Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Iron Man (2008)

Jon Favreau
2008 • 126 Minutes • 2.35:1 • United States
Color • English • Paramount

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow
Writers:  Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway based on characters created by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby
Producers: Avi Arad, Kevin Feige
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique

Awards and Honors:

Academy Awards
Nominated: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Nominated: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

American Film Institute
Official 2008 Selection

BAFTA Awards
Nominated: Best Special Visual Effects

Essential Films
#66 - 100 Greatest Movie Heroes (Tony Stark)

Hugo Awards
Nominated: Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form

People's Choice Awards
Nominated: Favorite Action Movie
Nominated: Favorite Movie
Nominated: Favorite Superhero

Sometimes you gotta run before you can walk.

Iron Man 3 opens in theaters tonight at midnight nationwide and will start raking in millions of dollars in what will probably be the biggest financial success of the year. Will it end up being an artistic success as well? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, let us look at the first film in this powerhouse franchise that will surely remain in the public consciousness for years to come.

Tony Stark is a billionaire genius playboy who has everything he could ever want: money, power, women, gadgets, robots. Everything. He made his fortune inheriting his father’s company, Stark Industries, and is the top weapons manufacturer in the world. While demonstrating the power of his latest weapon of mass destruction to the U.S. military in Afghanistan, he is kidnapped by insurgents and forced to build them their own version of the weapon. Instead, he builds something better: the ultimate weapon as a modern suit of armor. After escaping from his captors, he sets out to use his weapon for the good of mankind, instead of for profit. 

What makes the Iron Man film so fascinating is that for decades he was not an A-list character in the minds of comic book fans. While he was certainly treated as important within the context of shorelines, as far as sales went, Iron Man always ranked behind Spider-Man, X-Men, Wolverine and the Fantastic Four. This film brought him not only back to prominence within comics, but the character is clearly A-list material in cinemas as well, ranking up there with Spidey, Wolverine, Batman and Superman. This is all thanks to one of the most finely crafted action films in recent memory. 

One of the film's biggest accomplishments is the fact that it is one of the most perfectly structured blockbusters in history, rivaling Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The film packs in action sequences at the right beats and while it has impressive visuals, it doesn't overload your senses with CGI. It uses CGI as a tool instead of a crutch.  On top of this, the script is masterfully crafted.  Tony Stark has a logical character arc: selfish billionaire playboy who sells weapons of mass destruction to the highest bidder (in this case, the United States government) gets captured by terrorists, sees the error of his ways and after a dramatic escape he turns his life around. He uses his genius and fortune for good, and while ultimately creating another weapon, he then becomes that weapon as force for peace and good. By the end of the film, the audience is cheering for the same man that at the beginning of the film, who if not for his charm would be completely despicable.  

Of course, would you cheer for Tony if he were not played by the incomparable Robert Downey Jr.  It seems amazing that at one time, the studios did not want Downey for the role, wanting a younger and more marketable actor for the role. Now the role and the man are inseparable.  What makes the film work is that Downey imbues the role of Stark with so much charm that even at his worst, the audience still likes him.  Stark is everything the audience admires and wants to be: rich, succesful, intelligent, charming, and by the end of the film, heroic.  The audience roots for Stark's redemption, and poetically, the role of Stark redeems Downey, who for years before this film's release had been the scrutiny of the tabloid press for his well-publicized substance abuse problems.  What could be a better fit for an actor? 

Robert Downey Jr. breathed life into an all but stale character and making him one of the most The Avengers, the billion-dollar grossing film that is currently the 3rd biggest film of all time.  Iron Man was followed by that summer's Incredible Hulk, then Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Each film stands on its own, but also tied together to build towards The Avengers. This had never been attempted before, and it's amazing that it worked so well. Iron Man 3 kicks off "Phase 2" of another set of movies, but one has to wonder if The Avengers films are part of an even larger scheme.  
bankable characters in the world. Iron Man is one of the most important comic book films in history, and helped kickstart a grand scheme by Marvel Studios to attempt something that had never been before. Marvel kicked off the Iron Man franchise, but also made that franchise part of an even bigger franchise when during the end credits, a hidden Easter egg sequence reveals plans for what would ultimately lead to

A franchise within a franchise... an audacious but wildly successful idea, and Iron Man was the genesis. From a C-List character to an A-List blockbuster (and a damn good one at that), Iron Man will forever be essential entertainment.