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IRON MAN REVIEW-A-PALOOZA

Movie Reviews by: Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski & Larry "Bocepheus" Evans

Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Matt Holloway, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby.
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow
Running time: 126 minutes Released: 05/02/08
Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content.
Movie Review by: Larry "Bocepheus" Evans
(***
½ stars out of 4)
"The film is filled with wonderful performances, none better than Downey as Stark
"

Marvel’s first movie of the summer and the first film in the financing deal that has the company calling the shots for adaptations of their characters has certainly set the banner high for future releases. The film tells the story of Tony Stark, electronics genius and his transformation from self centered billionaire weapons designer to superhero.

The film begins as Stark is on his way from a demonstration of the Jericho, a new missile defense system that could change the way that wars are fought. We start in a Hummer where Stark is dressed to the nines with a drink in his hand joking with the troops before the convoy is attacked by Muslim extremists. From that point we see the events that happened previously where Stark is getting an award for his technological breakthroughs. The sequence is well designed by the producers to show Stark as a young genius who hung with Bill Gates while in his teens so that non readers of the comics can see that he is a big deal. The sequence also introduces his business partner Obidiah Stane (Bridges) and his military handler Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes (Howard). We meet Stark (Downey Jr.) at a craps table at Caesars Palace where he is playing instead of being at the awards ceremony. While leaving the casino he is subjected to some harsh questioning by a reporter (Bibb) that leads to the introduction the following day to Pepper (Paltrow) Potts at Stark’s high tech California home. The scene and the following ones on the way to Afghanistan establish the Stark character before he gets the electromagnet installed in his heart that keeps the shrapnel from killing him.

Stark awakens to learn that he was not only attacked by Muslim terrorists (led by Faran Tahir) but has bits of shrapnel close to his heart that is being held at bay by an electromagnet and a car battery. The insurgents want him to build the Jericho weapon for their use. He is given an assistant, Dr.Yinsen (well played by Toub) and enough equipment but as fans of the comics know he builds something else. The initial suit is used to free him from captivity and drops him in the desert. Stark’s escape is also nicely put together by Favreau by combining action with pathos and will lead to his change in attitude.

Once he gets back to the States he improves the suit and the technology that keeps him alive while deciding to change the direction of his company. From there we see the second set of armor (silver and sleeker) and watch the flight tests (and some great scene stealing scenes by of all things, a fire extinguisher robot) before Tony takes his armor out for a spin in a bravura scene. That leads us to an even more impressive armor that is seen on his first outing as a superhero back in Afghanistan. From here we learn who was behind the attack on Stark in the first place and see that Stane isn’t as nice a person as Tony thinks.

The final scenes show Stane as the Iron Monger trying to kill Pepper while she is under the protection of the new agency SHIELD (seen in the form of Gregg). As was the case in the climax of Superman Returns Tony is less than 100 % (Stane has taken his new power source) but he comes after Stane anyway. The aftermath of the climax is used to give this new superhero a name (well, no one names himself) and has Stark meet the press and give an answer that wasn’t exactly part of the script to a question. That answer easily sets up a few scenarios for the next film (which we will see in 2010) and leads us up to the post credits sequence of Sam Jackson as Nick Fury.

The film is filled with wonderful performances, none better than Downey as Stark. He fits the character like a glove. We know of his substance abuse problems (we see Stark with a few drinks in the film) and it adds to his persona. In most films he comes across as one of the smartest people in the room and Stark is the smartest person in the room in every room he happens to wander into. Bridges exudes oily charm as Stane especially when we learn his true nature. Paltrow does the role of Pepper well as does Howard in the role of Rhodey. A Beautiful Mind’s Paul Bettany also does a great job as the voice of Jarvis, who here runs Stark’s home.

Iron Man also looks great due to the cinematography of Matthew Libatique, the production designs of J. Michael Riva and the armors designed by Stan Winston. And as for the script it isn’t normal to see four writers names but for Iron Man Marvel hired the teams of Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway to each write a version of the film then picked what they wanted from each after the scripts were in. It’s not a normal thing to do but Marvel pulled it off. Favreau also shows that he can handle a film such as this with ease.

Is this one of the best superhero films ever? I would say it is one of the best. Before seeing Iron Man my list included Richard Donner’s Superman, Tim Burton’s Batman, Steven Norrington’s Blade, Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. This film joins that list with ease.
 


Movie Review by: Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski.
(***
½ stars out of 4)
"This is what a superhero movie should be: an exciting, quick-witted adventure built to entertain."

It’s not enough that Marvel Comics is now able to ride the current wave of comic book superhero blockbusters by starting their own production company, and it’s not enough that they’re comfortable pumping something like $180 million into their first effort. What truly reveals where we are right now as a moviegoing public is that Marvel felt their best bet to launch their new studio was with a character not really known at all outside fanboy circles, a character who may not be marginal but is far from an icon. But in a decade ruled by comic book adaptations and colorful sci-fi adventures, even someone like Iron Man could become a guaranteed hit. The geeks haven’t just inherited the earth, they’ve invaded it.
But even non-geeks will find reason to celebrate the arrival of “Iron Man.” This is what a superhero movie should be: an exciting, quick-witted adventure built to entertain. It’s far from perfect - the script is plenty scattershot (the result of having four credits screenwriters, several more uncredited, plus extensive rewrites on the set) and the story never raises itself beyond the too-familiar origin story template - but it’s all handled with a lot of verve by cast and crew that its very style is energetic.

The movie is directed by Jon Favreau, the actor/director who showed off his fantasy storytelling skills with “Elf” and the underrated “Zathura” and now makes his finest feature yet. Here, Favreau doesn’t just understand what makes comic movies tick - he understands what makes this one tick. He knows what sets Iron Man apart from, say, Spider-Man or Superman. Like those characters, Tony Stark brings a certain American optimism to his exploits. But there’s also a bitterness alongside that optimism, a cynical anger that motivates the character. Even more than Peter Parker, Tony Stark’s personal life is a massive complication, from his struggles with alcoholism (a key point in the comics, only hinted at in this movie) to issues of guilt (he’s essentially a war profiteer who learns a harsh lesson and seeks penance). Yet through it all, Stark maintains his smarmy playboy demeanor, and Favreau is smart enough a filmmaker to let this dry, sarcastic tone carry the picture.

He’s also smart enough to cast Robert Downey, Jr., in the lead role. Downey is so right as Tony Stark that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the part. Some folks have mentioned the curious connection between actor and role - factoring in Downey’s infamous battle with drug addiction, both he and his character have essentially climbed their way out of dark periods, eager to make up for lost time - but the real issue is that few actors working today are as good as Downey at crafting such restrained wit punctuated by an ice-cold rock-and-roll attitude. Simply put, Downey is made of cool, and when it comes to taking a self-absorbed womanizer and making him someone worth cheering, who else could pull off such a task?

Favreau then overloads the supporting cast with equally impressive talent. Terrence Howard plays Stark’s beleaguered right hand man, Jim Rhodes. Gwyneth Paltrow is Pepper Potts, Stark’s secretary and possible love interest. Jeff Bridges is Obadiah Stane, Stark’s sly business partner. Any one of these actors, when placed next to Downey, could be considered an incredible “get.” To cram all of them into one film, in top roles, is to ensure than even if all else fails, at least the characters will be fascinating.

All else does not fail. The origin story behind Stark’s transformation into Iron Man is one that diverges most from 1960s-era Marvel Comics’ studies in science-gone-awry. Unlike other heroes who gain superpowers by accident, Tony Stark is the self-made man; his superpowers come from his super-powered suit of armor. And unlike other heroes who are either apolitical, Iron Man is rooted deeply in current events; his earliest adventures were anti-Communist heroics set in and around Vietnam, ideas which are upgraded for the movie to a terrorist storyline involving Afghanistan.

Tony Stark is in the country selling the U.S. military on his latest design of smart bomb when his caravan is bombed and he’s captured by a band of vague baddies (the movie never says “terrorists,” but then, it doesn’t have to) led by the wicked Raza (Faran Tahir). They want him to build a missile for them, and he reluctantly agrees - but he’s really building himself a massive, weapons-clad suit to aid in his escape. It works, and Stark, an inventor with a head for mechanics as well as business, gets the itch to build a sleeker, better suit. Having seen how the weapons his company built have landed in the hands of warlords, the rookie hero vows to rid the world of such death machines.

The film’s politics are shady at best - the script falls back on iffy Arab stereotypes (with one exception, they’re all either ruthless terrorists or powerless villagers in need of American salvation); Stark’s anti-weapon motivations come with plenty of holes (it’s never clear if Tony disapproves of American misuse - or even use - of his weapons; is he upset that these devices are made to kill, or that they just wind up killing the “wrong people”?); several of Iron Man’s fight scenes show a hero unconcerned with ending lives (so it’s OK for Stark’s weapons to kill folks, as long as Stark’s the one pulling the trigger?).

But it doesn’t matter. Such thoughts never enter our heads while the movie’s unspooling with a story that zips along at a breezy pace that not once feels like a full two hours. Favreau and company keep everything moving forward; it’s a movie that never slows down, even when it slows down. The film expertly reworks the origin tale into a ripping adventure that’s dependent as much on character as it is on plot.

It’s only when we enter the final half hour when things start to get a little too loose. A connection between Raza and a second villain quickly unfolds yet winds up shifting the focus just slightly off from where it should be, and the whole thing ends with a massive battle between Iron Man and a second mechanical supersuit (developed and operated by that second villain), which seems a little less complicated a finale than a movie this good deserves. It's a little too "Robocop 2" for my taste.

This is not to say, of course, that the movie fizzles in its final act. On the contrary, the fight sequence seen here is as thrilling, as exhilarating, as popcorn-munching fun as anything else that came before it. Favreau knows how to make an action movie sing, even when it comes down to a simple fight scene where people trade comic book-level dialogue at each other. And, heck, if “Iron Man” can be a giant heap of fun when it’s not working, then you can imagine just how good things get when it is working.

So in the pantheon of comic book inspired films, Iron Man never reaches the epic nature of Richard Donner's Superman. Nor does it achieve the comic to film perfection of Spiderman 2. It's just a little too predictable in its screenplay. But make no mistake. This is one of the very best films of this type in quite awhile. It also deftly announces Marvel's presence in the movie making business. Oh and it also has the funniest Stan Lee cameo yet. The summer movie season is off to a great start.
 

IRON MAN © 2008 Marvel Studios, Fairview Entertainment, Marvel Entertainment
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2008 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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