Iron Man

Iron Man

Film review by: Witney Seibold

 

 

            “Iron Man” is probably the most solid summer blockbuster I have ever seen. It makes no missteps. It never exaggerates (when it’s not called for). None of the characters do anything that is extraneous to the story or their personalities. The storytelling is brisk and economical. The look of the film is bursting with shiny special effects, but, unlike most effects-laden blockbusters, the effects serve the material rather than the other way around. I wouldn’t necessarily call “Iron Man” a great film; it still doesn’t plumb the depth of feeling of, say “Batman Begins” or “Spider-Man 2,” but it still manages to be, well, pretty much perfect on its own terms.

 

            Much of the film’s success is thanks to Robert Downey, Jr. in the lead role of Tony Stark, a fun-loving playboy millionaire who creates the iron suit to make himself the titular superhero. Downy has always been an expert at playing funny irascible assholes (one can go all the way back to “Soapdish” in 1991 to see that), and infuses Stark with a wacky joy. But with “Iron Man” he also brings his ability to be casually melancholy into the part. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not a broody Byronic whiner. He’s an intelligent, cynical man who is genuinely transformed by some sad revelations. Downey can read his “heavy” lines with just the right amount of gravitas, revealing depth without betraying the Stark character.

 

            But just as much of the film’s success rests on the rest of the cast. Jeff Bridges plays Obaidah Stane as the older-and-wiser-than-thou co-owner of Stark’s company, and is, likewise, able to give the part some casualness that implies that he and Stark have had a long and illustrious working relationship, rather than a compulsory screenplay relationship. He is the one who will eventually have a battle royale with Stark, and functions as the story’s villain, but has no Snidely Whiplash-ish “supervillain” qualities. Stane is a strong man standing up for what he needs.

 

            The same goes for Gwyneth Paltrow, who, as Stark’s personal assistant Pepper Potts (a name that only reminds me of Terry Jones or Graham Chapman speaking in falsetto) is able to show a palpable romantic tension with Stark, while still giving us a sense that this woman has a life outside of what we see in the movie. It’s one of Paltrow’s better performances. Terrence Howard appears as an army colonel friend of Stark’s, and is, appropriately, all business. Oh, and there are implications for the fanboys that he will appear as War Machine in the inevitable “Iron Man 2.”

 

            The story: Tony Stark, ultra-rich playboy owner of a Lockheed-Martin-style weapons manufacturer, is kidnapped while in the Middle East on a publicity tour for a new type of missile. He is held captive in a cave with another captive named Yinsen (Shaun Toub), forced by a local militia to assemble weapons for them; the militia is already well-armed, in that they’ve bought hundreds of Stark-brand merchandise for themselves (which, if you pay any attention to the news, you’ll know is true. Most Middle Eastern militias are using American weapons). Stark, in addition to being a businessman, is also a genius engineer, and promises to do what they ask. He constructs a chest-implanted device to keep his heart beating (he was injured in the kidnapping), and proceeds, with Yinsen, to build a weapon that will help him escape. They build an enormous, impenetrable suit of armor in that cave. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that the suit works like a charm.

 

            Back in the states, Stark has had a change of heart toward his company’s money-grubbing, sell-weapon-to-the-highest-bidder policies, and, when he cannot change his associates’ minds (Obadiah Stane is resistant to the idea of being a pacifist weapons-dealer; such people rarely make money), decides to make a slicker version of his high-tech armor and fly to the Middle East himself to personally dismantle the Stark arsenal.

 

            This may be a bold statement, but actor/director Jon Favreau may be poised to be the next Stephen Spielberg. Favreau has Spielberg’s canny ability to infuse original special effects with childlike wonder (he did a similar thing in his “Zathura”). He has Spielberg’s sense of honest-to-goodness joy and exhilaration with whatever the film’s material may be. But, in addition, Favreau has a natural and warm approach to dealing with his actors. In “Iron Man” for instance, he doesn’t allow the hero to be cartoonishly heroic. He doesn’t allow the flustered personal assistant to flutter into a dull lady-type caricature. Even the film’s villain is less than villainous, and more resolute in his opposing beliefs.

 

            Like I said, “Iron Man” is not a film that plumbs severe dramatic depths, but its characters all come to their conclusions naturally, its special effects are seamless, and its sense of fun never lets up for its 126 minutes. It’s really quite good.

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Published in: on June 3, 2008 at 7:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

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