Friday, January 02, 2009

Movie Log: Iron Man

If Iron Man is as good as a comic-book movie can get, I'm entertained, but I'm still not impressed. Casting a whole lot of real actors -- starting with Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man -- and then having them take the material basically seriously does help. (Although Jeff Bridges, as Stark's business mentor Obediah Stane, takes some big bites of scenery towards the end of the movie.)

And that material is mostly acceptable, on the level of dialogue and general plot. (The farther reaches of theme and motif are much more debatable, particularly the Poor L'il Arms Merchant bullshit.) Tony Stark is a billionaire inventor/CEO, as if Donald Trump, Bill Gates, and Sean Combs were all one person -- or as if someone like Howard Hughes was still possible in the modern world. He begins the movie practically as a '9os Mountain Dew commercial: he works hard! he plays hard!

But then Stark jets off to Afghanistan to demonstrate his new super-duper missile system, and his convoy gets attacked by '60s comic-booky evil types. (They're not terrorists; they're not fighting for their own country or for anything specific and identifiable; they're just being evil -- if their outfits were snazzier, they would be AIM.) Stark is ordered to build one of his fancy high-tech missile systems for the baddies, but he's just So Darn Smart and Plucky that he creates an incredible new, massively powerful and portable power supply instead -- in secret! -- and, at the same time, and while suffering from heart-seeking shrapnel -- welds together a big metal suit with various accouterments. Mayhem ensues; Stark eventually gets back to the Good 'Ol USA and decides to build a much fancier version of the suit to save the world in.

(Anyone at all familiar with the Iron Man character already knows the origin; the movie translates it into the modern world faithfully without realizing that translation -- and trying to present it completely straight -- makes it even more implausible.)

Things go on from there pretty much as anyone would expect, and, as required in modern superhero movies, the hero must fight his opposite -- a version of himself, someone he created or brought into being -- before we can get to the end credits. Does Iron Man beat Iron Monger? (Are you kidding?)

Downey, as always, is a fearless actor -- he throws himself headlong into being Tony Stark as he does into all of his parts, and makes the audience believe in Stark, and in the movie, through sheer force of will. If Iron Man had anyone else in the lead role, it wouldn't have worked well at all --- Downey makes the movie. The rest of the cast don't embarrass themselves -- there's no Jessica Alba in Fantastic Four here -- but they're playing comic-book roles in a comic-book movie, and trying to avoid looking like they know that.

And everyone has already seen this movie by now, anyway -- hell, you all probably saw it before I did, and that was about six weeks ago.

Movies made from comics can be very good movies -- look at Ghost World, look at V For Vendetta, look at American Splendor -- but I'm still not convinced that a movie about a guy fighting crime in his underwear can be better than decent. Iron Man is about as good a superhero movie as I've ever seen...but that still doesn't mean much.


Unknown said...

One question a statement:

First, have you watched the new Batman films?

Two, wait for Watchmen.

Andrew Wheeler said...

WingGT1: I was not overly thrilled with Batman Begins, which poached some of the good bits of Batman: Year One and a few ideas from '70s Denny O'Neil to make a dull stew.

I saw Dark Knight recently, which is better...but not that much better. (I'll get to that post "soon," I hope.)

And Watchmen without the giant squid? Blasphemy!

Niteowl said...


For me, it's 'It ain't Watchmen if it dont' got a bloated corpse raft', amirite!?

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