Skip Past my usual BS to the ACTUAL REVIEW!
Dare I go through this again?
Ah, screw it... There were a couple of years there when I didn't buy any comics but Iron Man, primarily during his Silver Centurion days. That was after collecting a ton of back issues and a certain graphic novel called Crash, featuring the first ever Computer Graphics in a comic book.
Ah, man... I'm a nerd... I just realized.
Just kidding. I didn't just realize it.
The point is, however, that it's safe to say I know what I'm talking about when it comes to ol' Shell Head from his Viet Nam War era origins to his fall to alcoholism to his ousting from Stark Enterprises to his creation of Circuits Maximus to his sobriety to his battles with Iron Man II, the Chess Men and Crimson Dynamo on through the Armor Wars to the time he faked his death (twice he did that, actually), zooming into the time that home dude got replaced by a teenage version of himself(!) into the Force Works and War Machine days and on and on and on ad nauseum and all that. Don't even get me started on ol' Arno and the "Iron Man 2020" stuff. The odds of anybody making a truly good movie out of this saga are slim to infinitesimal.
Yeah, I'm doing it again. While I'm at it, the portrayal of "The Joker" by Mr. Ledger (may God Rest his Soul) is about as close to the intended versions of the comic books from the original (skipping the silly sixties manifestations) to the present as I am to the Lake Champlain Monster. He doesn't wear make-up, man! That's his skin.
Oh, and another thing, did you ever notice that when Denny O'Neil took over editing the Batman titles he immediately replaced him with a surrogate, just like he did with Tony when he was writing Iron Man! After Bruce was ruined by Bane (as opposed to Tony's ruination by Stane) and the first thing he did with Batman after that was PUT HIM IN ARMOR??? I'm serious, man, Batman even had a Unibeam on his Chest for a while! Am I the only one who noticed the similarities here, man? PUH-LEEZE! Dennis, ideas are cheap, rent one!
Whoah, man! Is this the record for my going off on some lame diatribe before getting to the actual review? Seriously, kids! Can we just pretend this one is a spoof of my long winded FF Intro?
Against all odds and in spite of it all, somebody actually did make a good film about ol' Tony Stark and his alter-ego in steel long-johns. The "somebody" in question just happens to be Marvel Enterprises in their first ever self-financed production (appropriately called "Iron Man"). While not quite perfect, Iron Man covers the super bases, offering up an action packed, dramatic and funny interpretation of one of the cooler silver age creations of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (with heaping helpings of Don Heck and Larry Lieber in the mix as well).
The casting is pretty much superb, the acting is top notch, the directing (by Jon Favreau) is solid and the screenplay by Mark Fergus Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway is (given a little leeway) very close to the comic book source material. Good show, kids, good show!
There were even a few daring choices made for the sake of (gasp) story-telling as opposed to mere ticket selling. After all, "Iron Monger" isn't exactly a household name, even for a Super Villain. In fact, he only appeared once in the epic Iron Man # 200. I'm doing it again, aren't I?
The story begins with a detailed introduction to billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (well, well played by Robert Downey, Jr.). The young CEO of Stark Industries is not only a brilliant inventor but is a handsome playboy and philanderer, automobile collector and heavy partier. His best friend is James "Rhodey" Rhodes (the also well-cast Terrence Howard), a high-ranking Military Officer, his personal assistant is the radiantly beautiful Virginia "Pepper" Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his second in command is his father's own business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). He's also the #1 Weapons manufacturer in the world (a fact he has a playful attitude about) all in the name of "Peace".
It all starts to matter a lot less when a "Business Trip" to Afghanistan results in his capture by a revolting Terrorist Organization who demands that he build for them the perfect bomb.
Tony wakes up weak and threatened with shrapnel near his heart and only an electro-magnet stuck in the middle of his (ouch) rib cage keeping him alive. Even if you haven't read the comics, the previews have hinted at what's next. Knowing that he won't be released whether he cooperates or not and flatly refusing to build "The Jericho Missile" for the big bads, Tony and his fellow captive Shaun Toub's Yinsen build a high-tech, but soon obsolete suit of armor to stick it to Faran Tahir's Raza, Sayed Badreya's Abu Bakaar and the rest of the boys.
Let me tell you, that whole first act works remarkably well for what it is and for what it isn't. The modernized update from Viet Nam to the current conflicts in the Middle East works well for the story without bogging it down at all (Favreau didn't want to do a "period piece" and his decision turned out to be sound in judgment). One of the beautiful things about Iron Man (in this part and beyond) is that things aren't exactly perfect. He doesn't emerge from Tora Bora as a full-fledged superhero, but a work in progress with malfunctioning, unfinished armor and an evolving attitude about where his life is going.
At this point the film faced the real danger of falling completely apart. Fortunately it didn't.
While Tony is changed by his experience, he doesn't suddenly spring from the armored chrysalis as a fully-formed Iron Butterfly. He's still a complex character who has more to learn about himself, those around him and his new alter-ego. He tries again with the armor, then again before actually getting it right. The hint that this is only the beginning works in favor of the film (in the comics a multitude of armors are used for years and years before anything approximating this one has been chosen). The evolution we see here may be a bit rushed for a (just over) Two Hour movie, but the pacing and smart writing both help this one feel more complete than it had any right to.
Speaking of the armor, the look is good (though, if you'll excuse another Comic Book Geek moment, it's a little too influenced by the look of Ultron, a Robotic Marvel Villain). Part of this is because they had actual Iron Man artist Adi Granov (along with Phil Saunders) work on the design. The physical suits were built by the Stan Winston Studios while the majority of the CGI Iron Men were animated by ILM. It's safe to say that Iron Man is packed from Boots to Helmet with Special Effects... the problem is that they're not always 100% convincing.
All too often the character of Iron Man, though he always looks cool, tends to look like a cartoon. A very detailed and fine-looking cartoon (with realistic scratches, burn marks and dents) but a cartoon nonetheless. Many may argue that this is understandable first of all because Iron Man is a character from a hand-drawn comic whose previous motion picture incarnations have all been cartoons. After all, this is CGI right? Right. Still, this is a valid statement for a number of reasons. Look at Attack of the Clones, for example. Like it or hate it, there were legions of armored CGI soldiers animated by ILM that looked as real as the real suits used in Star Wars movies from over 20 years prior. The other reason this is valid? Iron Man, in spite of its science-fiction bend, is one of the most realistic comic book movies ever made.
And even with the (admittedly minor) flaws, the film continues to deliver on through the final act... and even in a post-credits scene revealing some future hints. This includes the inevitable final battle against Iron Man's evil doppelganger The Iron Monger which, though still marred by the same obvious CGI, is one of the best Super-Powered battles committed to film. One thing about this, the "homages" to RoboCop 2 are not only noticeable, they're about a parsec away from subtle. Some of the same moves and even fight choreography went into this final battle as we saw in that film. Oh, it's exciting and fun and unquestionably intentional on Favreau's part but not the most original thing ever made and somewhat predictable for those familiar with the earlier film. Still, today's CGI is more convincing than the stop motion effects of 20 years ago. I'll give you that.
Taken for all with all, considering the borrowed elements, the visual seams, product placement (hi, Audi, hi Burger King!) and the minor conveniences (there are a few things here that, quite simply, Tony Stark wouldn't do), Iron Man is still a winner, worthy of the name Iron Man and worthy of Four Stars out of Five. Kudos to Robert Downey, Jr. in his Prime, leading a GREAT cast with a director and writers who actually cared about not only the movie they were making but the stories and characters that movie was based on. It's encouraging to see a Comic Book Company like Marvel Comics taking control of its venerable properties and not only making them "their way", but making them good movies as well. Keep your eyes peeled for The Incredible Hulk (also featuring Downey as Stark), The Punisher: War Zone, Thor, Ant-Man(!), Nick Fury, The Avengers and more as time goes on. DC... take note, accuracy and realism can still sell tickets. Is this the best Superhero Movie Ever Made? Perhaps not... but it's very good and more than worth your time to check out. Keep your eyes peeled, true believers, (before and after the credits) for cameos (or, at least, small parts) by Stan Lee, underrated actor Tim Guinee, Clark Gregg, Jon Favreau himself and even Samuel L. Jackson, emerging from the shadows. Strap it on and fire it up. Meanwhile, I'm breaking out my old comic collection to re-live some memories. You can expect similar diatribes for Watchmen, The Dark Knight and Captain America. Until then, keep your mask on... and I'll see you in the next reel.
Without the Armor he may be STARK NAKED,
But Stane is his Bane, suited or not.
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