Friday, May 2, 2008

From the Archive: "Iron Man" Film Review

Film Rating: A

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original review of “Iron Man.”

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
“Iron Man”
Originally published May 2nd, 2008

They say the best weapon is one you never have to fire. I prefer the weapon you only need to fire once. That's how dad did it, that's how America does it, and it's worked out pretty well so far.”
Guess what?  Robert Downey Jr. improvised that line.  It’s a small example of the sort of creativity, brilliance and charm Downey Jr. brings to the role of genius inventor Tony Stark.  I want to say this right off the bat; there’s a good chance Downey Jr. gives the best superhero performance of all time in this film.  He definitely deserves that praise.  Downey Jr. simply IS this movie.

That’s not to say that he’s the only things that make Iron Man one of the best superhero movies ever made.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s start at the beginning.

The film’s slickly paced and quick-witted opening sequences introduce us to Tony Stark (Downey Jr.), multi-millionaire super-genius who makes his money developing weapons for the U.S. army.  He’s also a fun-loving, sarcastic playboy that doesn’t seem to give a damn about, well, anything.  While in Afghanistan, the car Stark is in with a few other soldiers is attacked; the soldiers are killed, and Stark is captured and told to create a missile for the terrorists.

Instead, Stark builds the first Iron Man suit, and escapes with it.  Back in America, he shuts down his company’s weapons manufacturing division, to the annoyance of co-President of the company Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), and begins work on a new and improved Iron Man suit.

The film moves along at a brisk (for a superhero movie anyway) 126 minutes, every second of it fun and interesting.  Iron Man has all the makings of a great superhero film, but also ignores many of the regular superhero-flick conventions, making for something fresh and inventive, while still having a comfortable feel to it.  The inventiveness and creativity of the picture is what sets it apart from most superhero films.

The creativity is evident down to the very core, in the casting department.  As I said above, Robert Downey Jr. is simply phenomenal.  Rarely do we see an actor inhabit a character so completely; Downey Jr. and Tony Stark feel inseparable after just a minute or so of screen time.  The character is sarcastic and somewhat uncaring, throwing funny quips out in every direction; but he never feels like a jerk.  Downey Jr. humanizes him and makes him a loveable character from the get-go, and the drama of the film works because of this.

Jeff Bridges plays Obadiah Stane, the villainous co-president of Stark Industries.  He quickly sheds any memory of Jeff Lebowski and becomes an effective villain early on.  Terrence Howard portrays James Rhodes, military liaison to Stark Industries and Tony’s best friend; Howard doesn’t have to much to do, but he fits extremely well with the rest of the cast and has good chemistry with Downey Jr.

But the best character/performance other than Downey Jr. is Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark’s unusually competent assistant, Pepper Pots.  She’s gorgeous, down-to-earth and charming, and does a great job acting opposite Downey Jr.  The pair have great chemistry, and the subtle romantic plot between the two works to great effect.

In fact, this is one of the best romantic sub-plots I’ve ever seen in a superhero film.  Usually, the superhero-girlfriend-plot seems obligatory and forced (see Batman Begins) but the romance plot here is nice and subtle, and as a result, is much more enjoyable and realistic.  It’s fun to watch Stark and Pots interact with each other, and the end result of their relationship feels very real.

That’s just one superhero-movie convention that the film twists.  While most origin stories make the hero out to be perfect and without sin by the time they gain their powers, Iron Man looks at many aspects of Stark and doesn’t make him completely perfect.  His transformation from killer to savior is heartfelt, but he’s still not a perfect person when he starts saving people.  It’s hard to explain, but in the film (due in no small part to Downey Jr.’s performance) Tony feels very human and real throughout. 

The script is well-paced and well-written, and the 2 hour running time breezes by.  It actually comes close to feeling too short, but really it just tells a great story about a man with questionable morals becoming a hero.  It’s a very interesting and deep story about morals; who says that superhero movies can’t have compelling drama?  The film definitely has a sharp focus that it executes with precision; it isn’t bogged down by any origin stories of villains or other characters.  This movie is about Tony Stark; it’s about Iron Man.  Some superhero movies lose focus in their last act, but Iron Man always knows what it wants to be.  

Combine this with great acting and creative directing from Jon Favreau, and you get one of the best superhero movies ever made.  At the end, my first reaction was “when does the sequel come out?”  It hasn’t been officially announced, but I am totally stoked for it.  Iron Man is one of the year’s best films, a pitch-perfect start to the summer movie season, and a superhero film you do not want to miss.

Alright everyone, say it with me: I…am…IRON MAN!!!

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