Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Review: "Iron Man"

What can I say about this movie that hasn't been said already? Still, I'm not going to let that stop me. Here, have a fun fact before we begin.

I kind of wish that had stayed in.
The story is a mish-mash of several plot lines from the comics, including the origin (which was updated to take place in Afghanistan instead of Vietnam), the Iron Monger arc, and a few elements of "Demon in a Bottle." And it works beautifully. Unlike, for example, Spider-Man 3, which mixes in several classic storyline a to the ultimate detriment of the finished film.

Because the character's life in the comics is absolutely rife with inner turmoil, espionage, and betrayal, mixing these story ones meshes really cohesively, as opposed to the Sandman being born at coincidentally the same time a random Venom-meteor hits New York right after Harry Osborn decides to get his vengeance before Spider-Man plans on proposing.

(That sentence was hard even for me to follow.)

Instead, things are combined and simplified into a single story.
  • Obadiah wants the company, so he puts a hit out on Tony.
  • Tony escapes with his new invention and...
  •  Uses it to avenge the town of the guy who helped him escape.
  • Tony has inner turmoil as Obadiah continues to plot.
  • Final conflict between robot suits.
Each part of the story flows into the next. In fact, one of the things I find interesting is the story's structure. Most students and some film goers know about the three-act structure. Iron Man can be argued to have at least five, which can be roughly summed up by my five bullet points earlier. But instead of overwhelming the movie, this keeps the story moving forward at all times. Instead of getting bogged down with the need to stretch out three acts into ninety minutes, the five acts move briskly and cohesively.

Ever hear a critic say that the second act of a movie flounders? It's because plot points are belabored over. Its because the movies are padded like pillows. It's a case of not enough plot, which this movie doesn't suffer from.

All in all, the plot is tightly constructed and moves briskly. And it's good.

Like most superhero films, it begins with an origin. But what's different about Iron Man is that not only is the origin absolutely tied into the actual plot, but the whole film could be seen as an origin. No, scratch that. A journey.

Tony's line at the end, "I am Iron Man." is an important one. Sure, he suits up in the first half hour or so of the movie, but he's not Iron Man until the end of it. Because that's the moment he becomes part of a larger world.

In many superhero movies, the origin is just an excuse to have a hero go on an adventure. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as seen in Spider-Man. But this movie makes the superhero origin into enough of an adventure to fill a movie by itself. Jon Favreau admits to taking inspiration from James Bond and RoboCop, and it shows in the film's tone. He also admits to being inspired by 2006's Batman Begins, which shows in the film's structure. And now that I've mentioned Batman Begins, I've kind of forced myself to talk about its sequel that came out the same year as Iron Man, The Dark Knight. I ended up saying a lot more than I thought I would about that, so I've included it in a separate post to be posted in a couple days.

The main theme of this movie is rebirth. From man to Iron Man. From warmonger to shining knight. Tony Stark starts off on the very top, only to fall to his own hubris (a running theme in superhero films). And he takes that opportunity, as trite as it sounds, to be the change he wants to see.

Tony Stark truly learns that with great power comes great responsibility.

Another major theme is simply in the second part of the title. Iron MAN. Tony Stark is not alright. He came home and built himself a way to hide from the world. While hiding from the world. This is a hero who's all too human. In fact, this part of the story isn't over. It will take more than a few films to get there, but Tony Stark is far from recovered.

But what people usually talk about is the lesson that you can be a hero and a sarcastic jerk.


Tony Stark

In a word? Perfect.

In many words? Robert Downey, Jr. saved the character.

I want to hug Stan Lee. And Robert Downey, Jr.
Back in the 90's, the comics revealed that the character had been secretly a villain for years as an agent of Kang the Conqueror. So the Avengers defeated him with the help to his teenaged self from the past, or something. So there was a while when Iron Man was a teenager. Audiences hated it, so it was quickly ignored.

Then came Civil War. Long story short, Superhero Registration Act, Captain America vs. Iron Man, heroes fighting, and Iron Man's side acted like a bunch of Nazis. They also won.

Also, Tony Stark started a war that no one remembers.
Iron Man was now nicknamed "Der Eisenfuhrer" and was one of the most hated characters in comics.

Then came the Iron Man film. Robert Downey, Jr.'s performance introduced the character to a whole new audience, and Marvel seized the opportunity to reinvent the character a bit. Gone was the straight laced former alcoholic. Tony Stark became a witty, good-natured, flawed person to match the film depiction. And the film depiction was pretty good, to boot.

Robert Downey, Jr. plays the character as a narcissistic jerk with a heart of gold. (Or an Arc Reactor.) Tony grows, but he doesn't really change. RDJ has stated in interviews that one of the things he really likes about the character is the fact that even though he becomes a better person, he doesn't pull a 180. He doesn't immediately become a goody-goody superhero, he just starts doing the right thing.

It's easy to see that RDJ pours a lot of himself into the role. Just look up his drug-addled past and compare it to the present. The guy knows what it's like to be a broken wreck, and life kind of imitates art since this movie revitalized his career in the same way that Tony Stark's life turned around. RDJ would never have ended up playing Sherlock Holmes if it hadn't been for this movie. And who else could have played that part?

Besides Dr. Strange, I mean.
The moral of the story is that anyone can be a hero. Even jerks.

Pepper Potts
A feisty firecracker, this one. Gwyneth Paltrow elevates what could have been a bland, shallow character into Tony's verbal match. She's capable, and she don't need no man! But that's not to say she and Tony don't deserve each other.

People have complained about bland, boring love interests in superhero films. This right here'll fix that. Pepper should be the standard, people.


At first, he seems like a generic villain. A capable, scary one, but generic nevertheless. Luckily, his evil presence throughout the movie is mainly to distract us from the real villain under our noses. Much like a certain other Iron Man movie, but we'll get there in time.

Raza takes a few cues from the comic version of the Mandarin, mainly through his involvement with the Ten Rings. (Changed from magic rings into the name of a terrorist group.) This means that Obadiah's betrayal, though inevitable, becomes more of a surprise.

Obadiah Stane
Originally, Obadiah's villainy would be saved for a later film. Then they got Jeff Bridges and decided to increase his focus. And he is amazing in this, though the same can be said for most of the actors. Even though his backstabbing might be inevitable, the extent he went to is still pretty shocking. And it's all in the performance.

What really gives him depth as a villain is that when the character starts talking, he's usually right. Tony did change. The Board of Directors does have rights. Giving the world an ultimate weapon after trying to rid the world of weapons is ironic.

Obadiah Stane is proven to be Tony's opposite number. Calm, collected, but not talented. Also evil. There's even opposition in their names. Stark (as in "pure") and Stane (as in "stain"). A perfect foil for Tony Stark, and a masterful performance by one of my favorite actors. The Newt abides.

Supporting Characters
James "Rhodey" Rhodes

Oh, yeah, he was in this, wasn't he?

I don't know what makes Rhodey tick. He's Tony's black friend. ... What else was there? He's barely in this movie, apart from when the plot needs him. Terrence Howard's, shall we say, less than engaging performance doesn't help. He's a far cry from being awful, but was overshadowed by the rest of the stellar cast. The character is mainly here to set him up for becoming War Machine later. ("Next time, baby.") It's too bad that this leaves little for the character to do in this one.

Though not human, like his comic counterpart, JARVIS manages to play the role of the Alfred. Let's face it. Tony wouldn't take his butler's advice. In the Ultimate Universe, JARVIS is a human who unfailingly does what Tony says, but is still a snarky bastard about it. That's the take on the character that we get here. At the very least, he's more interesting than a generic computer. At most, he compliments the other characters without complicating the movie by the addition of another character. Paul Bettany does a great job with the voice over, though he's openly admitted to taking the role mainly as a source of easy money.

Ho Yinsen
The man who gives Tony his life back as well as something to live for. He may only be onscreen for a few minutes, but Shaun Toub delivers a powerhouse performance. You frickin' believe that Tony Stark would change his ways after losing his only friend during captivity. The genuineness and heart to the character and performance really create a moment of tragedy, right up there with the death of Uncle Ben.

Agent Phil Coulson
Almost a non-entity. He's a means to an end, and his lines are only a step above what a nameless extra could have said. In fact, most people forgot all about him after the movie was over. And yet, he's fun to watch. Clark Gregg is clearly enjoying every second he gets to be in this movie for. And his patience would be rewarded by the sequel.

Love you, Clark.
A couple years ago, I called his face "punchable."  Let me explain. When all we had was this movie, Clark Gregg had little to work with. At the time, I found him a bit smug and a little unlikable. I don't know how much is hindsight and how much is me maturing, but I loved him by the time Avengers came around. But, yeah, seeing this for the first time in the theatre, that was my reaction. Sorry, Clark!

I'm really happy for Clark Gregg. He's not the tallest or handsomest, he's balding, and he got stuck with a glorified extra... But he stuck it out, and was rewarded with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Well done, sir.

...sorry again.

Nick Fury
It's Samuel L. Jackson. And he's awesome. But I can't fairly review his performance. The guy barely said twenty words and I was too busy squealing with glee.

Excellent. The song selection is spot on. "Back in Black," "Institutionalized," and, of course, "Iron Man."

The composed music is pretty awesome, too. You won't really find yourself humming a theme, but that's only because there's so many. The composer, Ramin Djawadi, basically created a bunch of motifs and semi-themes. A heroic theme, a flying theme, an evil theme, a love theme, etc. and seamlessly blended them into a soundscape.

It's solid work that's sadly often overlooked.

They still hold up. A lot of that is thanks to the legendary Stan Winston creating actual Iron Man suits to be integrated with CGI. The effect is nearly seamless and looks fantastic. A lot of the special effects were done on set, and they actually constructed enough of an Iron Monger suit to put Jeff Bridges in for filming. This is how CGI is meant to be used. Not as a replacement for practical effects, but as a complement.

Now let's go over the best of the best.

Best Character: Tony Stark.
'Nuff said!

Best Actor: Shaun Toub
Robert Downey, Jr. is not so much "acting" as he is just doing improv. It works well, but I have to credit Toub for what he does in such little time to create a heartbreaking character.

Best Line: "Let's face it, this is not the worst thing you've caught me doing."

Final Verdict: A must-see first outing for Iron Man as well as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Next time in the MCU, the not-so-jolly green giant. See you then!

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