Sunday, May 25, 2008

'Iron Man'

For awhile there, I was ready to declare “Iron Man” one of the best comic-book-to-film adaptations of all time. Up until the last 15 minutes or so, that is, when apparently director Jon Favreau had his brain momentarily replaced by Michael Bay’s.

See, what makes this movie great is exactly what you’ve heard—and exactly what continues to push the movie’s box office receipts higher than anyone anticipated: Robert Downey Jr. gives a splendidly refreshing performance, anchoring a film that’s witty, funny, sarcastic, emotional, and thrilling. All that goes out the window, though, in the climax as Downey’s Tony Stark (dressed in the metal duds of the title character) fights the film’s villain (to give that away here would be spoiling too much); the battle royale is schlocky, chunky, cheesy, mindless, witless, and so filled with clichés and awful dialogue, I wondered how the same people who crafted such a wonderful movie to that point could have produced such drivel.

The ability to close a film with style and class is one of the characteristics that defines greatness in this genre (along with picking the right actor for the hero). Anybody can have two heavyweights go at it and blow a bunch of holes in each other and their surroundings. But the two prime examples of how to do it right begin and end with two sequels, “Superman II” and “Spider-Man 2,” where the heroes had to use as much brains as brawn to defeat their enemies; these two films had the guts to turn the action down a bit at the end, rather than ramping it up to ridiculous levels. “Iron Man” is without question a cut above the rest, but it's rather ironic that a story with one of the smartest superheroes in the canon could get so stupid so quickly.

But all that's not to say there isn't plenty to love about this movie. Like most of the genre’s biggest hits of the past decade, “Iron Man” is an origin story, and all credit goes to Favreau and crew for doing essentially the same movie we’ve seen over and over again (“Spider-Man,” “Batman Begins,” “Daredevil,” etc.), and still making it look and feel fresh. Of course, so much of that is keyed off the casting of Downey, who brings as much of his wit and roguish charm to this big-budget actioner as he has to so many of his more subtle roles in the past. He’s funny and heroic, yet not entirely likeable in all the right ways.

And much credit also should go to the special-effects folks at Industrial Light & Magic; though I was a bit wary of the footage released in the trailers, when Iron Man’s movements are put into context of the overall film, his presence is downright flawless. Downey’s first forays into the suit’s abilities are some of the most exciting moments in any comic-book movie I’ve seen, certainly rivaling Tobey Maguire’s work as Peter Parker and Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in similar plots/films.

So, in the end, “Iron Man” is one of those increasingly rare treats: An action/adventure flick actually deserving of the term "blockbuster."

Grade: B+

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