Last night Kiero and I went out to watch the Preview showing of Iron Man at Odeon Leicester Square.
Many will say that Iron Man is a very simple story. That the plot is essentially simple to spot. That the characters are all thin and obvious and the action is split very firmly along action genre standards. This, they will lament, is a film with a firm beginning, a plodding middle and a traditionally rambunctious end. Just like every other comic book project found in the cinema these days. Iron Man, they will claim, is a TV series episode with nine times the budget. Yet another slice of nothing.
Others, of a more literary bent, may even point put that summer blockbusters are ten a penny these days and thus Iron Man is simply the next in the line of the decayed fetuses torn from the womb of Marvel’s back-catalogue, which is being repeatedly corpse-humped until all our childhood memories have been force fed back to us in lurid CGI. An imaginative morsel that can never compare to the gigantic spectacles our minds evoked back when we were young.
All those people are idiots.
Of course it’s shallow.
Of course it’s characters are paper thin.
Of course the plot-twists are simple to spot.
Of course there is a thumping sound track.
Of course the action is over the top.
It’s a comic book!
Capturing the Zeitgeist is a hard business these days. If you are designing a project that is going to try and present “near-future” tech, what with the time the project will take to produce and the ever quickening pace of consumer technology, you are presented with a fine balancing act. Push too far forwards and you will come off like an episode of Guyver. Hold back too hard and the audience will likely have better tech in their iPhones. Many approaches have been attempted to pull off convincing sci-fi and not all have been successful.
For every Star Wars, which cleverly made everything broken-down and old (Thus the tag line of Episode IV is “A long Time ago in a Galaxy far far away” even though the ships all fly faster than light), you get a Tomorrow Never Dies (that execrable invisible car!). Iron man balances this tricky equation almost to perfection. So while the suit is amazing it is amazing in the ‘concept car’ sense. The movements and technology on display are just far enough ahead to make you go “wow”, but not too far ahead that you don’t believe it.
That is not the only problem that must have faced the writers of this story. More pressing is how could they inject a human touch into a big Iron Suit which has a blank looking mask? How could they inject enough character into the design so that we identify with it? For this they rely on the body movements of the arms and legs with little touches like the Stark’s hands clenching in anger causing an actual reaction in the suits mechanisms. Such as weapons slowly sliding into view or powering up.
In this way the emotion of the wearer is passed across. It is quite subtle and yet adds a lot to the action scenes and is a testament to the quality of 3d CGI in 2008.
For all non-action scenes you have an excellent cast who all know their jobs. Much will be made of Robert Downey Jr as Stark, and I will get to him in a moment, but I want to give big props’ to an excellent Jeff Bridges who plays the Villain very convincingly. His amazing beard and some clever film angles that enhance his physical size and presence are so effective that he steals almost every scene he is in. Gwyneth Paltrow is also every bit her part. I.E. office-girl-sexy and yet unobtainable. In this character they again have made something that most of us are more than familiar with. It sounds easy to do but actually she has a lot of underacting to perform here. She has to give up space to the hero.
The hero is Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark.
Casting is a difficult job. The wrong casting can ruin the flow of a film. Think of the clunky acting of Katie Holmes in Batman Begins. Think of Hayden Christensen in Episode II/III. Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark is an inspired choice. He has the un-fakable look of a man who has been to the edge. A man who could quite believably create an empire large enough to support the development of Iron Man. His delivery of the lines are all pitch perfect (two strong gins perfect). He is always cool and relaxed but underneath he is still wired. This is not something you can fake. Look at actors in The Matrix Revolutions try to act cool but fail.
Stark’s legend is based on that of Howard Hughes and this lesson has been updated to the 2000’s with Stark living the “perfect” life. Comic hero’s are all about repressed wish fulfillment fantasies and the director of this movie knew that from the beginning. He presents Stark as a “magnificent bastard”. Someone larger than life who is living the American Dream life of babes, toys, booze and all the money you can stick in your ears. He then simply redirects that energy into becoming a hero. This transformation is FAR more convincing than cheaper fare such as Jumper or even Spiderman (which I couldn’t stand).
Stark is every inch a genius playboy. That genius is awoken to save his life and like any obsessive the subsequent improved suit designs are his search for redemption through the pursuit of perfection (Howard Hughes to a T). This is all very close to the comic book and no real liberties have been taken with the story even where that leads to plot-lite. It is all much more convincing than Fantastic 4 or even X-Men. Maybe it’s that I can believe in a suit whereas superpowers leave me cold. Stark has a superpower of course: his intelligence, but that is on the inside and doesn’t require a spandex jumpsuit with underpants on the outside.
Watching Iron Man is an exercise in reliving one’s childhood. It is fun and exciting in equal measure, however it is definitely a film to watch on the big screen. I found it to be an excellent movie and I had great fun watching it. It is also a very welcome start to this year’s promising lineup. There’s a new Indy, a New Batman and, to kick 2008 off, a very good comic adaptation in Iron Man.
I give it 8/10