Marvel Movie Madness! Part 30: Iron Man

by | July 15, 2011 | Comments

Enter Marvel Movie Madness, wherein Rotten Tomatoes watches all of the significant Marvel movies ever made. Full Marvel Movie Madness list here. Tune in! We give you our thoughts, and you give us yours.

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Part 30: Iron Man (2008, 94% @ 234 reviews)

Directed by Jon Faverau, starring Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow

Tim: Hands down, Iron Man is my favorite Marvel movie. For me, Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Tony Stark — a cross between Steve Jobs and James Bond — is pitch-perfect. He’s a charming rogue with a conscience, someone who you can relate to and dream of being. (And unlike most wiseacre heroes, Tony Stark’s witty bon mots seem to come more from the mouth of someone who’s supremely self-confident — not a screenwriter.) Downey’s performance is the highlight, but Iron Man gets just about everything else right as well. Too many blockbusters feel the need to throw everything at the screen in clumps, but Iron Man is remarkably well-paced; it gives the story and its characters room to breathe, and its (admittedly awesome) special effects never overwhelm the narrative. The action sequences are stupendous, but never arbitrary — this is a movie that trusts the audience will stay entertained without resorting to explosions every five minutes.

A lot of filmmakers seemed hamstrung by the wars in the Middle East, but Iron Man is one of the few films that successfully asked important questions about American foreign policy without resorting to didacticism or bludgeoning the audience with agitprop. At heart, Iron Man is the tale of a man who seems to really question his place in the world and use his energy and intellect to make things right. I love the scene where Tony is watching a news documentary on a terrorized Afghan village and immediately springs into action; who hasn’t been weighted down by the struggles of decent people around the world? Who hasn’t wished they could do something — anything — to make a difference? Fortunately, Iron Man leavens its geo-political commentary with plenty of good humor and some terrific musical cues (AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized”). It all adds up to a terrific good time, one of the best comic book adaptations ever.

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Alex: 2008 was my favorite year for comic book movies. I think many would incline to agree. By then, the comic book movie industry was in full steam — we’ve been watching a lot of superhero movies, with entire trilogies opened and closed. I look back in 2008 with particular fondness since, as the comic book movie threatened to fall into a pattern, two movies released which foresaw two different visions for the future of the genre: The Dark Knight (serious and elegant) and Iron Man (bright and zippy), with both telling their type of story to maximum effect.

The Iron Man movies challenge themselves to get by on the least amount of action possible, driving instead on its high-tech world and sheer cast charisma, especially and obviously Robert Downey Jr. I like Iron Man as middle age wish fulfillment cinema: There’s something joyous in watching a dude (albeit a millionaire genius dude) come to the realization that, yes, he can fit into this world as a superhero. The action scenes exhibit a cool restraint, avoiding the showy flash that would obscure Iron Man’s key simple fact: underneath all the armor is just a man who at last discovers his sense of peace and justice.

And the ending — “I am Iron Man” — is perfection.

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Jeff: I think we’re all at least a little ambivalent about the way Hollywood’s gotten drunk on special effects over the last 10 to 15 years or so, but Iron Man is a great example of a movie that couldn’t have been made before the CGI invasion. And we all would have been poorer for it — this is a funny, exciting, effortlessly entertaining burst of superhero action.

Plenty of people had their doubts about Iron Man going in, and for good reason — Tony Stark has been a Marvel keystone for decades, but he was never really absorbed into pop culture the way Spider-Man, Superman, or Batman were, and on top of that, Iron Man doesn’t have the most cinema-ready villains. But as you pointed out, Alex, Iron Man is less dependent on big action set pieces than it is on human drama — and it’s carried by an absolutely stellar cast.


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