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May 21, 2008

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Movie Review – Iron Man (2008)

by RISHI AGRAWAL

Iron Man launches yet another franchise in Marvel’s ever-growing stable of superhero films. I am not sure how well known Iron Man is outside comic book circles, but certainly he does not have the fame of Captain America or Spider-Man as far as Marvel heroes go and so the origin story is particularly important. The film fulfills its goals admirably, by giving us a very watchable film which creates a base on which to build future films. Throw in some decent acting with nice action sequences and great special effects, and this is the movie that fans have been hoping for.

For those of you unfamiliar with the plot, here’s a brief recap. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has a natural gift for technology and inherits Stark Industries, a weapons manufacturer, when his father dies. He grows up playing the roles of both brilliant inventor and wealthy playboy, until he gets kidnapped by terrorists, forced to make weapons for them. Instead of making weapons, Stark builds a technologically advanced suit of armor and becomes Iron Man. When he gets back to civilization, he perfects the suit and fights evil people.

As expected, the action sequences in the film are phenomenal. The suit looks great. Most importantly, one of the toughest jobs for a director in superhero films is infusing a masked crusader with humanity. Jon Favreau’s job is made even more difficult by the fact that Iron Man, in the suit, looks even more inhuman than most heroes. The key to making these scenes work is by getting inside the suit and showing Stark’s face while controlling the suit. At one point, Stark takes a cell phone call in the middle of an action sequence.

This is another strength of the movie. The film can be lighthearted and funny. Downey Jr.’s natural charisma comes through as he portrays Stark as an amicable and likable character. As a billionaire bachelor, it would be easy to compare Iron Man to Batman, but Tony Stark is not Bruce Wayne. The dark cloud that hovers over the Batman movies would not work in this film.

In addition to Downey Jr.’s great performance, Gwyneth Paltrow is very good as Stark’s assistant Pepper Potts. Paltrow especially works in her scenes with Downey Jr. Their relationship is innocent and tender, which serves in sharp contrast to Downey Jr.’s other “relationships” with women in the movie, which are merely sexual conquests.

Unfortunately, the other acting in the film is less interesting. Terrence Howard, playing Stark’s good friend Jim Rhodes, is hardly used in the movie and is obviously just slipped in to set up storylines for future films. And Jeff Bridges looks like he is simply playing dress-up as he takes the role of Obadiah Stane, an executive who ran Stark Industries between the time Stark’s father died and when Tony Stark came of age. Bridges in this role dons a bald cap and a bushy beard, but never truly embodies the role.

Still, none of this leads to my ultimate problem with the film. This is a film that is almost completely without subtlety. The good guys are good and the bad guys are evil. Even Stark’s flaws: his tendency to go to excess (especially with alcohol) and his arrogance are downplayed in the film. The film goes in generally expected directions, which is unsatisfying in a plot-driven film. Perhaps I would have this problem with all superhero movies, but I would wager if I watched Spider-Man 2 or Batman Begins again, there would be a lot more going on than what was on the surface. Still, despite this observation, the film does some things towards the end (and after the final credits roll) that truly make me excited for more films in this franchise.

3 stars


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Review of Iron Man 2

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Helen
    May 21 2008

    I had a good time at Iron Man. I’ll be well pleased if all the Marvel films are as enjoyable. Not that I don’t see flaws (in fact, I agree with most of your criticisms and also give it a 3 star rating), but there was so much that worked that the good easily carried the film over the rough parts. Downey Jr. makes the movie, and I also liked the humor in the dialogue and in running jokes like the Iron Man’s landing issues.

  2. May 22 2008

    I loved Iron Man. I do have to agree that it’s not exactly subtle, but there wasn’t any particular aspect that I didn’t enjoy. Personally, I liked it better than both Batman Begins and CERTAINLY Spider-Man 2, but that’s just me.

  3. Geoff
    May 24 2008

    For me, origin stories are often a tough fit for superhero movies. So much time must be spent on obligatory sequences, it generally shortchanges the villain. Even Liam Neeson could only do so much in Batman Begins, and the same problem rears its ugly head here in Iron Man. For the most part, though, I enjoyed the film. Favreau moves everything along briskly and casting Downey Jr. was a stroke of brilliance.

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