Friday, May 02, 2008

Iron Man

Year: 2008
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow

This is officially FF's 100th review, and what better film to win this honour than the film that starts 2008's blockbuster season, Iron Man. It's based on the Marvel comicbook of the same name, following in the footsteps of many other Marvel film adaptations such as Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four.

However, unlike the latter three, Iron Man is more on the life of its alter-ego Tony Stark, than the superhero character itself. Tony Stark (Downey Jr) is a billionaire cum playboy cum inventor of weapons for the military, and chief of his own company, Stark Industries. One day, after a demonstration of his latest weapon for the US military in Afghanistan, his convoy is ambushed by Afghan insurgents. Stark is seriously wounded and held captive.

The insurgents force Stark to build them the same missiles he just showed his military. They give him an assistant, a scientist named Yinsen (Shaun Toub), who also happens to be the man that finds a way to keep Stark alive despite his injuries. Stark agrees to their demands, but instead builds a metal suit to help him escape captivity. He dons the suit (which is heavy and clunky, but packs a mean punch) and breaks out in spectacular fashion.

Upon his return, he makes a prompt decision to stop building weapons, much to the chagrin of his chief advisor in Stark Industries, Obadiah Stane (Bridges). Stark is influenced by the fact that the enemy used his own inventions against him when they captured him, as well as against innocent people and intends to make up for it. He decides to rebuild the metal suit and improve on it, as part of his personal project. Despite lack of support from his best friend Colonel Jim Rhodes (Howard) and personal assistant Pepper Potts (Paltrow), who fears for his life, Stark soldiers on with his plans. The end result is an impressive suit that has enough firepower and calibre to take down any enemy. However Stark faces betrayal from within that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear.

Director Jon Favreau, who is also a writer and actor, turns in excellent work for his film about the armored avenger. What Favreau presents to us is a film that doesn't dwell on the superhero theme, and yet makes it very exciting, imaginative and well grounded all at once. Compared to other Marvel adaptations like Spider-Man and Ang Lee's Hulk that take themselves too seriously, or Elektra and Ghost Rider that end up being over-the-top, Iron Man comes across as charming and witty, with enough action to please the adrenaline junkies, and still leave enough room for drama.

Downey Jr is probably tailor made for the role of Tony Stark. He gives Stark plenty of spontaneity, humour and charm, making him instantly likeable. Stark is supposed to be a vulnerable character deep down, who struggles with his demons and guilt, and in the scenes where the script calls for its revelation, Downey Jr doesn't disappoint in bringing them forth. He's ably supported by Howard and Bridges, whose characters are not just there to fill the screen, but to be intelligent and relative to the plot. Bridges in particular fleshes out his character Stane very well indeed. If you're an Iron Man fan, you'd know how Stane plays into all this in the end. Paltrow, whom I consider to be quite annoying (I'm no fan of hers) does surprisingly well also as Stark's loyal assistant Pepper.

What's worth mentioning also is the visual effects courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic, who do a tremendous job with the battle scenes and scenes involving Stark in the Iron Man suit. I dare say it's a lot more fluid than the Spidey visual effects, and more believable too.

I'll admit that there were some lines uttered in the film's climax that sound too cheesy, but overall I had a fantastic time watching Iron Man. Marvel will surely be able to build a steady franchise from this character. Recommended. (4.5/5)

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