And Summer 2008 at the movies has officially begun.
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What can I say about this seasons opener, Iron Man? A few things, some good, some not so good. The one thing that matters though: if this is just the beginning of what well be getting over the next few months, then its going to be one hell of a summer.
In this latest of the comic book adaptations weve gotten over the last few years, we meet Tony Stark. Hes a billionaire playboy at the head of a weapons manufacturing dynasty. A genius (and possibly borderline sociopath) Tony takes life for granted and gets off more when he blows something up than when he, ah, lays someone down.
The story of Iron Man is simple. This carefree lothario is ambushed in the desert, taken prisoner by Middle Eastern terrorists, and has a revelation that yes, his weapons are in fact hurting the world. He builds a ridiculous iron suit, escapes, learns how to fly; theres a bad guy, a cute girl, and lots of explosions.
That, my friends, is that.
But lets face it, we dont go to see a movie like Iron Man for its in-depth plot, complicated characters, or social commentary. We go for the explosions, the shiny lights, and the other absurd effects. So the question then is, does Iron Man deliver?
On the surface it does. By its nature, to a certain extent, thats all that matters. The effects are spot on. The score is appropriately rock & roll and adrenaline pumping. The cinematography is actually quite good (thank you Mr. Libatique!). The acting is
certainly its not bad. Okay, the acting is fine. Continuing with the theme of shallow, there just isnt a lot for these actors to do.
Actually, I was surprised when I first learned of this films cast. Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges. You really dont need that kind of talent in a film of this caliber. But then again maybe thats the difference between something like this and, say, Fantastic Four. Or Daredevil. Perhaps those movies would have reached the level of Watchablity if they had been filled with more talented casts. As Ive said in the past, Jessica Alba may be pretty to look at but pretty is about all that girls got going for her. So by casting someone like Downey as Tony Stark, someone whos charm is so easy and natural its nearly impossible to temper, John Favreau astutely made the decisions that elevated what would have otherwise been another depressing waste of celluloid into something at the very least entertaining.
That is what Iron Man has going for it. Where does it fall short?
Iron Man is missing the key factor that makes other comic book adaptation successes like the first two Spiderman movies, X-Men, and Batman Begins. Yes, those are good, occasionally even great, films and Iron Man is not on their level for many reasons. But there is one thing above all others that keeps it from crossing that threshold into the realm of greatness. Those other movies are able to go beyond their stories of super heroes and evil villains. They have more to them than just the age-old story of Good vs. Evil. They take their archetypes and they make them Human. They are able to appeal to an audience wider than the fan boys and comic book lovers and special effects freaks. Iron Man fails to move beyond explosions into humanity.
One prime example of this failure, and the thing that bothered me most, is its treatment of the terrorists or insurgents or warlords or whoever they were supposed to be. The men who initially take Stark captive are simple caricatures of the people in the Middle East who we are currently at war with. And yes, I know theres a long history of dehumanizing the enemy in cinema. Were about to see another entry into another franchise that is built on this very practice (I hate Nazis anyone? You know who Im talking about). However, I feel like Iron Man takes this simplification too far. Our involvement in the Middle East is complicated and it made me uncomfortable to watch such a crude portrayal of our enemy. I can give the film credit and say that it at least moves past this by the end, after weve been introduced to the real villain, but I still think that it could have been handled better.
All in all though, Iron Man gives us what it promised it would: the flashy explosions, the badass (and gorgeous and sexy) hero, the epic final battle, and plenty of fan service. It is what it is. A simple action movie. A comic book adaptation. Fodder for sequels and spin offs. And it is wildly entertaining. It made me smile more than it made me cringe and sometimes thats enough.
If you only see one movie this summer, this is certainly NOT the movie to see. But it looks great on the big screen and tastes good with some popcorn and soda. For a fun start to the summer season, check it out.
If nothing else, you get a few amazing trailers to go along with it.
Movie Mood: Action Movie