It was with some trepidation that I approached the Iron Man movie on opening night. The ads seemed to gibe with a pro-war, pro-global-military-industrial-complex message. That seemed the safest route to take to commercial success as our own war drags on and all the more critical war movies of the past few years have failed to attract audiences. Marvel movies have only been raked over the coals in recent years when they failed to burn up the box office. Certainly a gung-ho approach seemed in line with the widescreen violence so vital to the success of the Ultimates comic book universe, which has had a major conceptual influence on most of the recent Marvel films (did the Ultimate Universe designers realize they were auditioning for Hollywood with every updated character from the very start?). And who better to play an indifferent playboy womanizing alcoholic than the dissolute but glamorous Robert Downey Jr.? My radical left-wing cabal of buddies had already condemned the film as some sort of Michael Bay/ID4 mishap. But this cabal isn’t the same as my comic geek cabal, who were simply unabashedly excited. I decided to take a risk and hang with the latter group. And I was very pleasantly surprised. Here was a movie about a war-mongering corporation I could actually enjoy. Tony Stark doesn’t have quite the wake-up call to a serious life of heroism that Bruce Wayne got in Batman (re-) Begins. He didn’t lose his family in a tragic act of violence. The major threats were directed squarely at his own person as the primary target, and his struggle to survive as a P.O.W. evinces a different sort of hero than the frightening, vengeful Batman. Iron Man is the over-privileged genius who earns his wealth through practical hard-working applications of that genius, not to mention defiant sneakiness. This is a movie about the boys-own-story fantasies of laboratory invention of astounding devices (many of which are glorified guns and rockets) without a lot of sexism at its core. Oh, Tony is a womanizer, but it’s interesting that the two (only) major female roles in the film are held by working women. Leslie Bibb plays a reporter (albeit one who finds it hard to resist Tony’s charms), and her first and last scenes are both in a work context where she puts Tony on the spot. And Gwyneth Paltrow, shockingly likable for once, plays Pepper Pots not as Stark’s secretary or maid, but as his majordomo, an updated “his girl Friday” with even a little bit of that old Hollywood Rosalind Russell flair and style. Pepper is adept in all the ways of dealing with an intimidating genius (including not taking any of his copious BS), and quite resourceful when called to act as his agent in dangerous contexts. Downey and Paltrow have a sparky chemistry that only lets them down when the script veers into unlikely (but thankfully brief) moments of mush. The suit looks great, better than expected. There’s some real choreography involved in the movements of Stark’s “bodyguard” in metal alloy, and he’s a sleek and streamlined creation that acknowledges an evolutionary link to a sort of “best home kit motorcycle” ever. But the suit doesn’t overshadow Downey Jr., who carries the entire movie from start to finish. He’s note perfect as Stark, silly and flippant when time allows, dreadfully serious and enraged when under distress. This is a Tony Stark that could make some sense of the emotional confusion of the Civil War story (if some version of it ever makes it to film); Downey Jr. is an open live wire throughout the movie, one that allows empathy and identification, that in fact demands it, and with very little hamminess. Like Stark himself, he’s on his game. There is a major flaw to the film, though, and that’s the villain. Updating the war to the unspecified recent Gulf unrest of the current day, we’re dealing with terrorists who very loosely evoke the Mandarin (cursory gestures, Easter eggs for fanboys only). But mostly war crimes are envisioned as mercenary greed, personified by Jeff Bridges. He tries his best to give some shine to his enabling mentor, but it’s a stock role and the blandishments of F. Murray Abraham probably couldn’t have revived this pale and bitter Salieri. The movie lacks a satisfying resolution due to the simplistic fisticuffs at the end, but then the last 15 minutes spend most of their time screaming “sequel,” which is nothing but good news. The ending isn’t rife with giant plot holes, it’s just depressingly formulaic. Perhaps I only notice because the rest of the movie achieves so much more, making these four-color fantasies human, vulnerable and real in such satisfying and entertaining ways. If talent of this level can be applied to the upcoming Marvel adaptations and updates, the future looks bullish indeed. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response The Psycho Drive-In Captain America & Iron Man Primer - Psycho Drive-In May 4, 2016 […] Iron Man (2008) movie review by Shawn Hill […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.