I Am Iron Man

I’m not the biggest Iron Man fan. I like him well enough as a character, but only read a few of his solo comics. Mostly stuff drawn by John Romita Jr., like Armor Wars 2. And he’s kind of a dick in the current comics. So I didn’t really get excited about the movie until I saw the trailer.

Pretty kick ass, huh? So was the movie. I have to say I was impressed with almost everything. John Favreau did an amazing job on his first big budget blockbuster, and I hope they give him the Avengers movie. This film is perfect for both comic fans and casual moviegoers who know nothing about Tony Stark.

the source material

The Invincible Iron Man was a creation spinning out of the first slew of comics produced by the Da Vinci of graphic novels, Stan Lee. Millionaire Tony Stark was captured in the Vietnam War and was forced by his captors to build a weapon for them. During his capture he took shrapnel to his chest, and built an iron chest plate attached to his heart which kept him alive. The chest plate gave him another idea, and instead of building a weapon for his jailers, he built a suit of armor to help him escape. As could happen only in the fantasy world of Silver Age comics, Tony decided to use his new abilities to be a hero. He went on to found the Avengers, alongside husband and wife team of Giantman and the Wasp, the Incredible Hulk, and the Norse (re: Viking) God of Thunder, the Mighty Thor. Together, the Avenger changed the world, starting with their discovery of the body of Captain America frozen in suspended animation. From there his history only gets more complicated, and is honestly irrelevant to the current movie.

robert downey, jr

I’m pretty sure I saw some eyebrows raised when Jon Favreau announced Downey as Iron Man. But actually, the fans knew from the second we heard the name that no one could be a better Tony Stark. Robert Downey Jr IS Tony Stark. For starters, Downey looks the part and is a great actor. But also, Tony Stark is a recovering alcoholic. Like Downey, Stark was a golden boy who could do no wrong, until one day he hit a wall and his substance abuse problems got so out of hand that he had top quit being Iron Man. For a time, he was replaced in the suit by his best friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes. But I digress. Downey was awesome. Honestly, I enjoyed the film more when he was out of the suit, just being Stark than when he was stomping terrorists as Iron Man. His “voice”, comic timing, and performance were pitch perfect.

the other actors

Well, this is my one complaint. Jeff Bridges was great (natch!), although the reviewer at Slate.com’s contention that he was a dark version of “The Dude” is just… fucking retarded. Bridges came off perfectly, switching from comforting “Uncle Obie” to a treasonous war profiteer and killer. The problem was the other cast members. Terrence Howard was bar none the most effeminate military Colonel in the history of cinema (and, I suspect, the real Armed Forces as well). It’s kind of hard to picture him as the man who would one day be known as War Machine. And Gwyneth Paltrow did an adequate job as Pepper Potts, but their were a hundred different actresses who would have been a better choice. In fact, one possible candidate (though not the best) was in the film. Leslie Bibb, better known as Carlie Bobby from Talladega Nights, stars in a completely forgettable role as a reporter who shows up at two points to further the plot. She was good, but it seems like she could have been used for a better purpose than the eye candy role that she clearly filled.

And as a side note, I liked what they did with Jarvis. Jarvis, in the comics is sort of like Alfred from Batman, but less important. He starts out working for Stark and eventually serves as Butler to the Avengers. I’m sure there are people who would complain, but I thought the movie’s re-imagining of him was brilliant, and made many of the armor scenes much more entertaining.

the suit and the CGI

It looked fantastic. I would say even flawless. Comic costumes are impossibly difficult to translate to film without looking silly (see several of the Batman films). And Iron Man could have been the worst of all. But it looked phenomenal, in both CGI and live action sequences. Furthermore, it looks more or less like the current suit in the comics.

the story

The origin here is only marginally different. Set in modern times, they couldn’t stage it in Vietnam. Instead it’s placed in the middle east. Everything worked. There was a plot that made sense to the story and continuity. It also fed well into the developing Marvel Films Universe. Also, I was pleased that the relationship between Stark and Pepper wasn’t given a sappy ending.

the politics

They couldn’t really avoid some sort of political reference. We’re at war, and Stark is a Military Arms Manufacturer. Some might see the origin placement as being some sort of political statement about Iraq, but careful observers will note that they never actually mention a specific country. The terrorists appear to be from a random country in the Middle East, with vaguely Iraqi backgrounds. The only language mentioned is Hungarian. I’m glad they didn’t focus too much on the terrorists. There’s nothing worse than SciFi that gets overly didactic. Politics and philosophy has long been the purvue of fiction, but occasionally writers get too involved in preaching to tell a good story. And that was the last thing this film needed.

the final analysis

A great way to start the Summer film season. It’s not perfect, but it was probably the most fun of any film I’ve seen in a while. Go see it. Then again… considering the last movie I saw was Made of Honor, just about anything would seem great in comparison.

But wait! There’s more! The following section is filled with spoilers, so only keep reading if you want to know.

extras for the geek within

Out of the hundreds of comic adaptations in the last 8 years, there have been many great moments, but few true “geek out” moments. Up until now, X2 had the biggest guns, what with the Wolverine “berserker rage” and the Phoenix ending. But this movie has managed to top any and all challengers. There were hints throughout the movie. Mentions of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Engagement and Logistics Division which comics fans will recognize as a variation on the acronym for SHIELD. In the Marvel Universe, SHIELD stands for Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage Logistics Directorate, a clandestine spy organization headed up by the ultimate spy, Nick Fury. Now, Marvel created a separate line of comics re-imagining the Marvel Universe for modern times. In the updated Ultimate line, Nick Fury was redesigned as the baddest motherfucker alive, Samuel L. Jackson. When they passed around the idea of a Nick Fury film, Jackson had to decline for prior commitments. So when I heard that distinctive voice at the end of Iron Man, my jaw hit the floor. Marvel has stated previously that the new films, Iron Man, Ant Man, Thor, and Captain America are leading to an eventual Avengers film that will incorporate all of the other films and the actors who will play them. With Nick Fury’s debut, we start to see the first in an interweaving thread. This will be followed up in the Incredible Hulk several weeks from now. Comics have long held the tradition of the crossover. even TV shows have done it. But this will be the first true movie crossover. I couldn’t be more excited.

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