a critiQal film review Iron Man (2008)

Plot: Wealthy weapons manufacturer Tony Stark (Downey) is kidnapped by terrorists and forced to put together a missle. Instead, he creates a high-tech suit of armor and wages war against the bad guys.

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  • ...a character-driven amusement ride bound to excite!

Since we had so much fun back in the Summer of ’06 going to a film each week for the entire season, we wanted to do it again. It couldn’t be Summer ’07, as we had a major event happening in July (our wedding). But, with no big events planned for Summer ’08, we’re looking forward to having another great summer at the local movie theater.

So, as the 2008 Summer Movie Season kicked off this past Friday with the release of it’s first soon-to-be blockbuster, Iron Man, so too did our Summer At The Movies ’08. But, would Iron Man begin our Summer with a bang as it promised, or would this season have a hard time getting started?

Robert Downey, Jr. is an excellent choice to play the troubled hero in Iron Man. With his rather rambunctious past exploits, he knows just what it’s like to live the high life, tossing away concerns over his lifestyle with a shrug of his shoulders – just like his character Tony Stark. Despite being the biggest weapons manufacturer on the planet, Stark lives the playboy lifestyle without a care in the world.

Just like Downey Jr., however, Stark’s world is brought into perspective once he encounters a bit of a snag. No, not rehab – instead, Stark is terribly wounded and kidnapped by terrorists. When he escapes, he’s a changed man.

Downey Jr. is able to showcase both the highs and lows of Stark’s character with a humanity often put aside for superhero flicks. The viewer believes Downey when he, as Stark, says he’s seen the error of his ways and wants to change his life around (Heck, they’ve heard it from Downey before and look where he is now).

Downey’s ability to capture the essence of Stark really helps make Iron Man one of the more human superheroes to come along in a while – and that’s saying a lot, as this superhero is clad in a ton of metal most of the time.

Without Downey’s ability to relate to his character and give Stark a much needed dose of humanity, the film could have easily degenerated into nothing but a special effects extravaganza (this feeling of humanity is what Tobey Maguire tried – and failed – to evoke in all 3 of the ridiculous Spider-Man (2002) films…and it showed).

While Downey does carry most of the burden of making film-goers relate to Iron Man on a personal level, he’s not alone. Gwyneth Paltrow (sporting some new red hair) and Terrence Howard contribute their personal touches to their characters too. While Terrence Howard doesn’t really go all out, content to let his performance glide through on the comic-book storyline, Gwyneth puts some real feeling into her character, making her awkward moments with Downey almost as entertaining as the gigantic special effects-laden battles in the film.

Jeff Bridges, on the other hand, doesn’t live up to the high standards set by the other cast members. Instead, he reverts back to the typical shallow role associated with comic-book characters, and doesn’t push the envelope at all. But really, he doesn’t have to – the storyline helps do that for him.

If it wasn’t for the great character performances of most of the cast and some spectacular special effects, the storyline wouldn’t really be something to write home about. Most of the events are rather predictable (including the villains of the picture), and nothing really comes out of left field. If the viewer catches a preview or two, chances are they will have guessed most of the plot twists of the film going in.

The special effects, of which Iron Man is heavily laced, are stupendous. Be it missiles exploding – sending a shock wave into a crowd – or Stark’s metallic chest hole that Paltrow’s character has to reach into at one point, the special effects never falter. And that’s before even talking about the main event – the Iron Man himself. Whether the ol’ tin-can is rocketing through the sky or simply standing on the ground, he’s a sight to behold – and a technological marvel.

The special effects could easily have overridden mediocre character performances just by sheer number – but in Iron Man, even amidst all of the effects, the viewer never forgets that inside all that technology is a man the viewer has come to know, thanks to Downey’s impressive performance.

While a lot of superhero films falter due to silly story lines, Iron Man proves that with the right cast, even a simplistic storyline can be exciting. Get the viewer hooked in to the characters before going crazy with the special effects, and they are bound to come away much happier.

Watching Iron Man is like getting on a roller coaster that you’ve seen several times. No matter how many times you’ve seen the coaster go through it’s motions, if this coaster gives you something new (like strong character performances), you’re still in for a thrill ride.

And that’s the case for Iron Man too – an amusement ride bound to excite..and the perfect way to kick off the 2008 Summer Movie Season. Go see it today.

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