Film Review: Iron Man

tony_stark_forgeIron Man – Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges
I don’t even like AC⚡DC, but from the second “Back In Black” breaks the lonely howl of the desert air, the story of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is exciting and emotional.

Although the film is a traditional origin story, director Jon Favreau chose to focus on the origin of the titular superhero rather than the early years of the protagonist. It takes a little under five minutes for Tony Stark’s convoy to get shredded, resulting in him getting kidnapped by terrorists, and a short, newsreel style information dump to explain that he’s a scientific prodigy lucky enough to inherit an arms and technology company, Stark Industries.

Where most origin stories start slow, this one charges out the gate. Every major character is introduced in the first twenty minutes, with fast dialogue and constant motion combined with plenty of opportunity for the players to provide enough personality to the entourage that we already know them when we start to explore them later. A quick jaunt through a casino and a flight to Afghanistan introduce us to the somewhat stiff Air Force liaison, Rhodey (Terrance Howard), the confident businessman, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), the uptight assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), the loyal bodyguard, Happy Hogan (director Favreau) and the sexy and tenacious Vanity Fair reporter, Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb).

It’s important to know who they are, because next we’re given the origin of the superhero. Tony Stark forges the original Iron Man suit out of spare parts in a cave in Afghanistan, enduring pitiful conditions while he pantomimes building a missile for his captors. It is slow, tedious work sped a bit by his looming mortality, but the switch from the erratic world of his playboy lifestyle, with all of the personalities and busy environments, to his single-minded effort at escape helps translate how important the bond really is between the man and his armor.

He escapes, blows up everything he sees and returns to a heroes welcome. He finds out his number two man, Stane, is the bad guy and wants to kill him because Stark Industries should be Stanes, dammit! He also has a change of heart about making so many things that explode and kill people, and decides to push Stark Industries into the energy sector and away from the military sector.

Where Iron Man succeeds so brilliantly is it’s ability to be a great action movie without being built as formulaic as most. Dialogue isn’t wasted on exposition for exposition’s sake; it is used by characters to communicate with other characters and not the audience. Instead of building to explosions (which it doesn’t lack at all), the scenes build to moments.

Most important to the film’s success was the quality of work the cast brought to the table. What could have ended up as a caricature of characters, as many comic book inspired tentpoles have been known to do, instead turned into an exploration of treachery can turn a great man into a good man. Instead of fighting against the inner demons so many freshman heroes waste precious screen time moping over, Stark’s demons are manifested externally in the shape of Obadiah Stane, who we can just call Iron Monger if we wish even though that isn’t official, a conniving and vindictive Iago played exceptionally by Jeff Bridges, who threw himself into the role with just as much heart as our hero.

The film is close to perfect and a fan couldn’t hope for a better introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it does have a few minor flaws. Tony Stark’s witty banter is perhaps too witty of a banter overall, reminding me more of a Real Genius Val Kilmer crossed with a 90s Deadpool. The Christine Everhart story wasn’t as comfortable a fit as it could have been either, but that could be because it felt a little Vicky Vale to me. Thus is the struggle of the historic reference. Although it is a newer movie and stands on its own legs, all comic book movies will be forever judged through comparisons to the legacy that preceded them.

Iron Man does the job admirably while beginning a legacy of its own. Action movie fans with no knowledge of the comic world that birthed the character should have no problem enjoying the movie, and comic fans that haven’t seen it yet should feel bad about the direction their life is taking and watch it so they aren’t culturally backwards.

Iron Man – Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges
Score: A

Want more from the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Check out Team Ugli’s Iron Man fanpage here!

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