Week 20: Iron Man

Iron Man
Title: Iron Man
MPAA#: 44328
Showtime: 9:55
Ticket price: 10.99
Seat: Center-right
Shotgun: Mare, Lisa F., Jay M., Lisa M.
Attendance: Approximately 60
Weather: Clear, moderate
Food: Pretzel dog, Reese Bites, Coke from concession ($13)
Expectations: N/A
Pre-show ads: Coke Zero, Toyota, Stella Artois, Telus
Trailers: Indiana Jones and the Golden Plot Device

I don’t ordinarily like to get into a lot of personal background before writing one of these reviews, but in the case of this film, I think some disclosure is in order. First, I had already seen it before it came to Cinema 3. Since Cinema 3 has tended to be a venue for lower-ranked films on their way out, I did not expect to be seeing Iron Man again so soon. I did want to see it again, so that worked out well.

Second, I have been a fan of comic books all my life, and from time to time I even write and draw them myself. I do not have a particular attachment to superhero comics, but like many fans my age, they are what I grew up with because there was little choice at the time. I’m sure my experience of the new generation of superhero movies is influenced by that.

Third, I have always liked Iron Man, even though I have not always necessarily followed his comics career very closely. I remember enjoying the original run of his solo series in the early 1970s, and the last incarnation I remember was called Iron Man 2020, featured in a mid-80s miniseries. I always had a soft spot for the clunky silver “Mark 1” armor, and even made my own Mark 1 armor for Halloween a couple of years ago.

So now you know what a big nerd I am. I have seen pretty much all of the major comic book-based films of the past few decades and many others that you have probably not heard of (nor would you want to).

Superhero movies are one of the few sectors of the film business that has benefited from the blockbuster cycle. Hollywood has hit the kind of formula that they love: familiar characters, special effects, plus opportunities for sequels. As a general rule, they pour more resources into a movie about a “top-tier” character like Spider-Man and expect greater results.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. The first two Spider-Man and X-men films were fantastic; the third were major letdowns. Characters like Daredevil, The Fantastic Four, and The Punisher that are not so well known to the general public have been featured in surprisingly decent films.

My theory is that no matter how much you spend on effects and no matter how good your cast, a superhero movie can only succeed if it has a great script – ideally one that adapts a definitive story from the comics. For example, if you ask a comics fan what the definitive Daredevil story is, they might very well say the graphic novel “Born Again” by Frank Miller; and that is essentially what the film is built around. Compare that to the last Superman film: what was the story again? Basically a disjointed and loathsome love letter from a fanboy director to the last Superman film franchise- one that is not aging well at all.

And why does all of this matter, you ask? Why not just turn off your brain and enjoy this kind of movie? It matters because these movies are not just throwaway entertainments anymore. They cost a fortune to make and if they fail, that could kill a studio. It is not unusual for a superhero film to cost at least 100 to 200 million dollars. You could make a lot of other movies with that money; but like it or not, movie studios depend on blockbusters, and so all of the other movies that we see are determined at least a little by their success or failure. The studios are up to their waists in a river of comics and video games, aggressively panning for gold.

Iron Man is solid fucking gold.

Robert Downey Jr. gives what may be the performance of his life essentially playing himself as Tony Stark, the boozy genius inventor who has never given much thought to where his weapons go until they are turned against him. Gwyneth Paltrow is luminous as his long-suffering assistant with the unlikely name “Pepper” Potts. Many in the audience are delighted by the machines as much as the humans, thanks to the personality imbued in them by Paul Bettany as Jarvis and Downey himself, who convinces us that his impatience with everyone extends to Stark’s own artificially intelligent helpers.

The script is great. The casting and performances are great. The effects are great. The sound editing and music are great. The story is topical and while there are some goofy moments, the film earns them and owns them. This film is a success in every sense of the word – all the more remarkable considering that this character is basically unknown to anyone outside of comics, and the character does not really have a definitive story the way that top-tier characters like Spider-Man or The X-Men do. It is a rare win/win proposition for all sides; and I would gladly see it again.

Crowd reaction at end of movie: pleased
Weird credit(s): I never expected to see Don Heck in a film credit.
Credit cookie?: Yes.
For further consideration: ordinarily I would not comment on this kind of thing, but 4 commercials and 1 trailer this week? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
Opening next week: Indiana Jones; The Children of Huang Shi; Postal; War, Inc.
Please god, anything but: Postal (mainly because it is directed by Uwe Boll)

About Scott M

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7 Responses to Week 20: Iron Man

  1. John says:

    I also really enjoyed it. I have Iron Man comics from the mid 80s thru to the mid 00s; he’s one of three characters I really enjoy from Marvel (Daredevil and Hulk being the other two).

    I think this character comes across as more of a simple action hero in a special suit, and that is helping the cross over appeal. I also think women are enjoying the strong performances, bit of romance with Pepper, and the humor. Thought this was the best job Paltrow has done in, well, quite a long time (I’m not a fan). Downey was born to play this role.

    I didn’t think Terence Howard did a particularly good job, which surprised me, as he is usually pretty solid. I also didn’t quite like (but certainly did not dislike either) the final fight scene. Something about it didn’t have me cheering like I wanted to. But the rest of the film was great.

  2. Lisa says:

    I enjoyed possibly more the second time – I was happily anticipating everything. The first flight test, for example, had me giggling just leading up to it. Excellent movie. It’s definitely going into my collection when it comes out on DVD. 🙂

  3. Scott says:

    @John, yes, the final fight scene is one of those goofy moments I was writing about (with the worst named villain imaginable, “Obadiah Stane”.) It reminded me of the final fight scene against the Giant Electric Nick Nolte in Ang Lee’s Hulk movie. At least this one wasn’t overlong, and I enjoyed seeing Tony have to fight a variant of his own technology; it’s the kind of story they would have done (and have done) in the comics.

  4. Russell says:

    I liked this movie so much I subscribed to the comic.

  5. Scott T says:

    Great review Scott..you hit all the points – especially related to STORY WRITING.

    The only bone of contention I have is with this statement:

    “Characters like Daredevil, The Fantastic Four, and The Punisher that are not so well known to the general public have been featured in surprisingly decent films.”

    I don’t think either of the FF films were surprisingly decent. Surprisingly daft maybe…but decent?

  6. Scott says:

    @Russell, my sympathies. I’ll be surprised if the Iron Man comics are anywhere near as fun as the movie. I was reading a review yesterday where the writer was surprised to find that Marvel did not really create any Iron Man comics to capitalize on the film.

    Apparently John Favreau is writing an Iron Man one-shot comic, at least.

    @Scott, compared to every other incarnation to date of the FF on film or TV? Yes, extremely decent. Far better than I imagined. My expectations were VERY low. They aren’t great movies by any means, but the Thing/Torch interplay alone is worth it, and they pulled off a Galactus/Surfer story a lot better than their cohorts pulled off a Dark Phoenix story or a Venom story.

  7. Mike B says:

    I went to see this the second time last night and it’s still gold. I’ve found a lot of these Blockbusters don’t weather a second viewing as well because the surprise element is gone, Robert Downey Jr. is so fun to watch in this and it’s such a well done movie that it was just as fun even when you know what is coming. Also the comic nerd in me picked up on the hints at the the mandarin with the “Ten Rings” organization.

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