Iron Man [retro review]

“Yeah. I can fly.”

The Scoop: 2008 PG-13, directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges

Tagline: This Summer: Heroes Aren’t Born, They’re Built.

Summary Capsule: Rich weapon-making genius invents his way into superherodom.

Justin’s Rating: Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is probably the best typecasting I’ve ever seen. Ever.

Justin’s Review: The summer of 2009 might well go down as the “Summer of the Superhero” if we cared for such labels, but what surprised me is that, in the end, the one movie I enjoyed the most didn’t end up being The Dark Knight or The Incredible Hulk or Hancock — but some out-of-the-blue popcorn flick in early May called Iron Man.

I’d never been a fan of the comics. Downey Jr. wasn’t the hot cup of fantasy for me that he obviously is for my wife, who loved this film so much that she begged me to drive in the pouring rain to buy the DVD the day it came out. And by all expectations, this should’ve been another Ghost Rider instead of punching up into the popularity layer normally reserved for dignified suits like Spider-Man and Batman and Aquaman. So color me gold-and-red surprised to find that Jon Favreau could direct an incredibly well-done piece of action, story and personality.

Instead of my normal routine, which involves me curling up in a fetal position on the floor and rocking myself while I try to think of something witty to say between sobs, I feel like making a list today. You like lists? I like lists. Maybe my superhero alter-ego is the ListMaker, and I fling Post-It Notes at enemies in a vain attempt at obfuscation. So here goes some of the reasons why Iron Man got a gold sticker:

  • Tony Stark isn’t your typical normal-guy-turned-superhero-through-freak-accident. He’s an incredibly rich weapons maker who both annoys and amuses you by swaggering around with a gigantic ego and an even bigger brain. Robert Downey Jr. plays a careful balancing game between Stark’s arrogance, his brilliance, his wealth and his humanity, and gee willy wonka, you just can’t help but like the guy an awful lot in the end.
  • The origin story of Iron Man also deviates from superhero norms; it’s not a transformation due to an accident or a need for revenge, but out of necessity and survival. The Iron Man Mark 1 suit is a tool for Stark’s escape from captivity, and only later does he realize that this could be used to protect others as well as himself.
  • There’s just loads of humor, from physical to snide asides (check out how Obie asks Stark if he’s got another cheeseburger, Stark says no, and yet in the next scene he pulls a spare out of his pocket with a twinkle in his eye).
  • Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts isn’t given a flimsy “romantic token” part, but a delightfully meaty role as a competant, intelligent assistant who harbors mixed feelings — somewhere between attraction and sisterly love — for Stark. Downey and Paltrow get several scenes where they obviously ad lib a bit more, and it gives those scenes a charming reality, where suddenly neither character is a stereotype but a personality.
  • Stark’s interaction with his robots and computer AI are at once hilarious and a bit sad — the unsaid story going on here is that he is a man without a family who’s tried to create family members out of circuits and data, and you can see how he treats them like a pesky brother or a loyal yet restrained butler.
  • If you’re a fan of Iron Man or Marvel comics in general, the sheer love and fanservice that is thrown your way is overwhelming. You get connections to S.H.I.E.L.D., Captain America’s shield, hints of a possible Avengers movie, the Iron Monger suit, three versions of Iron Man’s suit, hints of a future War Machine role, Stan Lee’s cameo and so on.

I may get roasted for putting Iron Man above my love for The Dark Knight, although the latter is excellent in its own right. I just had a lot more fun with Ironside, because here’s a superhero who is out to have fun and live it up, instead of being a mopey Gus in a Greyhound bathroom, moaning into the mirror about “great power and great responsibility”.

Stay tuned for the sequel: alcoholism!

Kyle’s Rating: To completely cement its awesomeness, it made me actually ENJOY a performance by Gwyneth Paltrow!

Kyle’s Review: Justin, among others, has lovingly jabbed me over the past few months with a simple question betraying a slight concern for me: where are my reviews of Iron Man and The Dark Knight? Did they disappoint me so that I can’t even muster up any kind of enthusiasm to write about them? Or were they so blindingly amazing that it literally burned out mental circuits to the point where enjoyment and dissatisfaction could no longer be differentiated?

Nothing quite so complex. Simple, really: they were both awesome. In retrospect, it’s almost amusing to wonder why anyone doubted them in the first place.

Of the two major comic book blockbuster films of 2008, months later it seems like Iron Man is the much less controversial one. Which is to say that while debate still rages, at least in my neck of the “woods,” over whether Dark Knight was Great or merely great or a little bit lame (I’ll discuss those reactions soon), Iron Man is described only in glowing terms. I don’t know of anyone who didn’t enjoy it, at the very least describing it as a great popcorn movie.

It seems surprising, but I suppose the lighter, much more comedic-in-comparison elements of Iron Man have a wider appeal than the artistically-driven yet ultimately dark Dark Knight. Not that ‘pure fun’ should trump ‘pure art,’ but I think for a lot of non-rabid comic fans, who prefer fast and light to disturbed and nerve-shredding, Iron Man is up to the task of supplying entertainment they can watch over and over. Especially if the kids are like “We want Iron Man! Again! For the 12,008th time!”

Gosh, I never want kids.

Of course, too much analysis here overlooks Iron Man‘s ace-in-the-hole: Robert Downey, Jr. at his absolute finest. I barely remember The Pick-Up Artist but as Iron Man, he is absolutely perfect. What if we got Timothy Dalton years ago, as was the major rumor? He was Bond so he would have pulled it off, no question there… but then again, Downey. Oh my gosh!

Iron Man, definitely one of the most complex superhero throughout decades of comic book adventures, supplies such a nuanced role for Downey that it’s no surprise that he was able to use every winning tool in his acting arsenal to sketch an amazing performance. Because the drama here is not in using the Iron Man armor to fight villains and injustice, it’s the character of Tony Stark and how he comes to the point of putting on that armor himself, and why he decides to keep on doing it.

In the comics, Stark travels down and redeems himself from the long road of alcoholism. Which hints at the inner darkness Stark holds within himself, as a self-motivated, uber-talented, seemingly self-loathing weapons designer with a taste for the finer things and a LOT of fine women. You could easily poll people coming out of a showing of Iron Man and gets wildly conflicting interpretations of Stark’s true heroism and what kind of person he is. What probably won’t get denied is how amazing it was to watch Tony Stark up on the screen, and since Stark is (seemingly, arguably) Downey largely channeling himself to a super-charged degree, all the credit needs to go to Downey, the expert direction of Jon Favreau, and an assembled cast that gives their all yet always bows down to the shining central star of Downey. Even you, Gwyneth Paltrow, come off amazingly. Who could have guessed?

All of which explains the only slight downturn the film takes at the end, when it moves from the fascinating look at a man driven by circumstance to become a technological knight to a ‘final reel’ that plays pretty closely to the standard third act of a “superhero movie.” After allowing Downey essentially to just do his thing and focus on Stark first and Iron Man second, the emphasis on Iron Man facing an overpowering villain and Stark having to face that standard hero’s journey. It’s still high quality stuff, just not as engaging and surprising as the first two-thirds of the movie.

But to denigrate Iron Man for moving from “incredible” to “fantastic” is splitting hairs. Iron Man is absolutely amazing, a sign that Marvel Comics films are moving from the cold quality of the X-Men films to something that blends the artistry of the Batman films with a blatant sense of humor Batman’s universe tends to reject inherently. If you think Batman’s adventures are a little too dark for you or your loved ones, Iron Man is an excellent substitute. And if you love great movies, period, you should be checking out Iron Man anyway. We love you, Robert Downey!

Drew’s Rating: Does whatever an iron can.

Drew’s Review: This may surprise you to learn, but comic fan or not, I wasn’t looking forward to Iron Man. I’m usually ambivalent toward the character, which changed recently with Marvel’s “Civil War” event. I won’t bore you with details, but basically a law is passed requiring superheroes to unmask to the government and become federally licensed operatives. Half the heroes refuse and become outlaws, while Iron Man leads the rest in hunting them down. Among his actions are exiling captured heroes to another dimension without trial; creating a clone of Thor that goes nuts and kills someone; siccing homicidal supervillains on his ex-teammates; and secretly engineering a terrorist attack on U.S. soil to justify the need for registration. As one does.

So yeah, he’s a villain now. But a funny thing happened: as the film got closer and closer, I remembered that movie Iron Man has none of that baggage. Certainly he’s flawed, as all Marvel heroes are. Mr. Fantastic’s hubris turned his pals into freaks. Spider-Man could have stopped the burglar who killed his Uncle Ben. Bruce Banner created the bomb that turned him into the Hulk. But the critical element is that Iron Man is a flawed person with the opportunity to change. Here was a chance to see a Tony Stark who actually was a hero, whose worst qualities were hedonism and willful ignorance, not fascism. That restored my interest, but I still questioned whether Favreau, Downey and Co. would be able to pull it off. Could an alcoholic weapons dealer be someone we can get behind when he isn’t running for public office? I was skeptical… and as Justin’s review so aptly pointed out, I was wrong. Dead wrong.

Iron Man succeeds because it does what all really good comic book movies do. That is to say, it isolates the core concept Stan Lee came up with all those years ago – uncaring arms manufacturer learns his weapons are being used by terrorists, gets injured, builds a suit of armor to keep himself alive and escape, then decides to make up for his past sins – and simply builds everything else around it. What does one need for a successful Iron Man movie? Great special effects – goes without saying. Multiple suits of armor, each with bitchin’ technology that’s years ahead of anything currently existing, but just close enough to be vaguely believable. And an actor who can portray a smug, self-involved genius who thinks he’s even smarter than he is, but with just enough humor and relatable hobbies to make us like him in spite of ourselves. The first two aren’t so hard, but that last one is where Iron Man could have seriously crashed and burned. Instead, it’s a testament to Robert Downey Jr. that he pulls it off, and in fact made me like movie Tony Stark far more than I ever have comic Tony Stark. Nice one.

The only thing left to comment on is something most viewers (i.e., those who have a life) might not even notice, and that’s all the fan service Iron Man pays to comic readers. As Justin pointed out, there are countless subtle nods that don’t impact the story, but nonetheless intentionally hearken back to the source material. Some of it, like Tony’s alcoholism, is clearly setting up for the sequel, but it’s the minor things — the name of Tony’s chauffeur, the Roxxon sign, Jarvis, Captain America’s shield – that make the difference. They’re the equivalent of the writers and director saying Look, guys – we’re comic fans too. We’re not trying to make a quick buck here, we really like this stuff. Trust us, we won’t screw it up.

Now that the movie’s come and gone, I think I speak for us all when I say: we trust you, Jon. Here’s looking forward to seeing what you come up with next.

Kaleb’s Rating: I don’t stop at merely not bringing anything new to the table; I wait until there’s barely a table left to bring nothing to!

Kaleb’s Review: Now see, this… this is exactly why I wanted to become a Mutant Reviewer, so that I might submit to the reading public a lumpy little nugget of literary obsolescence by regarding a movie everyone already knows is awesome, and which has had its main points covered thrice previously by reviewers likely more skilled than myself (notice I just said “likely”; I have my pompacity to think about), and which most of the readership is probably tired of hearing about. This is it, friends. My entire life has been building to this moment.

But hold on, I may have a little something extra to add later on. First though, for the sake of due diligence – and by “due” I of course mean “excessive” and “padding” – a quick rehash of what we’ve determined so far:

Robert Downey Jr. is awesome, and apparently capable of great things when not full of cocaine; Gwyneth Paltrow is also awesome, but in a more reserved way; the production staff is apparently more interested in making a great movie that stays faithful to the source material than they are in taking a dump on the fanbase’s collective chest for the sake of their own artistic hubris, which is nice for a change.

Taken together, this all results in a film as good or better than almost any superhero movie you care to name (X2 remains the one to beat, in my mind). However, the thing that really sets it apart from the rest? Realism.

Yeah, go ahead and read that again if you need to.

For those of you saying, “But what about the part where he gets shot down by a tank, despite the fact that it wouldn’t possibly be able to track something that small and fast, and then survives the resultant fall unscathed, as opposed to ending up a suit full of soup?”; Yes, I know. And I agree with you. But I’m not talking about that kind of realism. No, I mean realism in regards to Tony’s reaction to his newfound superherodom.

Riddle me this: Who among you-and this is in the context of who you are, not who you hope you would be – upon acquisition of an invincible flying suit, is really going to ask yourself what Jesus would do with it?

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m all for good-guyedness and conscientious use of powered armor and whatnot, and apparently so is Tony. But he’s also like this incredibly dangerous, unstoppable little kid, minus the penchant for cruelty and likely staggeringly high body count that circumstance would afford. He doesn’t even let the fact that he’s kept alive by a gleaming Pringles can in his chest get him down. He has fun with it, rather than being all like, “Power and responsibility and zzzzzzz,” or, “I have metal claws and am nigh-unkillable and angst and more angst!” or, “My entire family was killed and I don’t actually have superpowers! Waaah!”

Okay, so maybe that last one is valid. My condolences, Frank and/or Bruce.

So if you read this review because you find beloved, experienced reviewers appalling and you have a thing for huge skulls, you’re very strange, but thank you. On the other hand, if you’ve trekked your way through all four of them, and you still aren’t sure that Iron Man is worth your time and money and then some, sorry, you’re just very strange.

Lissa’s Rating: Iron Man? Great! Now all I need is Dishwasher Man and Mop Man and Laundry Man, and I’m all set!

Lissa’s Review: Dear my fellow mutants about to become fathers,

See that lovely movie screen you’re so enamoured with? The really big one where you can watch movies with people kicking the back of your chair and eat overpriced stale popcorn dripping in butter-like chemicals? I’m not going to say kiss it goodbye, but explain to it that you won’t be seeing it nearly as much for the next few years.

It’s not that you’ll never, ever get out to a movie again. I’ve seen several movies on the big screen since my boys were born, thanks to a husband who thoroughly understands that I need to get out every now and then. But on the occasions we can get a babysitter, who wants to go pay 8-10 bucks a person for a movie that might suck and you can’t talk during, when you could go have a nice dinner instead? Especially when you can watch a movie in the comfort of your own home for a lot less money and with much better refreshments. (But you’ll still have the toddler kicking your seat.)

It’s not that big a deal these days. Movies are expensive and people are rude, and TVs are getting bigger and better. But every now and then, you wouldn’t mind seeing a movie in the theaters because everyone and their kid brother are talking about it, but you also don’t feel like hiring a sitter or whatever, and you’ll find yourself explaining on the Mutant Reviewers site about how although everyone saw it, you just got around to seeing it now.

Um, guess what the point was.

So, yeah, we just saw Iron Man for the first time, after everyone’s chewed over it and gushed about it and raved about it. And you know, it’s really hard for any movie to live up to hype, and Iron Man is no exception. I’m not saying I didn’t like it, but I do know that what I heard a lot when people left the theaters was “That was so much better than I thought it was going to be!” rather than an unqualified “that was awesome!” It definitely exceeded expectations, but I think expectations were very low to begin with.

In a lot of ways, I’m not a good person to review this. I’ve known this for a long time about myself- I am just not into solo superheroes. I should be, it’s a prerequisite of geekdom or something. But Superman, Spider-Man, Batman… I’ll see the movies, I’ll enjoy them well enough if they’re good, but they just don’t make me curl my toes in delight. Which is not to say I don’t like superheroes, but I’m much more an X-Men type of girl. Basically, I like heroes that spend almost as much time fighting with each other as they do the bad guys. Kick some butts and break each others’ hearts while you’re at it, and I’m totally hooked. Iron Man is a solo hero, and so I’m just not that into him.

That said, I actually liked Iron Man better than the Spider-Man franchise. Part of it is the alter ego. Tobey Maguire does a perfectly acceptable job as Peter Parker, but there’s something appealing about Tony Stark — something devil-may-care, mischievous, and not nearly so whiney and noble. (I find that noble often comes off as whiney.) At the same time, his moral journey is believable enough that I still like him and root for him, and there is a subtle loneliness about his character that is appealing. And I do have to admit that Robert Downey Jr. hit this one out of the park.

In fact, I think it’s his performance that actually makes the movie. I’ve got to admit — Iron Man is kind of boring to me. A guy who has a fancy iron suit. Yay. The villain is pretty forgettable, and I figured out the “secret” villain pretty much the second he showed up on screen. The romance is decent and I do like Gwyneth Paltrow, and she looks really hot in that dress, but it’s pretty forgettable overall, too. The action sequences are funky, but nothing that knocks my socks off. It’s decent, but I’m a long way from kowtowing.

Look, I’m probably the last person on Earth to see this and the fifth Mutant to review it (unless someone else snuck in there between me and Kaleb), so you probably already know what you think and can quote the movie back verbatim to me. But hey, on the off chance there’s someone who fails at being a geek more than I do (and not by being cool), go rent it. It’s not League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and that can only be a compliment.

This is the universal pose of "I am about to kick your butt."

Intermission

  • Didn’t we laugh at the iron-suited guy in LXG who used a flamethrower to burn everything around him? I kind of doubt Tony Stark installed an air conditioning unit into the Mark 1 before he began frying everything around him.
  • Director Jon Favreau plays Tony Stark’s bodyguard/driver, “Happy” Hogan.
  • In the scene where Pepper discovers Tony removing the damaged Iron Man armor, you can clearly see Captain America’s shield partially constructed on a workbench.
  • Comic book writer Stan Lee, as always, has a cameo. He plays the man with three blondes whom Tony Stark mistakes for Hugh Hefner. He later mentioned that it was his most fun cameo.
  • The sound used during a target lock on in Iron Man’s heads up display is the sound of the laser cannon firing in the original Space Invaders game.
  • During the highway battle with Iron Monger, a building can be seen in the background with a Roxxon logo. In the Marvel Universe, Roxxon is a notorious conglomerate known for illegal activities, agents of which were responsible of the death of Stark’s parents.
  • The montage of Tony Stark’s life story was created by editor Kyle Cooper, and contains real-life photos of a young Robert Downey Jr. and his father.
  • Tony’s computer “JARVIS” is a tip of the hat to Edwin Jarvis, who is Stark’s butler in the comics.
  • In the comics, Tony Stark participated became Iron Man in the Vietnam War; later this was retconned to the Gulf War. In this film, the character’s origin was changed to Afghanistan, as Jon Favreau did not wish to make the film a period piece but instead give it a realistic contemporary look.
  • The Iron Man Mark I armor weighed 90 pounds.
  • The cover story S.H.I.E.L.D. invents for Tony Stark also hails from the comics, where for decades Tony claimed that Iron Man was his bodyguard. Only in recent years has Tony come out in public as being Iron Man himself.

Groovy Quotes

Tony: Is it better to be feared or respected? I say, is it too much to ask for both?

Pepper: [walking in on Stark’s robots trying to get him out of the Iron Man suit] What is going on here?
Tony: Let’s face it, this is not the worst thing you’ve caught me doing.

Tony: Yeah. I can fly.

Rhodes: You owe me a plane.
Tony: Yeah, well, technically he hit me, so…

Tony: I’m sorry. This is the fun-vee. The hum-drum-vee is back there.

Tony: [to JARVIS, before doing a flying test run] Sometimes you gotta run before you can walk.

Christine Everheart: After all these years, Tony still has you picking up the dry cleaning.
Pepper: I do anything and everything Mr. Stark requires. Including occasionally taking out the trash. Will that be all?

Pratt: Is it true that you went twelve-for-twelve with the Maxim Girls last year?
Tony: That is an excellent question. Yes and no. March and I had a scheduling conflict but fortunately the Christmas cover was twins.

Jimmy: Is it cool if I take a picture with you?
Tony: Yes, it’s very cool.

Tony: *They* say that the best weapon is the one you never have to fire. I respectfully disagree. I prefer the weapon you only have to fire once. That’s how Dad did it, that’s how America does it… and it’s worked out pretty well so far.

Tony: Am I making you uncomfortable?
Pepper: Oh, no, I always forget to wear deodorant and dance with my boss in a room full of people I work with in a dress with no back.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Spider-Man
  • X-Men
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9 Comments

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