What to do when I come onto my favorite site to gush about a movie and find it hasn’t been reviewed yet? Well, write one, of course. This review assumes you have seen the movie.
Way back in September, Mark gave us a list of the Avengers movies in the order he recommended we see them. At that point, Iron Man had already been sitting in a Netflix envelope in my house for far too long. Yesterday, I finally threw the DVD into my computer, deciding I would give it half an hour. Two hours later, instead of ejecting the disc, I hit re-play and watched it again.
I went into this movie stone cold. I had never read an Avengers comic and I knew nothing about the characters that populate this universe. I fully expected to be lost as allusions were made to situations and people of which I knew nothing. Instead, the director, Jon Favreau, was able to provide a full backstory that enabled me as a novice to not only follow the story, but to invest almost immediately in the character.
Favreau’s other great success was hiring the right actors for the roles. The chemistry among the four leads was so good that I believed that these people had known each other and worked together for years.
Terrence Howard plays the straight man to perfection, managing to inject an element of humor into the role without trying to one-up his lead. Gwyneth Paltrow takes the usually thankless role of the love interest and makes Pepper Potts so intelligent, so caring that I started shipping Tony and her from the first time she was on screen. When she doesn’t fall into her boss’s arms at the end, I loved her even more.
Jeff Bridges was a revelation as the villain. He didn’t appear at the beginning metaphorically winking at us the audience to let us know where this is all going. Instead, I believed he was a good guy. Until, that is, Tony comes home. As Obadiah steps forward to embrace his business partner, my spidey sense started to tingle. On the re-watch, I tried to see what Bridges had done that made me suspicious. I still couldn’t tell you. Now, that’s acting.
While the supporting players were wonderful, any superhero film will succeed or fail on its lead actor. Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance took me completely by surprise. He so embodied the part, I can’t imagine any other actor playing it. What I especially loved was the humor with which Downey imbued the character. He doesn’t speak like I imagine a superhero would, even when he becomes a superhero. Instead, he is witty and irreverent, while at the same time clearly hiding deep insecurities and hurts.
Intelligence is sexy. Some of my favorite scenes were Downey on his own, interacting with the robots that help him build his suit. It is through these scenes, both the successes and the failures, that Downey shows us that although Tony is a true genius, he is not perfect. He failed and failed big, which makes this superhero more human than some.
The best part of these scenes is that, because the robots with which he interacts are not people, they are not in awe and Tony treats them as friends. Jarvis reminded me of Alfred in cyber form, sarcasm and all. “Dummy” reminded me of R2-D2. A robot, yet infused with humanity and caring. The second time that the robot douses Tony in fire retardant, I roared with laughter and I was moved when he brought the “old” heart to Tony’s level.
The laughter is what makes this movie work so well. So many other movies of this genre that I have seen are very dark and take themselves very seriously. This one was just the opposite. It has at its core a serious theme, the redemption of an incredibly flawed man. Yet, the redemption doesn’t come at the cost of Tony losing who he is at his core, nor does it come at the cost of light or wit.
This is not to imply that the redemption is not taken seriously. Downey manages to play Tony’s disillusionment and fury at Stane’s betrayal at just the right level. He is clearly affected, but instead of sulking, he puts on his suit and goes to work.
The special effects are fantastic, culminating in two of the best action sequences I have seen in a while. Iron Man being chased by the fighter jets was exciting and tense, while still managing to incorporate the film’s signature humor. The final showdown was beautifully done. I believed that the two characters we had come to know were inside those suits.
Was this movie perfect? No. Several of the sequences went on too long and the Afghan villains were a tad too stock. But, these are small quibbles about a movie that managed to surprise me by how good it was. And, make sure you sit through the credits. Iron Man 2 will not sit in its envelope for long.
Three and a half out of four press conferences that change the game.