Thursday, June 12, 2008

Iron Man

A neat little movie. The core idea and how it plays out is pretty excellent. Where most comic book franchises are somehow rooted in youth and the transition to adulthood, Iron Man is unabashedly adult and middle-aged by comparison. It's not Amadeus or The English Patient or anything, but simply adding a little maturity to the equation does wonders.

Iron Man is in many ways a scolding response to the shallowness of Transformers. The erroneous cynicism of the Michael Bay movie ("admit it, asshole, you just want to see robots beating the shit out of each other") is reversed ("you are going to love Tony Stark... also, he beats the shit out of some robots"), resulting in a movie with quite a bit more heart. So to speak.

Beyond the obvious character/conceptual advantages, the nucleus of Iron Man's plausibility is the time the filmmakers take to show us how the suit works. You get a detailed, tactile introduction to how it's built, how it evolves over time, the specific capabilities. During the fight scenes, you know exactly what's going on, and you believe that the suit can perform as it does. The action isn't ground-breaking or kinetic on its own or anything, but at least you know who's punching who. It's still CGI, but the effort made to ground the suit in reality pays off when asses starts getting beaten.

On the other hand, I couldn't tell you a damn thing about who did what to whom in a single fight in Transformers. Couldn't tell you how they inhabit the cars they choose to impersonate, what moves they were executing on each other while the camera was flying through their legs, etc. The fight sequences may have a greater sense of grandeur (the Iron Man finale seems to have little effect on anyone but the three principals) but what does it matter if you don't know what you just saw? (THEY JUST KICK ASS, OKAY? YOU LOVE ROBOTS BEATING THE SHIT OUT OF EACH OTHER, SO SHUT UP!!!) Jon Favreau may not know kinetics, or demand things to be awesome*, but at least he and his team can put together a coherent action sequence.

Then there's Tony Stark himself. The pitfall for this character would be the Superman Problem, where invincibility breeds boredom. But he's so rooted in plausibility and rakish charm that minor details like funding sources and sentient robots go down smooth, like the medicine buried in a spoonful of sugar. Not much more needs to be said about Robert Downey, Jr.'s superstar turn, except to comment that it not only continues a recent tradition of "serious" Hollywood personalities slumming it with genre movies, but also provides us with a competitor to Johnny Depp for Beloved Weirdo Of The Moment. I have a feeling RDJ is going to cement that status once Tropic Thunder drops.

Anyway, enjoyed myself a lot. Not perfect, not a rules-changing phenomenon or anything, but definitely a good movie, and one that should be fun to see playing ten times a day on TNT in a couple years. All in all, I give Iron Man four iterations of the suit out of five.

* - I actually really enjoyed this commercial. You get a clear idea of which items on his patio are exploding, and when. Not that hard!

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