May 2, 2008

ironmanTo cut right to the chase, Iron Man is one of the best superhero movies ever made, and a lot of the credit is due to Robert Downey Jr.’s standout performance as the title character, also known as Tony Stark, a smug, self-absorbed, obscenely wealthy arms dealer who undergoes a change of heart, following three months of imprisonment by an Islamic militia in present day war-torn Afghanistan. He develops a flying supersuit for himself, and aims to correct of the damage he’s done to the world during his years as “a merchant of death.” The plot’s not really the movie’s strong point, since it basically functions as an origin story and a general introduction to the characters, who are the movie’s strong point: Stark, his trusted assistant Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), his longtime friend and military liaison Rhodes (Terrence Howard), and his partner in business, Obadiah (Jeff Bridges). You’ll note that the major players are among the finest actors of their respective generations, which grounds the movie in the people the story is about, rather than the special effects they are required to act to or around. Even the special effects, which are very impressive, of course, are designed so that the characters don’t disappear into the shiny flying suits once they put them on: You get numerous shots of their faces as they interact with other characters, a simple, but effective technique, but indicative of the respect director Jon Favreau has for his cast. The only characters who get short shrift, save for Yinsen (nicely played by Shaun Toub) an engineer Stark befriends while in captivity, are the Afghan characters, who are one dimensional and exist mostly to get mowed down. In general, though, Iron Man is a witty, intelligently made, exciting movie made by smart, funny people who don’t assume their target audience necessarily has a low attention span. The finale, which initially struck me as somewhat lackluster, is actually a sign of one of the movie’s virtues: The filmmakers are confident enough in their work that they don’t feel they have to toss the majority of the movie’s budget at you for its big send-off. Instead, it’s a battle between two characters, rather than two pieces of special effects. The real finale is the last line of the movie, anyway. (Though there’s a post-credits sequence that sent some of the audience I saw the movie with into paroxysms of delight.) Iron Man sets the bar high for movies this summer, and it’s one of the best times you’ll have at the movies this year, period.


(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)


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