Thursday 8 May 2008

Review: Iron Man

Year: 2008

Director: Jon Favreau
Screenwriter: Hawk Ostby, Mark Fergus
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow

The moment I knew I enjoyed Iron was when Tony Stark (Downley jr) and Rhody (Howard) are drunk while a glitzy hip hop video is playing behind them. This will mean fuck all to many people but those who love The Wu Tang Clan will know that Ghostface Killah (my fave member joint with RZA) has the nick name Tony Stark and named one of his albums Ironman after his love of the comics. The tiny fact that they place Killah in the film shows it's sense of fun. With this said Iron man has an interesting more realistic (in a comic book/film sense) approach to it's proceedings than say The Punisher.

Directed by Jon Favreau Iron manages to balance a laid back sense of fun with an origin story that comes close to competing with Christopher Nolan's Batman's Begins. I say comes close because Iron man manages to get me interested into a story and character I've never shown any real interest in. With a character such as Batman I knew all I needed to know, I just wanted it done right. With Ironman I didn't even know which war fucked him up royally (It was Nam) let alone supporting characters.

That for me was always the first hurdle that the film had to cross and it cleared it well. Iron man as a character is charming, funny and engaging. The story also manages to be as entertaining, keeping itself from being a bland retread of other general origin stories despite having all the similar plot points. A lot of this comes from Favreau wish to give the film the same easy going feel that inhabited Doug Liman's Swingers (written by Favreau). Ironically Liman's awful Jumper could have done with the same sense of fun (as well as story structure and better acting).

I expected this from Favreau who clearly likes the idea of keeping things loose (see working with Will Farrell). Nothing about the film is rigid at all, the dialogue has an obvious amount of improvisation, the humor doesn't come across as staged, and the actors feel like the built upon their characters as opposed to just merely reading from the script. In doing this the film feels more organic, more plausible and generally more entertaining.

The masterstroke in keeping this all together is of course casting Robert Downley jr as the lead. It worries me that in the next ten years we'll see less of actors like this and more good looking cardboard cutouts. Downley jr IS iron man, just like he WAS Wayne Gale or Harry Lockhart. His performance is full of energy, charm and cheeky improv. He encapsulates the playboy feel of Stark perfectly. At times he outshines Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne but only at times. Paltrow is an interesting (although a little flat) choice for the "love interest" while Terrence Howard provides a stable performance as Stark's Army Buddy. Bridge's has a ball as Obadiah Stane and avoids the easy option of completely hamming his character up.

What Bale (and Batman Begins) has however, is that psychological edge that is not seen in many of the Marvel Comic book adaptations. You still know where you stand with Brucie and friends. Iron man's lighter balance of comic material at times skips over a very intriguing aspect of the story: The war mongering. I'm still not sure if Favreau's light touch should have glossed over the talk of weapons, wars and legacy. Stark at the beginning is the epitome of American patriotism in the beginning, before seeing what happens on the other side. The double dealing and grey areas give an interesting conflict not seen in the happy go lucky violence of The Punisher etc. But the conflict doesn't last long enough to truly question the polemic views that will always stand in America. The film clearly leans left but before "getting serious" the film gets to what everyone is watching it for......the set pieces.

The action sequences are well executed and fun. Nothing we haven't seen before but still exciting. This is mostly down to the background work done by the screenplay.
Iron man is a better start to the blockbuster movies than Jumper. It has a story with an actual conclusion and structure, much better acting (my little blurb doesn't give the actors their due at all), and has a greater sense of fun. At the end of the film I found myself looking forward to a sequel if one ever appears. The likelihood of this looks good due to the box office figures so here's hoping the the sequel will expand on the good work done here.