(Belated) MOVIE REVIEWS: “Iron Man” (2008)

Republibot 3.0
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I can’t say as I was psyched about watching this movie before hand. First of all, I’m a DC geek, not a Marvel Geek, though I will admit that Iron Man is one of a very small handful of Marvel characters that are actually kinda’ cool. (Short list: Captain America, Iron Man, Nick Fury, Spiderman when he’s taken his lithium, that’s about all I can think of right now. Oh, and I liked the Hulk when he could talk and was a bouncer at that Vegas casino. Remember that?) I don’t really care for Robert Downey, Jr. even before his drug use got completely out of hand. There’s a looooooot of bad movies on his resume. Weird Science? The Pick Up Artist? Groan. Added to which, let’s face it, Marvel superhero movies weren’t exactly batting a thousand, now are they? X-men 3, The Punisher movie with Rebecca Romijn (Hubba hubba!), the other Punisher movie with Dolph Lungren, that “Nick Fury” movie with David Hasselhoff, Daredevil, Elektra, The first Hulk movie, the second Hulk movie, They’re not exactly bowling me over here with cinematic excellence.

Just to be fair, I’ll point out that I’m not a huge fan of the DC superhero movies, either, which pretty much consist of only batman and superman movies. Of the 5 Superman movies since 1979, 3 of ‘em suck, and of the six Batman movies, four of ‘em suck. So there you have it.

Anyway, so the Spouse and I settle down to watch it, and man, if the movie didn’t grab me! Tony’s a 1980s-style unrepentant war profiteer and kind of a jackass, but an engaging one. Then he gets captured by a We’re-Not-The-Taliban group, in a pretty well-filmed sequence and we get a lengthy flashback of the events leading up to his capture. All of this was pretty golden and shiny, and I have to admit I was totally into it. Much as I don’t like Downey, much as I believe putting him in the role of noted-alcoholic Tony Stark was a blatant case of stuntcasting, it worked. Then Tony builds essentially an artificial heart for himself and a super-powered suit, and as goofy as all that sounds, it works as a movie. I was totally into it.

Then he escapes, and the movie never quite recovers.

It took me a while to realize the movie had taken a dive. I mean, lots of films have slow second acts. In fact, reducing the action in the 2nd act to build up to a massive 3rd act climax is a common and deliberate strategy, but, eh, we just kind of run out of steam. We get an awkward product placement for Burger King, we get Tony The Repentant War Profiteer, the not-too-impressive resolution of the dangling threads involving the We’re-Not-The-Taliban Terrorists from act one, the revelation of the *real* villain (Which I admit I didn’t see coming, but mostly because I was kinda’ bored by that point and not paying too much attention), and endless, endless scenes of Downey/Stark building stuff in his basement. Didn’t we already see endless scenes of Tony building stuff in a cave in Afghanistan in the first act? This is a movie, right? Not a big-screen version of “Pimp Dat Ride?” Seriously: about 40 minutes of this. This may be the only movie in history where the second act is essentially a remake of the first.

When the movie starts to recover at the start of the third act, too much impetus has been lost. The “real” bad guy in Ironman 3.0 dukes it out with Tony in Ironman 2.0, blah blah blah, it’s just another Wallace Beery wrestling film, which is generally the shortcoming of Superhero movies anyway (Excepting the last 2 Batman films, which were brilliant). The first part of the movie alternates very effectively between glitzy and glamorous and earthy and quasi-realistic, and that gives it an energy that the final act is missing. The great big showdown feels a bit forced and stagey and rather random, and, I dunno, it just didn’t work for me.

That said, I think the movie is worth watching, once, if you don’t have any particular expectations about it. It’s not a *bad* movie, it just stumbles accidentally into brilliance early on, then looses its way and phones it in for the rest of the film.

Casting was, on the whole, pretty good. Downey was actually pretty great as Tony Stark, with his mumbly, self-involved, self-righteous delivery and impatience. (And I really like how as a war-profiteer, he’s totally self-absorbed, and after he becomes a no-more-war he’s STILL totally self-absorbed. Either way, it’s all about him.) The Republispouse pointed out that Gwyneth Paltrow is basically doing a young, hot Terry Garr impression. (Which immediately set me to singing “Rollllll, rolllll, rollll in zee hay!”). I have to admit, I didn’t remember her character from the comics at all. Jeff Bridges is great – and almost unrecognizable – in his role. (In fact, I keep forgetting it’s him). The obligatory Stan Lee cameo is brief and amusing. The post-credits tag scene is an obvious setup for another movie, but I think it works. I did not like Terrance Howard as Lt. Col. James Rhodes. I just felt he was rather stiff in the part, and he didn’t behave at all like a career military officer. I think Don Cheadle will probably do a lot better in the sequel. Jarvis the Gay Butler has been transformed from a gay human being to a not-gay-merely-English computer program that runs Tony’s house. Odd. (To be honest, I can’t remember if he was gay in the comics I read as a kid, but he was expressly gay in the Marvel Ultimates comic a few years back. That may have been a parallel universe retcon, though, I dunno.)

On the whole, it was ok. I’ll give it a “C+” based mostly on the first act. The rest of the film is basically paint-by-the-numbers superhero stuff that kept making me think how much I enjoyed that silly “Rocketeer” movie from the early 90s.