May 05, 2008
Iron Man freshens superhero genre
Saw Iron Man tonight, and was pleasantly surprised. It seems like the superhero flick has become another tired genre, but this one breaks out of the mold.
I was never a big Iron Man fan as a kid. I always viewed him as Marvel's Batman, the rich industrialist with no innate superpowers who relies on technology to fight Evil. I wasn't a regular reader of “The Invincible Iron Man,” but I read “The Avengers,” which frequently featured Stark/Iron Man, and remember him being a little wooden next to my preferred hero, Spider-Man, who has been an insane cash generator for Marvel Pictures.
On film, though, Iron Man stands up very well. First, Robert Downey, Jr. is probably the best actor ever to make a superhero movie. Downey develops Tony Stark's character through a freshening of the Iron Man creation myth, nailing the laugh lines and making me think so much less of Tobey Maguire, who turned the wise-cracking wall crawler into a callow crimefighter. Downey's an entertaining lead, and he makes the existential crisis Tony Stark suffers believable.
Gwyneth Paltrow usually doesn't do much for me, but she's likeable in the female lead, and is developed beyond the comic-book formula damsel in distress. She's set up for future plotlines, as are director Jon Favreau (as Stark's chauffeur) and Terrence Howard (Stark's friend and pilot Jim Rhodes). I wasn't sure if Jeff Bridges was up to his role, but he was fabulous. The Dude he's not, but somehow, he still abides.
Writers Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby and director Favreau take their time introducing the character and the superhero, so the movie is far more than a series of battle scenes. Downey gets to explore Stark the playboy, the tinkerer, the trust-fund baby, and the figurehead CEO, in additon to the superhero.
Geeks will enjoy the advanced tech that Stark uses in his Dean Kamen-style workshop and playroom. It's probably the best developed set of advanced user interfaces since Minority Report, with speech interfaces, eye-tracking, multi-touch, ubiquitous computing, and gorgeous, beautiful, lickable widgets on all the movie's many computer and view screens.
Action sequences were good, not great, with the key battle happening in the dark, which always drives me nuts. Effects were believably presented and rendered. There's a little bit of naughties-covered sex early in the film, and, of course, quite a bit of comic-book violence.