by Jef Burnham
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Amidst such hype as Iron Man has received, movies very rarely meet audiences’ expectations. Whether it is a result of poor writing, weak performances, or mediocre direction, when a movie has this amount of hype, it is all but predetermined to fail. For this viewer, however, Iron Man far surpassed those expectations.
Iron Man is action-packed and hilarious from end to end, and no comic-book movie has been this exhilarating since fans first saw Spidey sling his web in 2002. But any fan of the Spider-Man franchise will recall that, no matter how cool Spider-Man was as a whole, that first glimpse of the re-envisioned Green Goblin in his caterpillar/vampire suit was an utter disappointment. There’s none of that here. Both Iron Man and his climactic rival, the Iron Monger, are cool-looking and perfectly rendered. And, unlike the Spider-Man trilogy, the crew behind Iron Man was able to create believable villains without having anybody talking to split personalities in a mirror.
What filmmakers do not seem to understand (and I’ll speak primarily to the filmmakers behind the Fantastic Four movies here) is that the key to acceptably changing aspects of an already popular story is to change them for the better. Turning the planet-devouring humanoid character Galactus into a cloud is a pretty obvious mistake since it does nothing but take away from the character, whereas in Iron Man, changing the butler Jarvis into the equally dry-witted artificial intelligence acting as Stark’s computer systems was very intelligent. It allowed for humorous dialogue to exist in situations that would otherwise have consisted of Stark sitting alone in a room or flying isolated in his armor. The A.I. JARVIS is voiced by Paul Bettany.
Most people don’t know anything about Iron Man and his backstory, as he is not nearly as popular as other Marvel Comics characters such as Spider-Man or the X-Men, but they would instantly recognize the similarities to a certain bat-themed hero. Tony Stark is a wealthy playboy/genius inventor who uses his ingenuity to create crime-fighting gadgets in the form of a flying suit of armor. The main difference between Stark and Bruce Wayne is in their personalities. Whilst Wayne is introverted and brooding, Stark is more outspoken and arrogant, which has turned him into quite a detestable character in the current Marvel storylines. But the cockiness and charisma in Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Stark, combined with his easily accessible anti-terrorist determinations, allow for the audience to get behind him totally.
Though I have been a fan of Jon Favreau since he wrote and starred in Swingers and Made (which he also directed), I have to admit that I was not sure how he would handle directing a super hero movie. In fact, his work on Iron Man proves him more capable than most directors who tackle superheroes. He is, of course, supported by a great cast, including the incredibly cartoonish Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard as Stark’s best friend and future superhero (at least in the comics) James Rhodes, and Gwyneth Paltrow, who I found to be decent enough if unspectacular.
One very exciting thing the creators of the current Marvel movies are doing is integrating characters from one film to another, which may ultimately lead to an Avengers movie (IMDB.com has it slated for next year). Note that Robert Downey, Jr., is reportedly playing Stark in the upcoming The Incredible Hulk, starring and co-written by Edward Norton. Plus, if you stay through the credits of Iron Man, you get the first spoken indications of a possible Avengers movie in a small scene between Stark and Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson). The prospect of The Avengers allowing all these actors to revamp their roles, especially when the actors are the likes of Norton and Downey, is more exciting to this fanboy than I can tell.
Jef Burnham is a film critic living in Chicago.
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