Friday, November 13, 2009

“Let's face it, this is not the worst thing you've caught me doing.”

In the early summer of 2008, audiences were subjected to the first of a new wave of superhero films. While still delivering big action, it also opened the door for a unified setting that could bring hero franchises licensed to different studios together for the purposes of clever storytelling and making lots of money. Iron Man directed by Jon Favreau, seemingly came out of nowhere to knock mainstream audiences off their asses. I, of course, was closely following the quietly supportive buzz of the film and was not in the least surprised when it not only spawned a sequel, but also cluster of currently in-development Marvel Comics based films that all have the goal of dovetailing into a team movie. This makes the Avengers fan in me insanely happy.

Wealthy industrialist Anthony Stark is a brilliant but lazy and hedonistic heir to his father’s technology and weapons company. More interested in boozing and womanizing, Stark does eventually travel to Afghanistan to do a live product test of a new missile system for the Air Force. On his way back to base, he is critically injured and taken hostage during an ambush. His life saved by another captured scientist who implants an electromagnetic generator in his chest to keep the shrapnel in his body from reaching his heart (which would kill him) Stark and the scientist are told to build a missile, but instead build a means for Stark to escape; a suit of armor powered by the upgraded generator in Stark’s chest. And that’s all the flashback.

Stark escapes but his armor gets trashed. Back in the States, he convalesces and makes waves saying that he wants to take the company out of weapons sales until he can evaluate what went wrong (he found a lot of Stark weaponry in the terrorist camp). Holing up in his basement he refines his armor into a better form and then proceeds to take some matters into his own hands about getting his company’s weapons out of the hands of hostiles. That may prove tougher than it sounds.

Tony Stark/Iron Man: Robert Downey Jr. plays the playboy Stark to a tee in a fit of perfect casting. Stark is personable, brilliant and often bored by most of the less smart people around him. Tony Stark makes you feel he’s a cool exec with a heart of steel. You can tell how annoyed he gets when he has to explain something to someone that doesn’t get it the first time. Brilliant casting and acting combined with a character that always seeks refuge in audacity makes Tony Stark this movie’s badass.

Virginia “Pepper” Potts: Gwyneth Paltrow turns in a good performance as Stark’s patient personal assistant. Loyal to him, there’s also that strong hint of sexual tension between them, but also the realization that if they consummate their feelings, the friendship would fall apart because of who Stark is.

James Rhodes: Terrence Howard plays Stark’s Air Force buddy, a man with some clout in the service and a steadfast friend. Doesn’t really get to do a whole lot since its really more foreshadowing for the next movie (which replaces Howard with Don Cheadle)

Dr. Yinsen: Shaun Toub is the captured scientist who save Stark’s life and confronts him about finding a purpose in life.

Jarvis: Paul Bettany voices Stark’s personal computer system, a snarky, apparently sentient OS that gets uploaded to the Iron Man armor and tries to be the voice of reason for Stark’s more reckless decisions.

Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger: Jeff Bridges plays completely opposite the Dude as the guy who’s been running Stark Industries while Tony was out drinking martinis and bedding journalists. He doesn’t like Stark growing a conscience and taking tighter control of the company since (like it’s a spoiler) he’s the bad guy. Now if only he could fix that damn icing problem.

Raza: Faran Tahir (who was a Starfleet Captain in the Star Trek reboot) plays the shadowy, bald and later scarred leader of the Ten Rings, a multi-national terrorist organization bent on…well, their motives aren’t exactly clear, so he’s mostly there as foreshadowing of something that will eventually involve ten rings and has a connection to a certain Mongolian-connected super villain in the Iron Man mythos. Hopefully.

Agent Coulson: Clark Gregg plays a modest member of a government agency who’s full name is a mouthful (it gets abbreviated to S.H.I.E.L.D.). He has a very high interest in Stark’s activities and his new toy.

You know, I didn’t originally associate Jon Favreau, the witty writer and star of Swingers to have a really good sense of action movie aesthetics. I’m glad I was wrong, because this movie is slick, not just in looks but in pacing. Shots are well laid out and the special effects, including a practical costume of each Iron Man suit (as well as really well done CGI versions) help flesh out a hefty feel for the movie. Fight scenes are fantastically done, and the movie has a great industrial feel to it. Also, after the credits there is the mother of all teases for this shared universe that Marvel Studios is working on.

Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway all worked on the screenplay, adapting the comics character originated by Stan “The Man” Lee, “Dazzlin’” Don Heck, Jack “King” Kirby and Larry “I don’t know his Mighty Marvel nickname” Lieber. As far as an origin story goes, the screenwriters did a great job of adapting a Cold War superhero to a modern setting while still keeping the core traits of Tony Stark and his supporting cast. They did a great job, and the dialog in particular is fantastic.

The original score by Ramin Djawadi (Blade Trinity) is a little bit on the generic side, but I think its more industrial cues were a great fit to the film and there are moments where the score just completely clicks with the visuals, like when Stark takes the Mk. II for a spin over the city. Of course, the movie wouldn’t be complete without Black Sabbath’s “Ironman” playing at the very end of the movie.

2008 was a great summer for movies, and I will defiantly proclaim Iron Man as my favorite of the bunch. Dark Knight had the best villain and Wall-E was the best damn movie of the year, but Iron Man is just a fantastic ride that merges crazy SCIENCE with fast paced ADVENTURE! that you wish you could be a part of. If you haven’t already seen it, amend this status right away.

Or I will find you.

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