Sunday, May 11, 2008

Iron Man: Shellshocked

After partaking of the much anticipated Iron Man this last week in a surreal theater, packed with DLP technology and nearly every seat occupied by a bizarre confluence of bears, I came away with all of my hopes realized, and almost all of my fears allayed. Warning to those that have not seen the film yet: there's gonna be some serious spoilers here, so if you are not inclined to have the experience ruined, see the film before reading this one.

Suitably (ahem) warned? Ok, here we go.

What I liked:

- The movie took a cue from two highly successful comic book films: Spider-Man and Batman Begins. In Spider-Man, the movie worked so well because the director focused the attention on sharing the experience of what it would be like for a kid to suddenly have these powers. It wasn't the costume, or the bad guy: it was the sudden freedom to be able to do whatever he wanted, when he wanted. Peter Parker's scream of delight as he leapt from rooftop to rooftop was a primal expression of freedom. In Batman Begins, the director focused on making the seeming impossible a reality: how did Batman come to be? He focused on the psychological, but also on the reality of the real-world technology that would be required, grounding the character. In Iron Man, director Jon Favreau intelligently stayed away from the minutiae of weaponry and navigation systems, and focused on the feeling of a man who suddenly can fly; the rest was almost immaterial. That primal sense of reality and utter rush of Robert Downey Jr. as he takes flight in the Mark 2 suit was simply perfect, and instantly conveys both feelings.

- The actors were perfect, and perfectly used. Robert Downey was not only ideal as Tony Stark for this film, but his background makes him almost eerily suited for the evolution of the character. Jeff Bridges brought Obadiah Stane to a 3rd dimension I never thought possible from the comics. I was shocked at how good Gwynyth Paltrow was as Pepper Potts; I expected a throwaway role, but she made the character and her portrayal all her own and markedly important. And even though I agree that Terence Howard's voice was not what I would have expected for Rhodey, he was still very impressive in the limited screen time he had; I think he'll be much more important in the already-greentlighted sequel.

- The effects were better than I imagined. They made the armor make sense, far more than the comics ever could.

- The humor was perfect: just the right mix of fun, sarcasm, and lightening. So many times, it's a balance that is poorly executed, but they pulled it off so well.

- The in-jokes were great. S.H.I.E.L.D.'s involvement, and let's hope you stayed past the credits for the best cameo yet. They were good for the comic book geek, and the newcomer as well.

- I have to say, I was really impressed with the product placement: for a movie that clearly needed a few of them to get the budget paid, they were hardly Bond-like in their obviousness. Audi, Cisco, and more were well done.

What I did not like:

In the words of Charles Barletta, "everything was perfect, until those last 4 words." As a newcomer to comics, you may not understand the frustration fans have with the movies' penchant for trying to compress complicated, convoluted storylines. Let's just say that those last 4 words seem to imply a compression of 30 years of comics. Now, I am hopeful that it will turn out to be the ultimate in-joke by Favreau, a noted enthusiast, and that the sequel will open with the line, "Just kidding, folks," or they choose to break with the comics and go a different route altogether. Please, respect that there is much to mine there.

Overall, it is definitely my second favorite comic book movie (Batman Begins was, frankly, the ultimate), and I highly recommend the theater experience. Of course, it's immediately one to own.

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