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Review: Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr. has been touted as the perfect choice to play Tony Stark. When I first saw the trailer I was doubtful about that choice. I always pictured Stark as taller, and with a deeper voice. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I’m over that. He did a great job, and I really can’t think of any better choice. Excellent casting.

I’ve heard a lot of people saying this was the best superhero movie ever. Before I saw the movie, I doubted that would be true, though I figured it would make a good shot at the title. Turns out I was right on that one. This took a heck of a shot, but it doesn’t, in my opinion, take down the reigning king, Spiderman. Here’s why: I left both of the first two Spiderman films elated and breathless; Iron Man had me happy and pumped. Great reactions to both franchises, but it’s a matter of degrees — Spidey gave me the extra effort.

To be fair, going in to it I prefer Spidey over Iron Man. I’ve always been intrigued by Iron Man, but never captivated. So I guess I’m not impartial. I do think it’s possible to make an argument that the Spidey films are objectively superior, primarily on the strength of the story coming through on a more personal, rather than global level. But let’s get back to concentrating on the current movie for itself.

First of all, the eye-candy level is impressive. Lots and lots of nice shots. The suit looks and works great. But that’s not the focus of the movie. As with all the best special effects movies, the effects are there merely to support the story. It’s a very good story, too. The uncaring head of the world’s leading weapons manufacturer comes face-to-face with the reality of his own inventions and realizes that he has to undo the damage he has done. It’s a big task, on a global level. The movie keeps it manageable and the bad guys are terrorists, not governments, which ensures we’re rooting for the hero without damaging the movie’s marketability.

There are a lot of nods in there for comic fans, too, which is nice. Supporting character Rhodey gets to telegraph his eventual role as Iron Man’s partner, War Machine. S.H.I.E.L.D gets a huge nod (though I won’t comment on the rumored presence or absence of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury). There is a definite setup for an Avengers flick, and an obvious potential for a whole series of Iron Man movies.

My vote for best moment in the entire movie – the moment that made me actually loudly exclaim “Oh, Yeah!!” before the rest of the audience reacted, was actually a moment that was partially played for subtle comic effect, as well as dramatic. The way he took out the terrorists holding hostages in the town was just too cool, and I didn’t see it coming. Absolutely perfect.

But now I have to come back to something that didn’t work as well for me. And the problem I have is that I don’t know who to pin it on. This could be the way the character is in the comics (I really haven’t read much Iron Man), or it could be the way he is written for the movie, or it could be the director’s choices, or it could be on Downey Jr.’s shoulders: aside from early on, about midway through the cave sequence in the beginning, I don’t ever get much in the way of emotion or conflict – there were opportunities for that to come through, I think, but it didn’t – unless you count innuendo. Very little in the way of vulnerability. I do recognize that that was a conscious choice, I just think it could have been loosened up a bit – at least for a scene or two. It kept me from being as emotionally invested in the character as I could have been.

Maybe that’s always been present in the character. That could explain why I never got fully caught up in the series. I just don’t relate to him as well as to some other superhero characters (specifically, Spiderman, Superman, and Batman come to mind).

Anyway… despite the flaws I’ve seen, I still think this is easily in the top five best superhero/comic movies ever. It should prove to be a strong franchise, and is probably positioned better than any other comic book movie to spawn spin-offs and cross-overs. In the comics, Tony’s worked with just about everybody in the Marvel Universe at one time or another. I anticipate at least one sequel, probably more, and an Avengers spin-off, and I eagerly look forward to them.

And DO NOT LEAVE until after the credits. You’ll be glad you stayed.

So… 4 stars.

(1 down, 12 to go.)

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