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Billionaire playboy industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a billionaire, a playboy, and an industrialist. All that’s cool except for the ‘military’ precursor I forgot to stick in front of ‘industrialist’, which kind of jibes with the ‘carefree’ I forgot to stick in front of ‘playboy’. When his war machines are used against him, and he’s kidnapped by a terrorist group and forced to make them weapons of mass destruction, it’s time to re-evaluate life. Instead of making a missile, Stark uses his time and supplies to make a suit of armour that helps him to escape his captors. Back in the states Stark tries to go back to his normal life, but he finds that his morals have changed, and pretty soon he’s finding ways to improve on that original suit of armour.

Iron Man
Superhero movies continued to dominate the box office in 2008 in an even bigger way then they ever had before. The crop would’ve been unheard of only five years ago—a reboot of the generally disappointing (box office wise) 2003 film ( The Incredible Hulk), a sequel to one of the most unexpected superhero adaptations ever ( Hellboy II), a sequel to another reboot with exceedingly adult overtones ( The Dark Knight), and an adaptation of a second tier Marvel hero with minimal name recognition ( Iron Man). Dark Knight was the critical winner, and its box office take has been almost unprecedented, but Iron Man’s runner-up status is nothing to sneeze at.

Besides a general lack of character recognition on the part of Joe Public, Iron Man had to overcome the fact that he was and is really just a richer and less angst-ridden version of Batman. Unlike that cruddy Marvel Animated version of the character, these filmmakers downplay the Bruce Wayne-isms, and even make Tony Stark out as a bit of an anti-Batman in personality. Unlike this summer’s Dark Knight, Stark actually has a sense of humour, and wins without invoking fascist electronic devices.

Iron Man
So much of Stark’s lovability, and in turn the film’s success, is in the casting. Robert Downey Jr.’s name was inspired from day one, and he didn’t disappoint (I think fan favourite Tome Cruise could’ve pulled it off, but it wouldn’t have been as interesting). Downey Jr.’s performance isn’t exactly a stretch for the oft-wry and sarcastic actor, whose agelessness is really put to the test with such a physical role, but his charms are rather infallible. Without Stark’s humour and quirk (which are there in the original character) Iron Man would’ve been dead in the water, and with Downey Jr. a good movie becomes almost great.

I say almost great because beyond the good humour, the script and direction are pretty average. Director John Favreau is known for his comic timing, and his comic timing does not fail him here (he actually sells quite a few gags that George Lucas would’ve fumbled painfully), but his control of action is occasionally suspect. I wouldn’t say the action is lacking in entertainment value, or even confusing in its geography (a common problem for young directors these days), and I even commend Favreau for keeping the close-ups and shaky camera movements to a minimum, but he doesn’t bring anything exciting to the equation beyond his sense of humour (the suit testing scenes are very, very funny). I think that we as an audience can be optimistic of what can be expected from Favs in the future, because his learning curve appears to be sharper than most Ginsu knives, but there is a slight sense of learning in process to the film’s look and feel. Favreau’s comedy has an unmistakable style, so I’m sincerely hope that he discovers the same in his action next time around.

Iron Man
The script’s problems are the same problems of every superhero origin story script since the original Superman—a true origin doesn’t have an ending, it’s the beginning of the second act. If the origin is told in a true three act structure it still ends at the beginning, and without a guaranteed sequel, as in the case of The Lord of the Rings, the audience is likely to feel ripped off. The really bad news comes when the script’s writer realizes he’s already spent almost an hour and a half telling the origin, and he only has about thirty minutes to create an adventure for the newly origin-ized hero. This is part of the reasoning for superhero sequels often being stronger than their predecessors. The Matrix may be one superhero origin movie that successfully tells the origin in a fully developed three acts, but this is mainly because the character’s superhero identity is sort of the twist of the whole story. Iron Man’s post origin adventure is a rather tacked on third act conflict and fist fight with a haphazardly developed super villain.

Besides Downey Jr., the great sense of humour, and, of course, Stan Winston Studio’s armour design, Iron Man works and overcomes its shortcomings in the end because of what it represents for the future of superhero adaptations. Not only can we expect a better film out of Iron Man 2 (fingers crossed for ‘Demon in a Bottle’), but thanks to Marvel Studio’s gathering of their properties, and the post-credit joke to end all post-credit jokes, Iron Man is really the first chapter in a larger series of Avengers films. The closer we get to that date, the easier I’m willing to take it on these films (frankly, The Incredible Hulk just wasn’t that good). If they continue on this trajectory, which is embracing both the modern and classic elements of the characters, Tony Stark is going to be a very important character, possibly even the most terrifying and powerful super villain in the universe (assuming all the stuff that didn’t work in the Civil War series is filtered out).

Iron Man

Video


Marcus beat me to this review by a bit (I had to be sent a new disc), so I’m mostly here to back up his opinion on the 1080p video. The transfer is a bit inconsistent between the lighter and darker scenes, and more importantly between the standard film and digital effects sequences. There is a lack of definition in the low-lit, digital effect-less character scenes that stands in stark (ha!) contrast to the bright, special effects heavy scenes (especially the scenes where Stark dawns the final suit design and fights), which are rich in colour and detail. Sometimes the differences between the digital and practical suits is a little too plain when the lighting and details are increased, but at the same time I was able to notice fine details that I missed even on the big screen (I couldn’t tell what the hell was going on during the icing up scene), so we’re left with a bit of a trade off.

Despite the occasionally muted detail, I’m overall still impressed with the print; even a little more than Marcus was (though I believe my set is smaller and older than his, so perhaps I’m missing out). The film’s earliest scenes are in some ways the most impressive. The Afghanistan fight is bright and drastically realistic, including tiny detailed sand and rocks, and big, fiery explosions. Then, when the story cuts back to thirty-six hours earlier, we’re fed the glitzy, colourful, deeper contrasted and phony world of Vegas. Within these scenes we’re introduced to the film’s real heroes—beards. The beards in Iron Man are spectacular, and in hi-def we can revel in every perfectly placed hair.

Iron Man

Audio


Thanks to Iron Man I have verified that my powered sub woofer does, in fact, work just fine. Seriously, so very much bass. Iron Man walks? Cue giant bass. Iron Man shoots a repulsor ray? Cue

giant

bass. Iron Man blows something up? Cue Gabe getting up and turning down the sub woofer. Iron Man is a sound effects and music heavy film. Even when things aren’t blowing up, expensive cars are roaring, make-believe machinery is beeping, paparazzi popping, or heavy metal grinding. All five channels are consistently alive and zipping with directional effects, and featuring a well designed dynamic range. With all the noise a-poppin’ one might expect the little things like dialogue and subtle musical cues to go missing, but even with that heavy (almost painful) bass you aren’t likely to miss anything.

I’m usually not a fan of film scores that blend heavy metal and symphonic sounds, because so often the audience is left with an oversimplified sampling of each style, but Ramin Djawadi original music almost surmounts the problems. The whole score sounds a little ‘made for TV’, but it’s strong and memorable enough, and I’m very impressed (again) that I can make out the cues among all the other noises. And credit must be paid to the film’s acquired music as well. Sometimes you simply need to hit the nail on the head.

Iron Man

Extras


Our first disc extras begin with an interactive ‘Hall of Armour’, which includes detailed, 360 looks at each or the four armour types that are seen in the film. This leads straight into ‘The Invincible Iron Man’, a forty seven minute look at the history of the character in the comics. Almost every Marvel based superhero film has featured one of these documentaries, and quite often they’re the most entertaining thing on the disc, especially in a case like this where I don’t know everything about the character (the Silver Surfer doc that adorned the Rise of the Silver Surfer DVD was better than the film). This one does not disappoint, especially concerning the characters often overlooked place in the greater Marvel mythology. Hopefully is an indication of the love Marvel will be putting into their future studio produced discs.

Disc one finishes out (effectively, BD-Live isn’t really an extra) with eleven deleted and extended scenes. Most of them are entirely unneeded in what is effectively an overlong film, especially the front third, which just barely achieves a satisfying momentum as is. I suppose Terrance Howard’s Rhodes was kind of short changed in the final cut. These scenes are presented in hi-def, but with temporary effects and sound (2.0), and feature time stamps in the corners.

Wait, where’s my director’s commentary?

Iron Man
Disc two starts with a giant, one hour and forty nine minute, all encompassing documentary entitled ‘I am Iron Man’. The doc skirts the edge of my personal attention span, but the information allotment and general pacing keeps things interesting. It starts at the beginning of the story with all the technical stuff, including the designing, casting and pre-viz. The on-set filming section of any behind the scenes documentary is usually the part that bores me, but the good nature of this crew, which is led by what basically amounts to an independent director, kept me involved. Robert Downey Jr.’s consistently endearing sense of humour and humility is refreshing, and also helped make for a genuinely entertaining documentary experience. Even the super technical post-production section of the doc manages a similar level of intimacy and fun. The footage throughout is pretty well cut, ensuring that the fly on the wall footage doesn’t devolve into the boring stuff, and split screens are utilized when necessary. The interview segments are mostly sharp, and like the raw behind the scenes stuff usually cut before they start to bore.

‘Wired: The Visual FX of Iron Man’ takes a more detailed look at the digital artistry of the film. This would seem unnecessary after the severity of the previous documentary, and it kind of is. After sitting through hours and hours of how-to digital FX featurettes most of us are pretty familiar with the whole set up, and most of us are probably a little dulled to the whole process. I know I am. I did like the ILM demo reel, though, and appreciate that all three effects studios get their moment in the sun (the Heads Up Display design was particularly interesting). The twenty seven minutes flow by without overstaying their welcome.

The rest of the extras are kind of a cool down session from the heavy workout that preceded them. Downey Jr.’s screen tests and the actor/writer/director brainstorm are interesting enough additions, though I think I’d rather see a Downey Jr. blooper reel. The Onion TV excerpt isn’t as amusing as the original article was in print (on the whole the Onion video stuff has been a massive disappointment), but it’s a cute bonus. Trailers and stills finish out the sizable and satisfying extras. It’s interesting to note that many of the early interviews and production art refer to the Iron Monger armour as the Crimson Dynamo armour. Apparently someone’s political correctness got the better of them. I wonder if the same thing is going to happen with the Mandarin next time around.

Iron Man

Overall


Iron Man stands up as a successful experiment for Marvel Studios, and a really good start for a greater universe of comic book films. It isn’t a full-on success, I personally didn’t find it as invigorating as Spider-Man, as visually interesting as Batman Returns, as ballsy in its oddness as Hulk, or as simply satisfying overall as X-Men 2, but Iron Man is probably the funniest traditional comic book superhero film yet, and that ain’t bad. Bring on Iron Man 2, then bring on The Avengers, and keep it fun Marvel, there’s no need for every superhero flick from here on out to be The Dark Knight, we’ve got one of those already.


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