5/6/08 – “Iron Man” Review and Previews of Other Summer Films
Steve (dreg4life) and I saw a DLP screening of “Iron Man” last Friday. And boy, was it awesome.
You had your typical elements of a comic book movie: a guy going through personal tragedy that makes him see the importance of doing right by the world, an evil corporate wolf in sheep’s clothing who goes mad with jealousy (the standard that has replaced the decades-long “mad scientist” villain motif), and of course some ass-kicking here and there.
Where other comic book movies would allow themselves to succumb to the formula, the cast of “Iron Man” simply won’t allow that to happen. Robert Downey, Jr. is effective as Tony Stark because he is – or perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was – Tony Stark. Like Stark, Downey was a wunderkind in his profession who gained accolades and great fame at an early age, only to waste his talents with an array of vices.
But to credit the success of Downey as Stark with smart casting would be condescending at best and woeful ignorance at worst. Downey, as an actor, has an amazing gift. With a well-placed facial expression and emphasis put on the slightest of movements, Downey can take a scene that would otherwise be a mundane traipse through a casual action blockbuster and gives it a sense of weight and realism. Of course he gets the character of Stark as a brilliant spoiled playboy, but he also isn’t afraid to play Stark as an eccentric, with subtle nuances reminding us that despite our suspension of disbelief we can’t discount the insanity and self-destructive nature inherent in a man who builds a suit of armor that flies with the aids of high-powered jets.
The rest of the cast lends an equal balance of believability and excitement to the film. Gwyneth Paltrow is more than palpable as Stark’s assistant, sidekick, confidant, and occassional love interest Pepper Potts. Her performance doesn’t allow for the character to fade into the background or simply become a prop in the story of “Iron Man,” nor does she play the strengths of the character in an over-the-top manner that takes away from the pacing and storytelling.
Jeff Bridges is almost as brilliant as Downey in this film as the insanely jealous family friend and Stark Industries bigwig Obadiah Stane. It’s a relief to see a villain portrayed in such a low-key manner so as to not beat us over the head with his motivations. By the end of the second act, there is no doubt as to the ill intentions of Bridges’ Stane. However, he doesn’t fall into the seemingly unavoidable trap of kitschyness that other high-profile actors fall into when cast in the roles of supervillains. Even in moments typical of a supervillain – such as the required scene where he chastizes an underling while jealously pointing out his failure in light of arch-nemesis Stark’s success in the same endeavor – he does it with such a down-to-earth believability that you don’t so much see a villainous outburst as feel the frustration of the character.
And, of course, the film provides great moments for us comic geeks looking to mark out over even the merest mention of beloved storylines and future character developments. In fairness, “Iron Man” has an advantage over similar big-budget franchise comic characters like Spider-Man and Batman. In both cases the origin stories and subsequent major turning points in the mythos of those characters are ingrained in the social conscience, so much so that people who had never picked up a comic book before in their lives were demanding Venom make an appearance as soon Raimi’s first installment of the Spider-Man trilogy hit theaters. The character of Iron Man is a bit different. Sure, everybody knows who he is and has a rough idea of the character behind his secret identity, but Iron Man itself was never a big mover on the racks and in the past three decades had its biggest and most widely-read turns as a featured cast member – but not the star – of various “Avengers” titles. As such, the film is able to cherry-pick from the character’s forty years of history without alienating the more hardcore fanbase. Some would say that’s because of the various errors and inconsistencies that have occurred as it pertains to Iron Man’s handling by Marvel, but with us only having so much time on this Earth I’ll refrain from trying to spark that discussion.
In short, Hollywood needs more films like this released during the Summer. It needs a film that can be comfort food that doesn’t challenge us on our morals or what we perceive as right and wrong, but at the same time doesn’t deign to insult our intelligence or treat us as if we have to write off failings as part of the accepted downfalls and failings of blockbuster action flicks. This film isn’t in danger of winning the Palme d’Or at the next Cannes Film Festival, but in an age where we as Americans consume our pop culture in such a manner that encourages and celebrates mediocrity, it’s good to know that a film can make upwards of $104 million in its opening weekend and actually be good.
So yeah. Go see “Iron Man.”
Of course, with “Iron Man” being the first big release of the Summer season, we were treated to movie trailers before the film that featured what are expected to be the other major money-makers in 2008.
THE DARK KNIGHT – We’ve seen a couple trailers already, and this is just another one. Sure, it’s fun, but it didn’t make me any more excited to see this film. At this point, anticipation becomes moot since it’s a foregone conclusion that myself, everybody else, and their cross-eyed Uncles are going to be plopping down eight to ten dollars to see this film come out in its first week. What is noteworthy about the trailer is that it gave us more of a glimpse of Ledger’s performance as “The Joker,” which several critics who have seen advanced copies of the film are saying – with a straight face no less – is deserving of not just an Oscar nomination but a posthumous award for the late Aussie-born actor. I still think Christian Bale is just a little boring as Bruce Wayne, but otherwise I haven’t seen anything to indicate that this won’t at the very least meet all the high expectations folks have for it.
THE HULK – Marvel’s other film comes out on June 13th, and boy is it going to bomb. That’s not to say I think it’s going to be a terrible effort, but it has a lot working against it. It’s going to get lost in the shuffle of the more highly-anticipated comic book films and historic franchises being revived this Summer and less than five years out of Ang Lee’s “Hulk” bomb (whose primary failing was Lee’s attempt to make an arthouse blockbuster film using a character that people just want to see destroy tanks), audiences aren’t exactly clamoring for or demanding this movie be released anytime soon. What also doesn’t help is the film’s star Ed Norton, who got in a tiff with Marvel over their decision to release a shorter and more fast-paced cut that’s resulted in him refusing to do any publicity or make any appearances in support of the film. Why Marvel keeps involving people who tend to take themselves a little more seriously than they should in projects involving an eight-foot green monster is beyond me.
INDIANA JONES AND THE HOT NAZI GOTH CHICK – Or at least I think that’s what it’s called. This is being christened the hands-down top money-making film of the year already. I don’t necessarily disagree, but it IS going to schew towards an older demographic that is waiting for this type of film to come out on Netflix in increasing numbers. So if it ISN’T the top money-making film of all time after its third or fourth week, there’s your reason/excuse.
THE LOVE GURU – Did you like Austin Powers? Well even if you did, you probably still won’t like what appears on the surface to be a tragically unfunny new “fish out of water” character-based comedy from Mike Myers. Striking while the iron’s hot (if by “hot” you mean “it’s had so much time to cool off it gets priced generously on PBS’s ‘Antiques Road Show’ program”), Myers plays an American who grows up in India and becomes – get this – a Guru! And not just any Guru, but a Guru of LOVE. With a terrible accent! It’s a shame that in five years Myers went from having a franchise so successful he could name his price for any project to doing a movie like this. I cringed watching this trailer, and I say without any sense of irony or pretension that I sincerely pitied and felt embarrassed for Myers while watching it. I hope at the very least that Myers’ primary motivation for doing this was to fund a project or projects that he’ll actually put some effort into.
YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN – The inherent tragedy in Adam Sandler comedies isn’t just that Sandler can’t help but beat every joke and concept to death with a ball peen hammer, but also that he has the tendency to take a creative concept and absolutely ruin it. The scenes with Sandler’s character as a superagent of the Mossad look fantastic and had me legitimately laughing. Unfortunately, it’s just the setup for a running joke about a super bad-ass whose life aspiration is to be a hairdresser. It’s not that I don’t get juxtaposition as a comedic tool – trust me, I do. It’s just that this is as awful an idea as you can come up with for a comedy. Sandler playing a Mossad agent for over-the-top laughs without the “moving to America and becoming a hairdresser” angle would, in most likelihood, actually be a pretty funny film. Which is why this could be more disappointing than fellow SNL alum Mike Myer’s aforementioned “Love Guru” – because unlike Myers’ character, you could see where Sandler’s character was at least funny at some point in the planning stages.
Well, you take the good with the bad, kids. Expect to be entertained and expect to laugh, but don’t expect those laughs to come from comedies this Summer.
P.S. I watched RAW tonight, and if WWE wants to get Ken Kennedy over as an anti-authority bad-ass, they need to stop dressing him up as a bouncer at a gay bar. It’s one of those looks that actually looks MORE ridiculous the more times you see it. Stop making me embarrassed to be a wrestling fan! Also, Mike Adamle rules.
That is all.