Thursday, 1 July 2010

Iron Man (2008)

I saw this film originally on a transatlantic flight, which means that I didn't really see it, allowing for the miniscule screen and the variable sound. The fact that I didn't even subsequently review it suggests to me that I probably dozed off more than usual, although I certainly could recall bits of the action. To put matters right, I finally watched the movie on DVD a few days ago, which perhaps is also not the best way to view an action blockbuster, but at least I can confirm that I was sufficiently involved to stay awake throughout and to be entertained by an unlikely combination of factors.

After having their comic characters leased out to other hands over recent years, the Marvel people decided the time had come to take control of a production and this is the happy result. Despite having a lead actor and a director, neither of whom were previously known for their action credentials, Robert Downey Jr. and and Jan Favreau proved to be inspiried choices. Downey has always been an impressive screen presence, even during his drug-laden years, and now that he is "clean", he has finally proved that he can turn his talent to all sorts of roles. His armaments manufacturer Tony Stark discovers that he has lost the taste for 'weapons of mass destruction' after his unexpected capture by rebels in Afghanistan and his personal experience of the warmonger mentality. He escapes by building his Iron Man suit rather than the killer rockets he is meant to be providing, but on his return to civilisation discovers that his board of directors, headed by his erstwhile guardian, a bald Jeff Bridges, has other ideas.

The buffed-up Downey is an appealing screen presence with his self-deprecating sense of humour and his eye-twinkle at full beam. As for Bridges, who I have always maintained is amongst the most underrated Hollywood actors, he makes a super duper screen villain, as it is revealed that he is behind the scheme to kill Downey and to keep on with the profitable business of war. Terrence Howard plays Downey's military buddy and Gwyneth Paltrow is his faithful secretary-factotum plus potential love interest; both do a fine job, as do the lesser-known actors playing middle-eastern types. Chubby actor-turned-director Favreau turns up in a wordless Hitchockian cameo, but wisely concentrates on presenting a wildly imaginative stream of CGI-assisted action effects. Marvel have proved their point and given us one of the more likeable "super-hero" movies of our age.

I therefore wonder why the sequel out this year, which I have not yet seen, has attracted such universally rotten press reviews. Downey, Paltrow, and Favreau have returned to the scene of the crime, and although villain Bridges is no longer available, the new supporting cast -- including Scarlett Johansson and Mickey Rourke -- seem promising, even if Howard's character has mysteriously morphed into Don Cheadle. I suspect it is a case of the sparkling original being a hard act to follow, (although the character's myriad fans are keeping the box-office buoyant), with the ever-present knockers of pop culture ready to pounce on a previous success. No doubt when I finally view the new movie in due course, I can make up my own mind. Meanwhile it's a definite thumbs-up for the first outing.
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