Title: Iron Man
Book (Iron Man Vol. 1: Extremis) by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov
Movie directed by Jon Favreau; starring Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, and Gwyneth Paltrow
Last weekend, Iron Man hit theaters full force, repulsor rays blazing. This is the first major motion picture adaptation of the comic—akin to Lord of the Rings syndrome, Hollywood wisely held off on this particular superhero until special effects technology had the capability to handle some of the really cool stuff.
I have to admit, I’m not well versed when it comes to Iron Man. I have read a lowly single Iron Man book—Extremis Vol. 1, which is a newer revival of the character and updated for the 21st century. I had always heard of Iron Man, but never really knew anything about Tony Stark, his origins, etc.
In fact, my first introduction to Iron Man was just very recently. After playing X-Men Legends II, Iron Man is an unlockable character after you finish beating the game—and once I had unlocked him, I proceeded to replay the entire game with Iron Man as my go-to character. The Invincible Iron Man indeed—he could take on serious fire without being damaged at all, due to his sick exoskeleton suit. From there, I was very interested indeed. I knew nothing of Iron Man, and wanted to learn a bit more about the character, so I borrowed a copy of the first graphic novel I could find—Iron Man: Extremis, a collection of the 6 previously released issues. Side note: If anyone is into video games (I’m not a pro or master gamer or anything of that nature, but I do dabble), I highly recommend the X-Men Legends games. Not only is the history of each character well defined, but the gameplay is pretty cool too. AND in X-Men Legends II you get to play as both X-Men and Brotherhood characters, as they team up (and there are some less popular characters on there as well; Bishop, Scarlet Witch, Sunfire, to name a few). But I digress…Back to Extremis.
The story opens with three unknown men, one of which receives an injection to the back of the neck—of what we learn is Extremis—and has a…violent reaction. The serum is causing changes to his body, which he is slowly adapting to. Meanwhile, Tony reunites with an old friend named Maya, who also is a brilliant inventor. As it turns out, she is the one who developed Extremis, and then realizes to her horror that the secret weapon has been stolen. With nowhere else to turn, Maya asks her old friend Tony for help.
Extremis presents the reader with an extremely disillusioned Tony Stark. The public has turned on Stark International for its somewhat mercenary position by mere virtue of being an arms dealer and weapons developer. Stark himself has long since assumed the Iron Man identity (however, this is unbeknownst to the general public)—and he is haunted by the repercussions of his weapons use because, let’s face it: arms manufacturers/dealers have long dark shadows on their consciences. Stark tries to justify his early inventions and the harm they have caused by reconciling this with the good intent behind their creation—and by donning the Iron Man suit to rectify the shadow on his conscience. Through this moral dilemma, we learn of Tony Stark’s past and flashback to how he became Iron Man (exceedingly helpful for me, as I had no knowledge of his origins at all). This is a story that has clearly been updated for the modern American world—instead of the Vietnam War and the Imminent Threat of Communism as the central conflict setting, Tony is in Afghanistan when the fated accident occurs and shrapnel is lodged in his chest, progressing slowly to rip into his heart. A friend and newfound mentor saves Tony’s life by constructing an electromagnet that keeps the shrapnel from entering his heart. However, they are both imprisoned by fundamentalists who demand Tony to build them weapons. And build a weapon Tony does—it is here that he builds his Iron Suit, and uses it to escape.
Extremis works up to a final showdown that is pretty gorram stunning. Stark realizes that this is a new age, and that the Extremis injected villain is insanely powerful and cunning…and he comes to a drastic conclusion. Well, perhaps it’s not the most unexpected twist (you pretty much know what’s going to eventually happen from the first issue), but it’s executed with aplomb, and holds some very important repercussions for Tony Stark in the future.
This reimagined Iron Man was my first glimpse of the character, and one I enjoyed very much. Not only is the writing and characterization in Extremis sharp and rich, but the art itself is stunning. Even if the glossy, sort of airbrush CGI style isn’t my favorite, there’s no denying the high quality and beauty of the illustrations. Very, very cool. As I understand it, old fans of Iron Man were very pleased with this revival of the character—and similarly, as a newbie, I didn’t find myself lost or confused. For those who are new to Iron Man, this is a fine starting point!
So, understandably, I was enthusiastic to watch the movie on opening night. I bought my tickets online, made sure to get to the theater early, and scored some pretty good seats (there is nothing more irritating than being forced to crane one’s neck at an impossible angle for 2 hours, due to showing up late to the theater late and not being able to find any good seats). Popcorn and large diet soda in hand, I was ready to be amazed…and I’m happy to say that Iron Man did a pretty damn good job.
There is no lengthy exposition to the story; immediately, in the opening frame the audience is plunged into the Afghan desert, Tony Stark sipping on a scotch on the rocks, riding in the back of a tanker, and charming some star struck young soldiers. Then…BOOM! In dramatic fashion, the audience is blindsided just as Stark is, by a surprise ambush. Stark is seriously wounded, taking shrapnel to the chest, and then taken as prisoner by a terrorist group…
The movie flashes back to 48 hrs prior, at an awards ceremony in Las Vegas. Tony is supposed to receive an award, but instead blows off the ceremony to hit on some hot Vegas babes and gamble and drink, in true multibillionaire playboy fashion. We are introduced to Lt. Colonel Rhodes (“Rhodey” to Tony), played by Terrence Howard, as Stark’s good natured military friend, who puts up with Stark’s scandalous ways—including standing him up onstage while presenting the award. We are also introduced to Obadiah Stain, played by the always brilliant Jeff Bridges, long time family friend and business partner to Stark—who accepts the award on his behalf. And later, when Tony makes it back to his Malibu mansion, we are introduced to Pepper Potts—played by the usually annoying Gwyneth Paltrow—Tony’s personal assistant, who comes makes sure to take care that the “trash” is taken out.
Tony Stark tests his repulsor ray
Immediately, you cannot help but feel drawn to Robert Downey Jr.’s invocation of Tony Stark. He is lecherous and self-centered, unapologetically so. He is also incredibly charming, with a sneaky, sort of subversive air of naughtiness—he’s the guy that you know you shouldn’t ever date or sleep with, but do anyways in spite of your better judgment. Robert Downey Jr. manages to bring a sensitivity and carefree flair to a character that easily could have come across as a total douche, or bogged down in boring brooding-ville. I was somewhat wary of the actor choice when I first heard he was to play Stark because in past roles, RDJ (Mr. Downey Jr.? Mr. Junior? I’m sticking with RDJ) struck me as somewhat delicate, almost to the point of being effeminate, and not exactly the stuff superheroes are made of despite his considerable acting chops. However, I am proud to say that RDJ completely surpassed my expectations—his Iron Man is what MAKES this movie.
As for the rest of the cast, I’m less than completely enthusiastic, although they all did very solid jobs. Terrence Howard as Rhodes seems a weird choice for me—not that he isn’t a good actor, but he just doesn’t quite feel like a military man. His soft voice and easygoing personality work well across from Stark, but he isn’t exactly believable in the role. In one scene, after Stark launches off in his cool new suit, Rhodey sees the older suit prototype in the garage and says, “Next time, baby”—in a sequel, which is hinted at with all the subtlety of a freight train, it seems Terrence Howard will be playing War Machine. Mmm, I have yet to be won over by him, but I will not give up hope. At the very least, the dynamic between he and RDJ was entertaining, and believable as an old friendship. Alls I know is, in the theater when Rhodey is facing a room full of military personnel, I found myself chanting (in my head of course), “Whoop that trick! Whoop that trick!” Similarly, I was not crazy on Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper–although she was markedly less annoying than usual in the role. I did not appreciate the uncomfortable mushiness between her and Stark–although it was mercifully brief. When she presents Tony with his old power source, put in a display case and emblazoned with the message “Proof that Tony Stark Has a Heart”, my gag reflex was in full swing. However, I believe I am on the minority on this one, as many fans seemed to enjoy Gwyneth’s role and her Pepper as a foil to RDJ’s Stark. Certainly, there were humorous and lighthearted interactions between the two that I enjoyed. I felt slightly cheated as Obadiah didn’t get as much screen time or character development as I would have liked…but Jeff Bridges does well with what he gets.
Visually, this movie was a true treat. The special effects are flawless—and there is nothing cooler than seeing Iron Man in his red and gold flying at supersonic speeds. I also loved Jon Favreau’s direction—there was very little over the top cue-music-explosions-commercial slow-mo cheese, and instead favored a more restrained, intelligent approach to the story. The script wasn’t overly serious, and I was delighted with the moments of humor (Tony Stark having a test run of his new flying shoes) that were sprinkled throughout.
The movie takes a safer road politics-wise—cutting out any conservative right-wing rhetoric that Stark would have had, trying to maintain a more neutral territory. Which is a-ok by me! I didn’t go to watch Iron Man for the political metaphors, I went to be completely entertained. Which I am happy to report, I was. My only major qualm with this movie was the anti-climactic final showdown, and the lack of a strong villain. The terrorist baddies are incredibly stupid, and their leader Raza (played by Faran Tahir) was pretty lame, in this viewer’s estimation. He speaks perfect English—more along the lines of Naveen Andrews’ Sayid accent, minus the badassness. The big bad baddy is pretty predictable, even if you have never heard of Iron Man before, but…I’ll spare the identity of the villain, just in case. (Although, on a side note, I did enjoy the one line thrown out by the villain when talking to Stark—“We are Iron Mongers!”, even though the model at the end is not referenced as the Iron Monger) Also, the final battle scene is highly abbreviated, and I have to agree with other reviewers’ assessment that it felt very Transformers-y, and dare I say formulaic–but again, this comes with the territory for comic book films. The real fun of the movie is when we are in Tony’s garage while the brilliant, charming genius works on his suit and then takes his fated first flight.
Overall, I was thrilled, entertained, and I really enjoyed the film. I’m not gonna say this is the BEST superhero movie ever—that spot still is reserved for Bruce Wayne in this gal’s heart, and I still think that Batman Begins is a superior film—but it’s pretty darn good, and worth the hype!
Book: 7 Very Good. The graphic novel gave me a great introduction to a character I had known basically nothing about. I highly recommend any newbies like myself to buy it and get educated!
Movie: 8 Excellent! It’s everything you could ever want in a summer blockbuster, and RDJ plays a brilliant Iron Man. Go out and see it already! Also, I should mention that there is an extra scene after the credits roll—SO STAY FOR IT.
Plus—there are some SICK trailers before the film starts: an extended Dark Knight preview (awesome, and what I’m banking on as the best superhero film of the year) and the new Hulk preview (I’m scared. It looks…not good.) among them.