There is a lot of sense in Marvel producing their own film versions of the superheroes. There have been some excellent films based on Marvel characters (step forward X-Men 2 and Spider-Man 2) but there have also been some awful films (Elektra and Blade: Trinity). Also, and more importantly to Marvel, the comic book film is the perfect summer blockbuster: family entertainment with special effects and comic relief, based on tested characters which have had years of fine-tuning to work out problems. Now, the only job is to deliver on the film itself, which is something that Iron Man does to almost near perfection.
This is the first Iron Man film; therefore, it has to have the origin, with a villain thrown in to show off the special FX and the coolness of a man in a flying suit of armour. This is what we get, albeit with the updated version introduced by Warren Ellis in his Extremis graphic novel: Tony Stark gets kidnapped in Afghanistan after a test of one of his new weapons, he builds the first Iron Man armour to escape and then he improves it and uses it for good, to make up for the misery his weapons have caused.
These are the details, but they are handled very well by director Jon Favreau. In this, he his helped by the presence of Robert Downey Jr on screen. He is absolutely perfect as Stark – smart, sharp, funny, slick, sexy. There has never been such spot-on casting. He has to keep you entertained on his own, such as the funny scenes where he is working on the improvements to the suit, and he makes you believe the transformation due to the realisation of what being a weapons manufacturer actually means. Favreau, being a former actor himself, allows the actors to enjoy their dialogue – the scenes between Stark and his secretary, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), sparkle with chemistry and snappy banter.
The next stage of the film is the villain for the ‘super’ fight scenes. The recent animated film tried to connect the origin story with the villain and failed (as I mentioned already); this film wisely separates the origin and the villain, using Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), Tony’s business partner. He wants the arc repulsor technology that Tony created to make more Iron Men to sell to the military, and doesn’t mind killing Tony to do it. Bridges is great in the role, playing two-faced sneakiness and the shouty bombast of a good villain to full effect without hamming it up.
An aside: the choice of Iron Man villain was always going to be difficult. They need to be something believable and grounded in the hyper-normality that the good comic book films use (thereby eliminating many of the fantastical and outré villains that Iron Man has). Also, the most renowned villain for Tony is alcohol, so using the business contemporary who wants to make money by making weapons to contrast with Tony’s new-found desire to do good is an excellent choice.
With Stane creating his own suit of armour, this leads to the big showdown, where the CGI is excellent and the spectacle of seeing two men in flying armour beating each other senseless is thoroughly entertaining. Thus, Iron Man performs as an excellent summer blockbuster AND you want to see more – this is brought home by the final line in the film from Stark (that had me smiling at its bravery and ballsy-ness) and the scene after the credits, with the perfect cameo and a line that makes me want the film that has been announced for 2011 to be ready NOW. Because, if it is going to be as good as this film, then it can’t happen soon enough.
This is a thoroughly entertaining and fun movie; there is a lovely blend of action and characterisation, where you want to see more of both the actors essaying sharp and funny dialogue AND the explodo superhero action. This film delivers it and delivers it well. It can join the likes of X-Men 2, Spider-Man 2, Sin City and Batman Begins in the pantheon of very good and enjoyable comic book movies. Now, can we please have the sequel with the same people very soon?