Spoiler warning (for anyone who waited longer than me to see it)!
It seemed like a long time I was waiting to see Iron Man. Maybe it was. Remember when rumors were swirling of Tom Cruise playing Iron Man a few years ago? Yeah, I’d say I’ve been waiting at least that long. Much longer if you count how long I’ve been a fan of the character – since 1975! So, was the movie worth the wait? Oh, it was good…not perfect, but very good.
Of course, I knew before going in that this was, like all the other Marvel films, updated to modern times. Normally, this really bothers me. Most heroes, as they were originally conceived, fit best in the times during which they were written. Spider-Man, for example, is NOT a timeless character – he works best in the context of the 1960s. Before seeing the movie, I thought Iron Man would be the same way. And surely Iron Man does lose something from being out of the context of the Cold War. No soviets like Crimson Dynamo, Black Widow, or Titanium Man in his rogues gallery now? Say it ain’t so! But one thing the movie does right is that it takes its technology very seriously. Watching it, you could almost believe powered, flying suits were actually possible by today’s technology, if not feasible. Certainly not so with 1960s technology! Iron Man was never grounded in real science for the first 30 years of his published history (until Len Kaminski’s writing stint, circa 1990, to be more precise).
So, knowing what I knew going in, I knew Tony Stark’s captivity was going to be updated from Viet Nam to somewhere – Afghanistan was a good, timely choice. And what an exciting opening for a movie Iron Man’s origin makes! A lot of details are not just in the right direction, but improve on the details of the original – Tony not only still has a device protecting his heart from shrapnel, but it first runs off a car battery! Kindly Yinsen now looks more Jewish than Asian, but what a great part he’s been given, with much more to do, both action-wise and story-wise, than previously. He’s very much Tony’s guardian angel, putting Tony back on the path to personal redemption and teaching him, to paraphrase Uncle Ben, that with great technology comes great responsibility.
I was concerned going into the movie about Pepper Potts having too big a role. True, the original Iron Man stories really weren’t very good until Pepper and Happy were introduced to give Tony an interesting romantic triangle sub-plot. And I was very, er, happy to see Happy in the movie, even if only for brief moments and always in the background, but without Happy, would Pepper still work? Yes, and it’s to the movies credit that she is much more than a romantic interest for Tony. Gweneth, as Pepper, comes off as strong, confident, brave, and Tony’s emotional and moral anchor. Better still, as the only lead player without powered armor, she has a vulnerability that builds suspense that never happens around any other character. You always know Iron Man is going to win his fights, but when Obadiah and Pepper are in the office together and you, the viewer, don’t know how much Obadiah knows about what Potts knows or what he plans to do to her – that is the most suspenseful scene in the movie and it works great.
So much in this movie works great. The dialogue is whip-smart. Even the one-line quips – sound bites for commercials and trailers, usually – work in-character here. And Robert Downey Jr. nails every one of them. How could we have once thought Tom Cruise could pull off this role? Robert brings humor, timing, and expressiveness to a role where every moment of screen time he’s not wearing a mask really has to count.
And the little touches! The fighter jets named Whiplash, after Iron Man’s classic villain. Obadiah Stane wears a gaudy necklace, visible in many scenes, because he did in the comics. The “ironmonger” reference (though Stane’s armor is never referred to by that name). Perhaps foreshadowing WALL-E, and certainly one of the funniest bits in the movie, is the robotic arm that keeps dousing Tony with a fire extinguisher. There are a couple more twists that I thought worked so effectively that I won’t even spoil them here.
Ah…but I still can’t bring myself to give this movie an A+! Through half the end credits, I was upset that Tony reveals his identity to the world. What about 40 years of comic book history establishing that Tony protects that secret? I grudgingly accept that it’s in Tony’s character to show off. But I thought the point of the movie was that Tony was a more mature person now? This effectively sets us back to where we were and makes the whole movie a comedy, if the hero has learned nothing and achieved no lasting character growth. And it bugs me that the movie is not self-contained. There are way too many plot lines purposely introduced just to be left dangling, like Rhodes seeing the War Machine armor and saying “Next time.” Or the whole SHIELD thing. And Morpheus with an eyepatch – oops, I mean “Nick Fury.” Sometimes, the movie spends a little too long on the technology. Sure, the armor is important, but we also get seconds to admire Tony’s hi-tech keyboard. His keyboard? And unnecessary product placements really bother me. The reference to Myspace made sense for its scene, but the movie does NOT need that Burger King commercial. I would have just accepted that Tony stopped on his way to the press conference for a burger. I didn’t need to see it and the bag it came in, or give Stane a line of dialog admiring a Burger King burger! C’mon!
So, I give Iron Man an A -- maybe the best superhero movie to come out since Spider-Man 2. And that’s saying something!