So, I actually saw this on Thursday night at 8 o'clock, so if I had been really motivated I would have written this up then. But, well, I got distracted by something else that is going to earn a post one of these days, so I'll talk about that then.
Anyways, just to put this in perspective, I knew nothing about Iron Man prior to seeing the trailers start airing sometime a little over a year ago. Literally, I knew nothing. I did not know he was a comic book character. I did not know he had a popular Saturday morning cartoon show. I did know the Black Sabbath song, from Guitar Hero. Even when I heard about this character, I didn't really know if they were actually related or if Ozzy just thought it was cool.
So, yeah, I could be pretty accurately described as a n00b on this one. However, I did know that Robert Downey Jr. is awesome. I'm not sure when I learned that, exactly, but it feels like I've known that for more or less my whole life. Oddly enough, because I don't really pay attention to tabloids unless they have flattering pictures of starlets on the covers (and these days, it seems like they never do), so I honestly didn't know about Robert Downey Jr.'s forays into fun things like drug abuse and alcoholism, nor his many trips to and from rehab. I'm still not totally clear about why this is relevant to EVERY SINGLE FREAKING REVIEW OF IRON MAN THAT I'VE READ, but apparently it is.
So, be warned, I'm clearly incapable of giving a proper review of this movie because I didn't know enough about the character or the actor. But, luckily, I've been bombarded with this information for the past two weeks or so, so I could probably just lie about already knowing it and move on. But, I'd like to do this differently than everyone else. I won't talk about how Robert Downey Jr.'s past makes him the perfect actor to portray Tony Stark, because it's not. Dammit, I am going to talk about it. Never mind, on to my thoughts, just remember that I don't actually know Tony Stark's past, nor do I particularly know Robert Downey Jr.'s past, so when I talk about these things, I'm making shit up (hardly unusual).
Anyways, let's start with the experience. Clearly, it was awesome. Everyone and their brother, mother, grandmother could tell you that. Even the trailers ahead of the movie were awesome. There weren't too many but they were: a new Batman trailer (hell, yes), a new Indiana Jones trailer (OMFG!), and an Incredible Hulk trailer (okay, they can't all be as awesome as the first two) and that was it. Yep, just three trailers. Nice. Briefly, I would just like to say that I'm quite happy with the switch in Batman from Katie Holmes to Maggie Gyllenhaal, because Jake's sister is awesome and hot and Katie Holmes is not awesome and just pretty. On the other hand, the switch from Jennifer Connelly to Liv Tyler in the Incredible Hulk sequel is not welcome. Jennifer Connelly is an amazing actress that adds credibility to the project and is also really, really hot when playing a scientist (I will reserve judgment on Liv Tyler's hotness when playing a scientist, but I didn't even like her that much when she was playing an elf, which should be easy). At the same time, I imagine that the switch from Eric Bana to Edward Norton could be very good (not that I don't like Eric Bana, but, man, Edward Norton, you can't really argue with that).
Okay, obviously, that wasn't the experience. That was irrelevant. But, that's how the experience started, with awesome trailers. It continued with both well done action sequences (that had some shaky cam, but typically only during explosions, which I'm pretty sure has been considered fair since at least the original Star Trek, so no complaints there) and some hilarious quotable lines, entirely from Mr. Downey Jr. There were these nearly perfect special effects and a focus on characters that is highly reminiscent of that Spiderman sequel, as well as Batman Begins.
Clearly, this was an origin story, and so the focus was on his origins. We spend a lot of time in that cave, but only after taking some time to find out what he was like merely a day before his world came crashing down on him (and he ended up in that cave). And, well, he was a comic book character living large. He believed his own BS and lived it every day. But, and here's why I don't think Robert Downey Jr.'s past is relevant to his portrayal of Tony Stark, his vices don't rule him. He is in control of himself from the beginning. He just doesn't care about the world around him, because he's billionaire genius Tony Stark.
And, well, why should he? He's the head of a massive and massively successful weapons research and manufacturer. He believes he's doing good by keeping the army safe and well armed for its wars. That's all he needs to soothe his conscience and do whatever he wants. And even then, it's clear from his home that whatever he wants is hardly even that bad. Yes he drinks and only talks to/sleeps with beautiful women, and well, we don't know if he does drugs since this is PG-13, so they probably don't want to push the limits more than necessary, but otherwise his house is filled with the types of toys anybody would dream of. Classic cars (okay, I'm not into that, but I can still respect it, especially since it's clear he spends time working on them himself), cool robots and other electric gadgets (with cute/clever personalities too), and a machine/design shop that can produce something as awesome as his Iron Man suit in a matter of hours.
Those are the toys of someone who is wasting his life playing games, not someone who necessarily has problems or needs anything like rehab. It's easy to imagine how his home came to be. He slowly filled it with his heart's desires. And note that they weren't vices; they were toys. Because he's a bored genius looking for entertainment and finding it by giving himself the power to exercise his genius at will.
But, really, the moment he realizes that his work is not doing the good that he believed it was, he changed. He invented multiple amazing things, immediately (partly out of motivation to survive, but whatever, and I wish they had put in some dialogue during that cave sequence notifying the audience that he was creating something spectacular with that little round light source, because I had assumed it was some old invention of his that he was remaking from scratch, not the awesome creation that would allow Iron Man to exist). His conscience is no longer soothed and he realizes that if he wants to do good, he, himself, has to actually do good. And so therefore he does.
That's what I got from the movie, at least. Maybe the comics present a different story. But from what I could tell, all of his "vices, largely public in nature" simply arose from the fact that he didn't care what the world thought of him since he believed he was amazing. Once he stopped thinking he was amazing, he decided the world needed to think he was amazing, and so of course he relishes telling the whole world: "I am Iron Man".
So, yes, Robert Downey Jr. did a great job portraying Tony Stark, because Robert Downey Jr. is an incredibly versatile actor. He has almost all the fun lines in the movie, and part of the reason is because he can deliver them perfectly. He can pull off hilarious and cocky and he can also be so intelligent that those around him are confused and uncomfortable. And, well, that's what makes Tony Stark such a fun character, and that's why I knew Robert Downey Jr. could do it right. It's not because of his past, it's because of his awesomeness.
The other actors I was pretty indifferent to. I've never been a huge fan of Jeff Bridges, although I really like his voice. I kind of wish it felt like he had more of a plan than he did. I mean, he's the bad guy, and I totally like the start of his plan: you know, kill Tony Stark to wrest control of the company from him. But, well, he doesn't seem to improvise well. He tries to legally gain control of the company, which is a fine back up, but then he becomes obsessed with the Iron Man suit. And, well, let's be honest. What's he going to do with it? Sell it. Okay, sure, that should be fine. But he's going to have tons of legal struggles in any situation with that plan.
I mean, seriously, there's going to be tons of proof that the first inventor was Tony Stark. I mean, he's going to have to secretly kill a lot of people to hide the fact that he stole a working prototype of the little round light source, as well as designs for the Iron Man suit from Tony Stark. In fact, even if Tony had died when Jeff Bridges (sorry, I didn't really like the name Obidiah Stane, so we're calling him Jeff Bridges) physically took the thing out of his chest, there's going to be a ton of evidence that it was Jeff who did it (including the well known fact that the little round light source was keeping Tony alive and, oh, would you look at that, it's now being used to power an Iron Man suit, I bet Tony sacrificed his life for that Iron Man suit, yeah, that makes a whole lot of sense).
So, yeah, I wish his plan went farther than simply obtaining the giant freaking suit. Yeah, I know he feels invincible in it, but I imagine that, as the head of the company once Stark is dead, it's not in his best interest to go to war with his primary customer. I mean, that's just a guess, but it seems reasonable.
Let's see, then there was Terrence Howard, who basically had nothing to do. So, yeah, I'm pretty indifferent to him to. I guess we'll probably see him suit up in the sequel, although I'm curious where the little round light source is going to go since Terrence Howard's character (whose name I never caught) doesn't have that convenient hole in his chest that Tony does.
And then there's Gwyneth Paltrow. We don't see her in stuff much, so I guess it's exciting just to see her in a major movie, and, well, she certainly is beautiful. I guess, I kind of feel like her performance was hit or miss at times, and it seemed to always miss during the most important conversations. Her entrance is perfect. She's sending some young slut home after a hot night with Tony Stark (Christine Everhart is the character's name, I didn't recognize the actress, and I'm kind of hoping she's a recurring character...also, I was a little confused about how Tony and her ended up in Malibu, considering they started the night in Vegas, but I'm sure that's not important). She conveys this perfect amount of indignation and haughtiness, with just a tinge of jealousy, as she lets the girl know just what Tony thinks of her (or, rather, that he's already forgotten her, which you can clearly see on the girl's face when she talks to Tony again, later in the movie, and he basically doesn't remember her at all...so, yes, this is why I want her to be a recurring character).
But after that perfect entrance, her interactions with Tony often times just don't feel quite right. Multiple times it sounds like she's...blubbering (I feel like that should only be used when talking about pirates). She doesn't know what to say when he asks her to stick her hand inside his chest and so she just talks, and talks. Again, when he asks her to dance and then has a drink with her outside, she's just awkwardly talking when it's clear that's not really what he wants her doing. Maybe that's what Pepper Potts (yeah, I'm not a fan of that name) is like in the comics, but it doesn't feel right. They present her as the assistant whose job is to make Tony's life function even as Tony is consistently sabotaging those efforts just by being himself. She should be eminently competent, especially in the weird and uncomfortable situations that Stark's shenanigans create. And they illustrate this perfectly with her entrance.
But, then we don't really get to see it ever again. It's like for the rest of movie she's out of her element and unprepared (which could be reasonable considering she was hired at sometime in the past to keep his life together, not to infiltrate the company and steal secrets, or fall in love with him, but you'd hope that the requirements for keeping his life together would include dealing with situations like these, you know, just in case). So, yeah, this inherently felt wrong to me. But, it could be just me.
Also, and this is a big complaint, when they're out there on the balcony together, she totally leans in to kiss him. Now, once again, maybe something very much like this happened somewhere in the comics (and in any case, this isn't Gwyneth Paltrow's fault, so I'm not blaming her), but I cannot possibly imagine that's how it should be. Seriously. Tony Stark's the one who just saw her looking stunningly attractive and she's still his employee. He should be making that advance and she's the one that should be pulling away because she's not comfortable with it. It's pretty clear that he's comfortable with it (and why shouldn't he be?), so it doesn't really make sense that she leans in, but then he pulls away.
Okay, on to special effects. This one is pretty short since the special effect were just about note perfect the entire movie. The suit building apparatus thing was incredibly well done and got extra points for that scene where he can't seem to get the suit off (which I assume was done with real plastic, instead of CG, but just helped to maintain the reality of it all). The suit itself looked great too. The closest comparison is Spiderman, and it looked a lot better. When flying, it didn't have nearly as much of a CG feel to it, and when he's walking around, it didn't have that man-in-a-suit feel to it, so it wins on both counts.
I have two complaints, though. The first one is with the very first Iron Man suit he creates. For the majority of the battle, it's walking around very machine-like. The movements are all stilted and slow and just what you'd expect. But, suddenly it because highly maneuverable and we see him do some ducks and maybe even a roll, which just looked completely out of place. Also, and this is being nit-picky with the design more than the special effects, but I didn't like the decision to make Jeff Bridge's Iron Man suit fly using rockets on the bottom of the feet. I understand that they didn't have Tony's designs, so they'd have to improvise on the flying, but that just didn't feel right. All that smoke coming off in order to gain lift just felt out of place in the otherwise pristine flying that the Iron Man suits pull off. But, I guess I'm willing to forgive it, since that's clearly a decision made to help make the evil Iron Man suit feel out of place. Since it doesn't belong and it shouldn't exist (because it pollutes), the audience has even more incentive to root for Iron Man.
In summary, the movie was awesome. I can easily imagine looking for excuses to see it again (for example, aww, darn, Speed Racer is sold out...well, how about seeing Iron Man again?). Reviews that call it better than Spiderman 2 or Batman Begins are exaggerating, but it's still very good. It's truly a great way to start the summer movie season.
That is all.