The film adaptations of the many Marvel comics have certainly been a mixed bag. For every Spider-Man, there’s a Daredevil. For every X-Men 2, there’s an X-Men 3. At this stage, it’s difficult to judge which way each Marvel adaptation will go when it hits the big screen. Director Jon Favreau, who’s made some pretty decent indie flicks in (writing) Swingers and (writing/directing) Made takes a big gamble by making Iron Man, one of Marvel’s biggest franchises. Favreau has made some bigger-budget films in Elf and Zathura, but this is in a different league altogether. Is it a success?
Iron Man tells the story of Tony Stark; weapons-manufacturer, inventor, adventurer, philanthropist, womanising multi-billionaire. While Stark Industries produces some of the world’s most destructive weapons, Stark is unapologetic about the industry he’s a leader in. While on a weapons demonstration trip in Afghanistan, Stark is badly injured and captured by a group of terrorists who demand Stark builds them one of his patented Jericho missiles. Stark agrees. But instead of building the missile, Stark constructs a metallic, heavily armed suit of armour which he uses to break free from captivity. Stark then uses his experiences to become a super-hero who protect those he puts in harm’s way.
The summer blockbuster season (and man, what a season it’s shaping up to be) kicks off with this movie, and if it continues in the vein of Iron Man, then 2008 will be seen as a great year. Boiled down to it’s simplest format, Iron Man is a ‘beginnings’ movie, much like Marvel’s Spider-Man and DC’s Batman Begins. And while it’s far better than the arachnid movie, it’s not quite as good as the Bat. It’s a far lighter-hearted affair than Batman Begins, and maybe it’s because of that that it doesn’t quite trump that film. It just hasn’t the same gravitas as Bruce Wayne’s story. They’re similar in ways. Both are billionaires born into money. Both are inventors. Both have play-boy lifestyles. But where as Wayne uses his playboy image to deflect the media’s eye away from the possibility that he is Batman, Stark embraces the attention. Iron Man just doesn’t feel as deep as Batman Begins.
But I digress. Iron Man is a damn entertaining film. Robert Downey Jnr. Seems to be perfectly cast as Tony Stark. I must admit, I’m not overly familiar with the Iron Man comics. I know the basics of the character, and his eccentric ways, and knowing Downey Jnr.’s past, he seems like the perfect casting choice. He’s clearly relishing the role, and never seems out of place at any point. When he’s in the Iron Man suit, it’s pretty difficult to ‘act,’ but Favreau gives us shots of Stark inside the armour, and Downey Jnr. retains the cock-sure attitude at these moments without any problem. The always-entertaining Jeff Bridges plays opposite Robert Downey Jnr. as his business partner and eventual enemy, Obadiah Stain. Bridges chews up the scenery in nearly every role he plays, and he’s great opposite Robert Downey Jnr. Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard round off the main cast as Pepper Potts and Jim Rhodes, Stark’s PA and best friend. They provide pretty solid support, but they’re still second tier to Robert Downey Jnr.
The film’s not perfect, however. While origins films can suffer somewhat from getting through the ‘how x became y,’ back-story, they mustn’t fail to entertain. Iron Man builds for quite a while, and when the big showdown happens, for a while, it’s good fun. It’s a damn sight more entertaining than watching the Transformers wail on each other. But the showdown also ends pretty abruptly, and you’re left thinking ‘that’s it?’ And when there’s not that much in the way of emotional depth to the movie, it kind of leaves you thinking there’s something lacking. That’s the case here. I’m sure the Iron Man sequels will up the ante considerably. And if this movie is any indication, it’ll be spectacular. Iron Man is a far, far better movie than Spider-Man. But it falls just short of the depth of Batman Begins. But having said that, it’s a fine piece of entertainment, and a great way to kick the blockbuster season into life.