And so we come to summer blockbuster season, an extravaganza of CGI-fuelled cinematic entertainment, a time to reflect on not how painstaking, but simply how AWESOME all these movies are that are coming out. Occasionally it's nice to get something like Batman Begins which will be filmically excellent as well as AWESOME, but let's face it - that doesn't really matter if you're being truly entertained. With last year being good but not living up to expectations, Iron Man is an AWESOME way to let any problems go and just be entertained for a couple of hours.
I can't remember a comic book movie ever being so much of a joy to watch. Sure, the Spidey films are ace, but there are always all of those serious bits where Peter chooses to mope over MJ, or things start to go wrong. X3 was bogged down in unnecessary death, and Fantastic Four is just generally much less than fantastic. Which is why I was delighted when I saw Iron Man - from start to finish, it's an absolute blast. The opening sequence is funny, exciting, and within 5 minutes had already made me jump. We're introduced to Tony Stark, billionaire playboy from the start, and from then on it doesn't let up.
Often the problem with comic franchise starters is that they suffer from "back story" syndrome. I'm happy to say that Iron Man does not suffer from this - partly because it at least offers a little bit of variety. It grows evermore wearisome when, as an audience, we are subjected to every possible scientific-experiment-gone-wrong scenario, and with Tony Stark not actually having super powers, it's nice to see a bit more variation upon the birth of a hero. Whilst not being overly political (oh, come on! It's a Marvel comic movie!), it's also nice to see a little bit of a modern "terrorism" twist. It's never explored on a deep level, but if you were expecting it to, you've gone to the wrong film, and should thus go home and rent Syriana or The Kingdom on DVD. Either way terrorism is always going to provide more of a threat than an evil black alien symbiote from outer-space.
One of the main reasons why the film does succeed so well is that Downey Jr. is so perfectly cast as Tony Stark. At the start, he's smarmy enough for you to like and admire him (and for you to feel a little bad about it), meaning that his escape from the terrorist cave is bound to put a big grin on any face. His personal reform is believable enough, whilst never getting too boring with serious monologues and overly talky bits. As soon as the bad boy's back, he's straight into his lab to start creating a super-AWESOME robotic suit which he can wear to fight crime, and destroy all the weapons that his captors have obtained, and plan to use. The idea of Stark's weapons being used against him is another nice touch in a narrative which is slightly smarter in comparison to, for example, the obviousness of X3 and Spider-Man 3, and the flat-out-we'll-tell-you-from-the-start awfulness in Fantastic Four. But i did only say slightly. He's also very funny - his comic timing is perfection, and the conversations with his animatronic helpers raises even more than a simple smile, leading into full laugh out loud territory. Whenever the action stops, there's always a joke or comment which makes you laugh or smile, meaning that the entertainment levels never hint at dropping.
It's obvious from the start that Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane is the big bad guy. His distressingly bald head (seriously - I can't believe that this is the same guy as The Dude...) might as well have EVIL tattooed on it in bold capitals. However, he turns in a fun performance, with enough sneer to boo at as a villain, and also a pretty good motive. Doctor Doom could learn some serious lessons from Stane in what's actually worth fighting for. Gwyneth Paltrow is decent enough, but, through no fault of her own, she doesn't actually have that much to do at all. Her small-scale romance with Stark is sweet enough, but isn't going to get any mums teary, and it doesn't really offer the same idea of vulnerability to the hero that MJ did to Peter Parker.
The action in the movie absolutely rules - it's AWESOME. The escape from the cave? AWESOME! The first flight in the Suit Mk II? Super-AWESOME! The military jet pursuit? AWESOME! Taking on the bad guys? AWESOME! In case I give anything away I'll stop there - but trust me, all the action scenes are incredibly enjoyable. It's entertainment in it's purest form - it makes you grin from ear to ear, before you realise this and try to hide it from those rather respectable members of society sitting either side of you (but who are probably too busy grinning themselves to realise).
In being so AWESOME, it's a shame that, filmically, it isn't as well made as some other comic adaptations. Batman Begins really set the bar at an incredible height, which Iron Man can't reach. The cinematography is pretty uninspired, with very few interesting shot types or techniques. However, as blockbuster cinema, this succeeds in so many ways. The CGI is basically perfect - the best I've seen since Transformers; a million miles away from the fairly terrible dark seekers in I Am Legend. I can't stress how entertaining this film is. Dismiss it as a bog-standard franchise starter at your peril...
Genre Value: 4.5/5
Entertainment Value: 4.5/5
Overall Rating: 4/5