based on characters by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby
When Iron Man came out, I went to go see it with my dad—we bond over superhero movies and Pixar films. I’d heard nothing but good things about it, and I quite enjoyed it. But as the Marvel film universe gathered speed in 2011, I started getting excited for The Avengers, despite the lack of Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner. (We’ll get to The Incredible Hulk, I promise.) That meant I had to watch Iron Man 2, which I’d passed on when it came out, which meant that I had to reacquaint myself with Iron Man the first.
Iron Man follows Tony Stark, a genius-level industrialist as well as a complete playboy and the head of Stark Industries, started by his father. While demonstrating the latest Stark weapon for the United States military in Afghanistan, Stark is kidnapped by the terrorist group known as the Ten Rings, who demand that he make the missile he just demonstrated for them. With the help of Dr. Yinsen, another captive, he instead builds a powered suit of armor and fights his way back to civilization. But Tony has seen what his inventions have been doing, and sets out to correct it, building another suit to do so. But Obediah Stane, who essentially runs Stark Industries, doesn’t like Tony’s new independence, and sets out to stop him—by any means necessary.
This is one of the best superhero films out there. True, it won’t make you see God, but the production took the original material and pieced together the best possible adaptation from it. The cast is solid, the special effects are solid, and the writing—which is more or less improv—is solid. There are no cracks in this veneer; everything is just well put together. (And yes, I am restraining myself here from any imagery involving engineering.) I’ve never been a huge Marvel fan; as I’ve said, the snark Marvel brings to the table works better in film than it does in comics, although I’ve been finding myself well amused by Deadpool’s antics recently. Iron Man is plenty snarky, but there’s a heart behind it; despite his massive flaws, Tony is fundamentally a decent guy. His main problem is willful ignorance, but once he’s presented with unshakable evidence that his inventions are being used for evil, he does his best to turn it all around, although he remains arrogant, egotistical, and entitled. And that’s what makes Iron Man so much fun; it’s still got a heart underneath all its gorgeous slickness.
Casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was perhaps the best move a superhero film has ever made. While I’d argue that Downey’s Tony is made up of a little more Downey than I’d prefer, you can’t argue that he’s fantastic. He makes Tony likable—a Herculean task—even as he maintains his flaws well into his turn for the heroics. But it’s the way he bounces off the supporting cast that makes this cast fantastic. I quite like Gywneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts; calm, capable, but certainly not prepared for her Tony’s new occupation, although she ultimately handles herself quite well. Terrence Howard’s Rhodes is dignified but loose and warm enough to let you see why Tony and Rhodes are friends. And Jeff Bridges’ Obediah Stane is affably menacing, having been roused after Tony finally stands up to him and starts having his own ideas besides lucrative ones. They all work well together, even when Downey is out of the picture—the scene where Pepper discovers what Stane is up to in Tony’s office is thrillingly tense.
Making special effects believable has always been a challenge in filmmaking, and it’s only gotten worse with the introduction of CGI. There’s no two ways around creating a CGI Iron Man so that he can believably fly, but what Iron Man does right is grounding that CGI. We spend half the movie watching Tony create the Iron Man armor piece by piece, as well as testing it and making sure it works. Because of this, when Tony finally does don the suit and fly, we believe him. I’m also impressed by how the production team got around showing Tony’s perspective in the suit; it’s hard to describe, but it works well and reminds you how constricted this suit can be. It makes you that much more invested in the action sequences, simply because you’ve spend time establishing its boundaries and, thus, its realism. Iron Man has solved the believability issue that plagues every superhero movie ingeniously.
Bottom line: True, it won’t make you see God, but Iron Man is a near-flawless adaptation of the comic book character to the big screen, with a solid cast, solid writing, and solid special effects. Definitely worth a look.
I rented this DVD from the public library.