Disposable Media proudly presents one of the very first reviews of Marvel’s latest comic book adaptations, Iron Man. Released world-wide on May 2nd, DM was lucky enough to attend the first Premiere of the film in Sydney last night, in the presence of Robert Downey Jnr. and director John Favreau, who revealed that the film has only been finalised in the last 2 weeks. Downey meanwhile admitted he hadn’t seen the final version of the film until the premiere but was delighted by both the film and the audience’s reaction throughout the screening. But is it any good? Read on to find out the first definitive review.
Marvel films carry a lot of expectations and with every new adaptation a new set of problems, worries and concerns arise. Iron Man is no different: Can Jon ‘Elf’ Favreau really turn one of Hollywood’s most infamous wild-children, Robert Downey Jnr., into one of the most beloved Marvel characters?
The answer is a resounding yes, aided in no small part due to Downey being so perfectly cast as Tony Stark that at times the dividing line between character and actor are indistinguishable. There’s clearly a lot of Downey himself thrown into the character, but that’s not to say that Downey gives an obvious performance, far from it in fact. At face value Downey as Stark is akin to Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean films – full of flair and quirky personality, arrogance and cock-sure swagger. His attitude, actions and consequences are all exaggerated and highlight both the extremity of the character and the nature of a comic book hero – imaginative fantasies played out through creativity.
Stark is the perfect comic book character – the richest, most famous and talented man in America, complete with a playboy lifestyle and carefree attitude not too dissimilar to Downey’s life during his mid-90s excess. But as the film progresses and Stark confronts his demons and chosen isolation, Downey subtly weaves other elements into the character, a regretful man, one of innate anger and child-like insecurity at times. Seeing Stark use these aspects of himself to fuel the personality of Iron Man whilst Downey does the same to create Stark and then keep up the performance for the whole two hour duration is wonderfully hypnotic. The film allows Stark to take a personal journey in a way that many other super-hero films or summer blockbusters would be afraid of, Batman Begins being an obvious exception. As a character Stark is captivating, as a performance, Downey is enthralling. It’s not just Downey; all of the performances are well considered. Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow in particular both offer similar exaggerations to create a fantasy world that so few comic book adaptations dare to try, never mind achieve. But the film doesn’t stray too far from reality, clearly taking into account modern day America with some carefully worked social commentary to help ground the film. By using such a contemporary setting it allows the super-hero film to flourish. Where Spider-Man and X-Men were intent on producing stories and worlds that could have been real, Favreau and the script writers have achieved a fantastical, pretension-free world that never gets too ridiculous and that good work makes the film all the more fun to watch.
The story is fairly compact, concentrating as much on action as it does exposition, never dwindling into overly-complex character backgrounds or unnecessary side plots. Therein lies one of the films great triumphs: the pace. Marvel are clearly hoping for a franchise with Iron Man with the ending and a scattering of quotes hinting (or even explicitly mentioning) future adventures for Iron Man, but it doesn’t get bogged down in becoming a base for any future sequels. As with any super-hero movie, the first half is largely focused on the creation of Iron Man as a character and Stark’s motivations, but Favreau very carefully ensures that this is never too ‘heavy’ and that you’re never too far from some action or an important revelation. It’s a balancing act that few blockbusters get right, but the success here is what makes the film so enjoyable and so much fun.
Because that is what this film is: Fun.
Jokes are frequent but never heavy-handed and the physical acting from Downey learning the suit never becomes slap-stick. There are considered one-liners delivered to perfection from the supremely confident and razor-sharp Stark and it is all held together with clever jump-cuts and quick-edits that makes the film one that you’ll smile at almost constantly until the action stops.
If there is a problem it is the action, or lack of it. The relatively tight 2 hour running time means that there isn’t that much room for lengthy fight scenes and occasional bursts of frantic action throughout the film take their place. The action scenes are certainly well created and any questions over Favreau’s ability to direct an action film are almost instantly dispelled. The effects too are superb, never knowingly flashy or particularly revolutionary, but consistently seamless. The use of camcorders in particular demonstrate how well integrated the effects are into the Mise-en-scène and are at their best when the mechanics of the suit are shown in detail and during the climatic fight.
It’s easy enough to try to rank super-hero films, but Iron Man stands separated from previous films. Downey’s calculated performance is superb and his development as Stark from carefree-bachelor to world-weary war-monger and back again makes the film. Iron Man follows a similar template to last year’s Transformers, but with more of an edge. Favreau’s direction and vision for this film will appease fans of the comic and yet not alienate mainstream audiences. It’s superb from start to finish with a relentless pace and a wonderful first instalment in what will hopefully become a great franchise and is an example of how to make a blockbuster.
Review written by Ian Moreno-Melgar