both Stark's genius and his unrepentant playboy. His handling of Stark's transition from spoiled partygoer to superhero is mature and well played, without feeling forced or rushed. Also, Downey's rapid-fire delivery and witty quips are definitely two of the major highlights in the film and add a strong comedic element to the film without making it feel campy. The supporting cast is quite strong. Terrence Howard's Jim Rhodes plays off Stark well, giving their relationship a funny, reliable dynamic. He is not a sidekick but rather a close friend. Also, Paul Bettany manages to play a wonderfully sarcastic AI version of JARVIS, removing the Alfred Pennyworth basis and instead fitting the character closer to the super-genius/grease monkey Stark. Jeff Bridges is very effective as Stark's business partner Obadiah Stane, going from jovial and friendly at one moment to menacing and cutthroat the next.

And let's face it, no superhero movie would be complete without some action, and Iron Man delivers on that. From the fast paced, handheld camera-filmed kidnapping of Tony at the start of the film to the showdown between Iron Man and the Iron Monger, each fight works. The action does not feel cartoony. Instead it has a strong military influence, particularly the combat scenes in Afghanistan. The final fight, while somewhat short, hits hard and is guaranteed to satisfy any moviegoer.

What is really surprising with this film is how strong Jon Favreau's direction is. Considering his recent films have been light comedies or family films like Elf or Zathura, the witty maturity Iron Man shows the skill Favreau has when it comes to film. Rather than going for a dark Batman Begins-esc tone, Iron Man has more in common with the James Bond franchise. It definitely works to its benefit and plays to the strength of the script and cast. He is able to throw in different influences, with some scenes ranging from suspense to war.

This is without a doubt one of the most enjoyable and smart comic book movies. It has a smart cast, superb direction, and a great story. There are some great easter eggs for comic book fans (the terrorists that capture Stark are called the Ten Rings and have a Genghis Khan fixation. Hmm, what Iron Man-bad guy could fund that group?). Also, the post-credits scene is simply awesome and looks to be setting up a running subplot through all future Marvel films.




Ray Tate: 5 Bullets

"I am Iron Man."

Iron Man isn't made for people who are fans of the right-wing, quite possibly insane Tony Stark seen in the comics during and after Civil War. This is a movie for people who remember wearing Iron Man Underoos, putting up Iron Man stickers and enjoying the comic book renaissance of the seventies. It's also a movie for people who like the concept of the super-hero but may not know anything about the specifics. In addition, it's a movie for people who like well-written scripts, excellent acting and superb special-effects. Marvel has done it again.

Iron Man is about the reclamation of dreams. Young genius Tony Stark was a dreamer, and he saw the fruition of his dreams relegated to publicity stunts and symbols that were as empty as a spent munitions shell. Young Tony Stark allows himself to be corrupted by the military/industrial complex. He buys into the company line with hook and sinker, and how can one say no? The complex offers him wealth, power and the things that wealth and power can attract, including sex. It's quite the apple, and Tony realizes what a donkey he has been. This is where the movie opens. The origin of Iron Man.

A simple twist in the origin gives the tale astounding weight and impetus for honest to goodness drama. Tony Stark is hit by shrapnel, as the reader versed in Iron Man knows, but this shrapnel comes from a weapon made by his own company. Tony wanted to believe that he made missiles only for good guys to blow up bad guys. He wanted to believe that he was still a dreamer, but the reality is that missiles do not care who uses them, and weapons always can fall in the wrong hands. Some weapons it can be argued should not even be used by those who have the right hands, so to speak.

Captured and taken to the Mandarin's hide out in the Afghan Mountains, Tony Stark's life is saved by Yinsen, a doctor captured by the terrorists. Yinsen though is just a tinkerer compared to the dreamer that is Tony Stark. I should point out that the Mandarin is never referred to as such. He is presented as merely a techno-savvy Taliban-type terrorist with above average intelligence. However, in the film, he uses a ring in a unique way, so comic book readers know who he is.

The film doesn't actually take political sides. There is instead a refreshing sense of wrong and right. The terrorists are obviously wrong for what they do. So though is Stark for building the weapons. So is the United States who buys these horrible things. The soldiers however and justly so are portrayed as the good guys, often out of their depth, as well as victims caught in the crossfire of the power players.

Tony Stark's internment gives him just the pause he needs to reclaim his dream. He builds an engine from the aether of science fiction. This device powers his chest plate and generates the energy for his wonderfully old school tin can armor. Another interesting aspect to the film is that Tony does not see the Iron Man armor as a weapon, and I have to agree. This is a facet that was lost in the comics. Iron Man isn't a weapon. He's a deterrent. He's a super-hero, and he's actually referred to as a super-hero in the film.

After a thrilling escape, the trailer only gave the audience a taste, Tony proceeds to upgrade his dream into the fully functional red and gold armor that is almost iconic. With his armor realized, Tony then does what super-heroes do best: save lives. His first stop is a village besieged by the terrorists armed with the weapons made by Stark Industries. This is the scene that best captures the idea of what Tony's dream is. As Iron Man he targets only the terrorists. There is no so-called collateral damage. He saves an entire village, where a little boy becomes inspired by Iron Man's mere presence. For an encore, he destroys the weapons of mass destruction created by Stark Industries only to be almost brought down by friendly fire.

There are just so many ways this film could have gone wrong, but the script is thoughtful. The writers treat the concept of the super-hero sincerely and with respect. Every one of the actors is sterling. Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. This is perfect casting. He's low-key, funny and believable as both the corrupted, jaded version of Tony Stark and the returned dreamer. He conveys genius brilliantly.

Gwyneth Paltrow is his ideal foil as Pepper Potts, trusted assistant and growing into more by the film's end. Paltrow nails the humor, the intellect in the character and the devotion she has to her boss. Jeff Bridges alternately brings a cold dignity to the role of the villain posing as friend. Bridges makes the facade completely believable. You know that he will turn out to be a skunk, but it's nevertheless a turn that's both a far cry from his persona and credibly natural.

Mention must be made of the supporting cast. Leslie Bibb makes for an enthusiastic piece of eye candy that has a hard-nosed journalist at the center. Terrence Howard neatly assumes the role of trusted ally Jim Rhodes and eschews a helluva lot of bad, dated stereotyping that's associated with the character. Shaun Toub creates a very real Yinsen. You can see this man being important in Tony Stark's life; he's not just a plot device.

Jon Favreau's direction enhances every moment of action as well as the human drama. What's more, he lets the audience draw together the pieces. He lets the audience have fun, especially when timing the moments of pure comedy. Stan Winston Studio's effects are breathtaking, and it's really difficult to pin-point where the CGI begins and ends.

In short, Iron Man is a movie made by people who aren't embarrassed to be in a super-hero movie, and their respect for the material can be seen in every scene. Be sure to stay until after the credits, which also offer some attractive visuals for the wait. No, seriously. Stay until the credits are finished. You won't be sorry.

Trailer thoughts:
The Spirit teaser was pretty darn strange. I never really saw the Spirit as a hero who looks at the city in the same way that Batman looked upon Gotham, and why the Sin City look? The Spirit used to be published in color if I'm not mistaken. One scene looks to be ripped off directly from Batman Returns. Well, if you rip off something, rip off from the best.

Next up, we have The Incredible Hulk. I became somewhat involved with the drama of the military chasing Bruce Banner, but you lost me with the Hulk. It's not that the CGI was bad. He just looked too unreal. Seriously, just put a guy in a suit, or green up a body-builder that has some acting chops. Maybe a good DVD buy.

Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel star in M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening. I like the cast, but the trailer looks like every other Shyamalan trailer. Lots of people attempting to look frightened at some nebulous thing. I'm not a fan. So this is completely skippable, and the trailer didn't make me curious.

Dark Knight's trailer pretty much cemented my decision not to see the new film. Batman for me is Michael Keaton and will always likely be Michael Keaton. Christian Bale is okay, but this film doesn't look like a Batman film. You can replace Batman with any unpowered vigilante and the film's look would be untouched. It appears that the Joker's going to kill a lot of people before Batman gets him; compare that to the Keaton films where the villains were largely unsuccessful thanks to Batman. Frankly, I think this is just too realistic, especially with regard to the costume. Batman shouldn't be so realistic that his style vanishes. That's part of the fun. Michael Caine, in the film's favor though, looks to be hilarious as Alfred.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I. am. so. psyched. for this movie. You took Batman away from me. You took Bond away from me, but I still have Indy, and the trailer just whets the appetite.




Dave Wallace: 4.5 Bullets

If there's one word I'd use to sum up Iron Man, it's "confident." From the opening titles, there's a sense of assuredness to the movie – both in terms of the direction and the performances – that can be felt in every scene. Thankfully, that confidence isn't misplaced, as director Jon Favreau turns what could have been a formulaic adaptation of a second-tier superhero property into one of the most distinctive and enjoyable entries that the genre has seen.

For me, the most attractive element of the film isn't the perfect realization of Adi Granov's Iron Man suit design, or the impressive special effects, but the performance that Robert Downey Jr. turns in as billionaire industrialist Tony Stark. His take on the character is pitch-perfect, from the arrogant, devil-may-care playboy of the early scenes to the more thoughtful and conflicted Stark that we see after his kidnapping ordeal in Afghanistan. Downey brings a charm and charisma to his role that helps Tony Stark to shine as far more than just another wealthy businessman superhero in the Batman mould.

In fact, the entire cast does their job flawlessly. Jeff Bridges plays a villain who, for once, is well-rounded as a character, with an understandable motivation for attacking Stark on a personal level. Terrence Howard never oversells his supporting role as Rhodey (a character who will surely become even more significant in the sequels). And Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts is the perfect foil for Downey's Stark, sharing a relationship with the lead that's far more adult than we see in most superhero movies, managing to be subtly romantic without coming off as saccharine or trite. All of the cast members benefit from the naturalistic script that they're given to work with, and I wouldn't be surprised if much of the dialogue was as improvised as the filmmakers have claimed.

Favreau's conception of the movie's universe also works very well, presenting an exciting, ultra-modern world of high-tech gadgets and gizmos that is futuristic without feeling gratuitously so, and doesn't ever come off as dry or sterile. He also manages to give the film a genuine sense of unpredictability, which is a pretty impressive feat considering the glut of samey superhero movies that we've seen over the last few years. Iron Man has a playful sensibility that revels in its puncturing of the clichés of superhero storytelling (the secret identity; the love interest) at the same time as it obeys some of the genre's other conventions to maximum effect: I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Iron Man mk.II first takes flight, with Downey's performance and the work of the visual effects team really working to convey the sheer wonder of a superhero discovering his abilities for the first time. The film is rounded out with a wonderful sense of irreverent humour (including a hilarious running gag involving robots and fire extinguishers) and a hard rock soundtrack that I never would have imagined suiting an Iron Man movie, but somehow works perfectly.

Favreau also seems to have struck the perfect balance between making Iron Man his own, whilst also providing the requisite nods to fandom that seem to be part and parcel of all superhero movies that are made these days. We see S.H.I.E.L.D. begin to become involved in Tony Stark's activities, we get glimpses of many of the different costumes that Iron Man has worn over the years in the comics, and we also get one of the best Stan Lee cameos yet seen in a Marvel movie. The film also sets up plenty of hints as to possible future storylines (with elements of the "Demon in a bottle" arc, the "Armour Wars" storyline, and the character of War Machine all introduced as possible areas of exploration for the inevitable sequels). Oh, and make sure you stick around for the post-credits scene for the most fan-pleasing superhero movie moment that I've ever seen committed to film.

Yes, there are occasional weak spots in the movie--the climactic battle sequence suffers from being little more than two men in robot suits punching one another repeatedly, and Stane lapses into some Incredibles-worthy monologuing towards the end--but they're small nitpicks of a package which is very impressive, overall. I've seen some viewers complain that this is yet another "origin" story, but I really don't understand why that should count against a movie that is, after all, introducing a character to mass audiences for the first time.

Iron Man, then, was even better than I expected. The film has a more adult tone and a more thoughtful, mature and three-dimensional lead character than most superhero movies provide, without sacrificing the sheer fun of the central concept – and it's as downright cool as you'd expect a movie made by the director of Swingers to be. I can't wait for the next one.

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