In contrast to the bad old days when Marvel comics nearly went bust, Marvel Studios is now a money making machine, cranking out endless live-action versions of it’s hottest properties, most of them mediocre CGI-fests of big bangs and loud guitar sound tracks.
As a friend of mine pointed out, this is the usual ‘first half, nerdy guy goes through a bad time, discovers he’s special, learns something from a mentor/relative/cute girl, formulates his secret identity, then kicks ass for the second half.’ It’s a typical mythic structure and Iron Man adds nothing new to this formula.
As amoral arms dealer, playboy and technical wunderkind Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr. mumbles and wise-cracks his way through various set-pieces, brought to his moral regeneration by near-death in Afghanistan and the death of his moral mentor. Well, almost moral regeneration. He’s quite prepared to batter, blow up and toast any number of bad guys without hesitation. RDjr is assisted by the always watchable and slightly-kookie Gwyneth Paltrow, his air force buddy Terrence Howard (nobody say ‘token’) and some lack lustre SHIELD agents, against an assortment of terrorists and a very obvious Jeff Bridges, who’s beard and bald head announce his villany long before he starts bellowing.
It’s a tab-A into slot-B kind of script, overseen by Marvel producers Avi Arad and Kevin Feige. The performances are nothing special, but the whole thing rattles along on director Jon Favreau’s railroad tracks, allowing you to forget the fundamental silliness of all comic book characters and their dressing up fetishes. Iron Man is a very big dressing up fetish. Full marks to the designers of all the hardware in this movie, the physical props and costumes are way more believable and real than various composited CGI substitutions. Iron Man versus the army tank must be the worst piece of CGI in recent times (including Spartacus).
Where it fails spectacularly is with Bridges’ Iron Giant meets Captain Nemo nock-off armoured suit. It’s supposed to be David vs. Goliath, but Bridges is stuck in a pile of Victorian cast iron that’s about as credible an opponent as my garden wheelbarrow. No amount of clanking, roaring and camera shake could convince me otherwise.
Unusually the way Favreau shoots this, the live action sequences are reasonably well lit so that we can see what’s happening. Its a bright, breezy and optimistic piece and we’re not encouraged to dwell on the devastation and destruction all around. The set-pieces all click into place adequately, with some impressive flying sequences. Iron Man versus two Raptor fighter jets being the high point (ahem, sorry).
Without RDjr’s charismatic, witty, but characteristically showy performance, this would be a workman-like affair. Pacey enough that you don’t think too much, the thin plot scampers along with no weight whatsoever. Metal heads everywhere get to drool over the suit and the explosions and whisper “cooool!” RC
Drama, Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matthew Holloway
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow
Running time: 2 hr. 6 min.