It's nearly one a.m. and I have to get up for work in five hours. All I can say is, thank God for pre-midnight showings and thank God for Jon Favreau, who, with the biggest budget of his career, has made a great first entry in the Iron Man franchise.
I was never into Iron Man when I read comic books, partially because I was a DC fan and also because I never had much interest in a guy who flew around in a tin suit. As such, I knew very little about the character's story heading into the theaters, other than what I had seen in the previews. Thankfully, Iron Man turns out to be one of the more interesting superheroes, more along the vein of Batman than anyone else. He doesn't have special powers, he's rich and... well, that's about where the similarities end, but you get the drift. As far as movies go, Iron Man, I'm hesitant to say, may be better than Spider-Man 2.
Iron Man offers the audience a pretty good blend of character development, humor and action. Robert Downey, Jr. is masterful as Tony Stark, the playboy billionaire genius who, after discovering firsthand how evil his own company really is, puts his mind to very good use. Downey, despite initial concerns from some camps, is perfect for the role, as he brings an intelligent arrogance to the screen that seems all too natural for him. He makes the character his own, and I can't really picture anyone else in the role. He's funny, believable, powerful and entertaining all at once. Gwenyth Paltrow, as his right-hand "man" and possible love interest, is also surprisingly good in a supporting role. This is the best we've seen her in years, both visually and otherwise, and has real chemistry with Downey. Jeff Bridges turns in a pretty good though understated role as well.
One of the things that I believe makes a comic book adaptation work is the ability to combine deadpan humor with a serious storyline. This is why Fantastic Four failed; it went over the top on the comedy and thus no one was able to take it seriously when it tried to be so. Spider-Man 3 also suffered from an awkward blend. Iron Man, on the other hand, handles things smoothly. The movie is at times intense and almost always serious, yet it is full of jokes or split-second moments that leave the audience howling. Downey plays a big part in this, though Favreau must also be acknowledged for building comedy into the physical nature of the film - there's just something entertaining about watching bad guys can punched into a wall at ridiculously forceful speeds, or seeing Downey himself take a few hard hits.
As far as action goes, Favreau shows he can play with the big boys. There are some great action scenes in Iron Man, especially in the second half of the film. The sequence where Stark returns to Afghanistan is especially enjoyable. The visual effects live up to their end of the bargain, as they appear pretty seamless 95% of the time.
The one complaint I have is that there is just not enough action. It's not that the movie doesn't have enough action sequences, and I have no problem with the fact that this first Iron Man is an origin story, but Favreau does not deliver the long, intense action sequences one would expect. When Stark attacks the Taliban, he probably spends two or three minutes with them before getting targeted by the U.S. military. Stark flew all the way out there to kill some bad guys, yet he seems content with taking out just a few in a very localized region. Why not have him go on a rampage and do some real damage? Furthermore, just as we're really getting into the excitement at the end, the action fizzles. Watching Iron Man take on the other "robotic" character on the streets of LA screamed Transformers, yet the sequence is so much smaller in scope and length that it feels a little underwhelming. Favreau should have invested an additional ten minutes into the climax to really have Iron Man tear up the streets.
Still, Iron Man is a well-done, well-paced comic book adaptation that ranks among the best. It could have used some longer action scenes, but fans looking for a quality movie with a fair amount of explosions will not be disappointed. If this is any indicator as to how the rest of the summer will be, we're in for four great months of cinema.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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