Wednesday, 7 May 2008
Solid comic-book entertainment, led by a great performance from Robert Downey Jr, but with no stand-out action sequences or memorable moments that haven’t already been played to death in the trailers. Iron Man is not going to be remembered as one of the summer’s best.
Iron Man is the first of 2008’s big summer blockbusters out of the gate, putting it in something of an unenviable position. If it’s great, it sets the benchmark for the rest of the summer’s movies to live up to, a la Spider-Man in 2002, but if it’s no good, or even just okay, it will soon be superseded by next week’s multi-million dollar spectacle. Taking into account the fact that Indiana Jones 4 is just around the corner, my money is on the latter outcome being Iron Man’s fate.
Plot-wise, it’s an origins movie, tracing Tony Stark (Downey Jr)’s transformation from weapons-manufacturing playboy to renegade metal-coated defender of war refugees by way of a swift lesson in the evils of war. A war that, he realises, he has provided much of the firepower for.
Kidnapped by Afghani terrorists, trapped in a cave and commanded to create a super-missile for his captors’ evil ends, Stark instead uses the materials provided to build himself a bullet-resistant iron suit and makes good his escape. This scenario unfolds – along with a bit of flashbacking character introduction – during Iron Man’s first half hour, and it’s very enjoyable stuff. Downey Jr is a quirky, atypical headliner for this type of film, and he delivers the witty lines with panache but also brings the right amount of gravitas when required. There’s also a fair amount of genuine tension and threat in this first part of the film, but this soon evaporates once Stark is back in his Malibu home and sets about building an all-new Mk. II Iron Man suit.
What follows is standard comic book hero-origins stuff: Stark slowly perfects his new power-suit, while in the background his shady business partner Obadiah Stane (a lip-smacking Jeff Bridges) does shady things, his best buddy Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) turns up every now and then to have a “what the hell’s wrong with you” conversation and his beautiful and long-suffering assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) continues an on-off flirtation/disapproval with him. It’s slick, professional and entirely by the book.
That isn’t to say that it’s not enjoyable, but it’s a crowded field out there for superhero movies these days, and Iron Man isn’t stylish or unique enough to stand out from the rest. This is partly due to director Jon Favreau’s lack of visual flair; none of the images he constructs linger in the memory, and I found myself longing for more movement from the camera. The script can also be blamed, not in terms of dialogue, but more because in focusing so completely on the transformation of Tony Stark none of the other characters - except perhaps Potts, a restrained and very likeable Paltrow performance - get any kind of development. The recent spate of quality comic adaptations (Spider-Man, X-Men and Batman Begins) have demonstrated that you can do origins stories while also fleshing out fully-formed villains, providing a real sense of conflict. Iron Man’s writers aren’t as skilful, so when the villain of the piece is unveiled, it’s a foregone conclusion, a non-event, and there’s never any question as to whether he will be defeated or not.
Iron Man is not a bad film; it's full of very funny dialogue, has excellent and seamlessly incorporated visual effects and serves as a fine introduction to a character who will soon return to movie screens (Iron Man 2 is already slated for a 2010 release). But the fact that its sequel will undoubtedly be better doesn't let it off the hook; this is just good, it should have been great.
Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway
Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard
UK release: 2 May 2008
Watch the trailer here