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Iron Man – a whole lot of “not bad”

May 5, 2008

There are spoilers in this review, so if you haven’t seen the movie and you care about spoilers, don’t read any further.

I just saw Iron Man in theaters on Friday.  Long story short:  It’s the best Marvel Comics superhero movie made to date.  Unfortunately, that’s not saying much as pretty much every Marvel superhero movie made to date has been pretty bland, with the possible exception of The Punisher.

First off, the good points of the movie:  gadgets, CGI, and Robert Downey, Jr.  There are gadgets, and lots of ’em.  Any self-respecting gadget freak/computer nerd will want to make sweet, sweet love to the screen when they see Tony Stark building all of his super toys.  I have to admit, the gadgets and their testing were done perfectly in the movie.  The special effects were transparent and you could really believe that Tony Stark was testing out a real set of flight boots and his palm weapons/flight stabilizers.  This leads to the CGI.  The special effects were top-notch in this film.  I am glad Jon Favreau didn’t rely too heavily on CGI, which is the downfall of many possibly-great movies.  The CGI was used exactly how it’s supposed to be used:  as a tool to enhance the physical special effects, i.e., the suit was a real suit, but the CGI allowed the audience to see the suit in flights and in fights.

Robert Downey, Jr. gets his own paragraph.  I must start off by saying I was a huge fan of Robert Downey, Jr. with all of his roles in the 80s and early 90s (Chaplin was GREAT!).  It was tough to hear about his drug problems and brushes with the law in the mid-90s.  It’s taken him a long time to pull himself back up to the Hollywood A-list and I’m glad to see he’s made it back when so many don’t.  Ironically, it was his own experiences with drug use and alcohol that made him a perfect candidate for the alcoholic Tony Stark, although this movie didn’t delve too deeply into Tony Stark’s addictions (maybe in the sequel?).  Mr. Downey looks exactly like the Tony Stark of the comics and adds enough of his own wry comedic talents to keep the movie relatively light.

Now, the bad parts:  pacing, storyline, the villain, and that whore, Stan Lee.  Okay, first, the pacing.  Why is it that I walk out of every Marvel superhero movie feeling like I just ran a 40-yard dash?  All Marvel movies I’ve seen, including Iron Man, feel incredibly fast-paced, but not in a good way.  The scenes all feel rushed, especially the scenes where the heroes are doing what they do best:  kicking ass.  In all the scenes with Iron Man flying around or doing cool stuff in his suit, I felt like I was being rushed.  I wasn’t given any time to properly appreciate the scenes.  I felt as if some slimy accountant was sitting over Jon Favreau’s shoulder the entire time, constantly reminding him of the special effects budget.  Damn, Jon, I want to see that suit, man!  The movie isn’t called Tony Stark Sometimes Wears Armor!  It’s called freaking Iron Man!  Show me the damn suit for more than 2 seconds at a time.  And don’t shake the camera while you’re doing it to blur the motion!  Because of the frenetic camera work and those quick-cut scenes, the movie ends up feeling so rushed that you get to the end of the 2 hours and go, “What the hell did I just see?”

Second, the storyline.  This movie fell prey to the same problem that damn near every first superhero movie falls prey to:  the origin story.  Can’t someone make a decent first superhero movie and not waste the first hour of the movie with some BS origin story?  We don’t even get a glimpse of Stark’s first Iron Man suit, the Mark I, until half of the damn movie is over!  Then we have to sit through 45 more minutes watching Stark design his flight boots and gloves.  Finally, at the end of the movie, we get to see the final Mark III gold-and-red suit.  He flies to some generic Middle Eastern country in the Mark III to beat up on his former captors, then comes back and fights Jeff Bridges (who is acting very un-Dude) in a beefed-up version of the Mark I.  Then the credits roll.  For this reason alone, the first movie in a new superhero franchise is usually worthless.  Hell, even my all-time favorite, Batman Begins, suffers a bit from this.  The only reason to go see the first movie in a franchise is to provide funding so the studios can finally make a decent sequel movie.  Which makes me so so so excited for Iron Man II!

Third, the villain.  Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane, Stark’s right hand man in the company his father built, is a mediocre villain.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Jeff Bridges.  He’s Flynn from Tron.  He’s Starman from Starman!  He’s the Dude (or Duder, or el Duderino, if you’re not in to the whole brevity thing) from The Big Lebowski.  But why even bother casting such a big name star in such a cookie cutter villain role as Obadiah Stane?  Couldn’t you save several million and go with some unknown actor, and then pump that extra cash into more screen time for the Mark III suit?

Fourth, and the worst part of the whole movie:  the whore, Stan Lee.  Why the hell does he insist on making stupid cameos in every single Marvel movie?  He’s not Alfred Hitchcock, for pete’s sake.  Maybe it was a cool inside joke in some of the early Marvel movies, but now it’s reached a point where every time I see him, I want to punch his smug, Kirby-idea-stealing face in.  And in this one, he’s apparently impersonating Hugh Hefner, dressed in the full robe with an arm full of beauties.  Is he that arrogant to believe he’s somehow the equivalent of Hugh Hefner, a true publishing giant and a man who was visionary enough to single-handedly launch an entire genre of magazines?  It is widely accepted that Jack Kirby was the true creative force of the early partnership he had with Lee, which means Lee is not only not a Hugh Hefner, but he’s little more than a remora, attaching himself to better, more creative people and benefiting from it.  Stan, do everyone a favor and stay out of the movies.  If you feel that you absolutely have to stick your mug in every single flick Marvel whores out to Hollywood, then stick to the type of cameo you made in Spider-Man, where you were just a nameless face in the crowd.

So, to summarize, there were parts of the movie that were great.  Downey’s Stark is easily the most believable of all the Marvel movie heroes.  He truly does seem like someone you’d actually meet on the street (well, on Wall Street, maybe…).  The Stan Winston suits of armor are incredible.  The CGI is used to perfection.  Considering it’s an origin story, it’s one of the better jobs I’ve seen.

This movie absolutely beats any and all other Marvel movies out there.  But I still think it falls short of the current king-of-the-hill in superhero movies, Batman Begins.  If Favreau had had more special effects budget and less time to waste on an origin story, this movie would have been first class.  That makes me so giddy for a sequel.  Sign Downey and Favreau up for 3 movies, right now!

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