Friday, May 2, 2008

IRONMAN delivers the goods

I read the previews, watched the trailers, and salivated. Growing up a Marvel comics kid and a movie geek, the premise of an Ironman movie sounded like a home-run. But dissapointments have often plagued the comic book translated to film genre. "Daredevil" was hideous, and the original "Hulk" left me wanting for the slow boring Lou Ferrigno drama of the late 70s and early 80s. Also, did anyone watch "Electra" for anything more than the chance to see Jennifer Garner flit about in a sexy outfit?

With Jon Favreau of "Elf" and "Swingers" directing, and Starring Robert Downey Jr., I had to admit, I was a little bit worried going into this one. Still...all of the trailers looked great, and I held out hope that they could actually pull this thing off.

So I plunked down the extra cash to buy an advance ticket for the Thursday before the movie opened, to see a special DLP "print" of the film with my nine-year-old son. The first showing at 8:20 p.m. wasn't full, but the crowd was boisterous as the trailers for the new Hulk movie with Edward Norton and the latest installment of Indiana Jones flashed across the high definition screen. The audience was filled with film nerds and fanboys on this pre-opening eve for sure.

When the frenetic Marvel comics brand sequence danced across the screen and the lights went down, the audience was prepared for a thrill-ride -- which they got. Downey was spot-on, chanelling the cocky, womaninizing, smart-ass quip filled military weapons industrialist Tony Stark and making the character his own. Any lulls in the script were filled in by Downey's on-screen presence, ripe with one liners and a likeable rogue quality.

But the script wasn't played for laughs. Although there were light moments which delighted my nine-year-old and caused the adults to laugh out loud as well, the script still had serious points, while not over-politicizing. As Stark grew a conscience and decided to change the direction of his "arm the masses in the name of peace" Stark Enterprises, it would have been easy to lay the anti-war message thick -- which Favreau thankfully chose not to do. For a director known primarily for comedy, he pulled off the action and special effects scenes with ease, keeping both in good balance with character development along the way.

Gweneth Paltrow as the sidekick girl Friday, in an interesting co-starring appearance, hit all the right notes, never openly judging Stark's womanizing, never preaching, but still doing what it took to keep her boss relatively in line. Jeff bridges, sporting a bald pate and gray beard, looked like a classic comic nemesis, and played against type as a symbol of the military industrial complex gone berserk.

Terence Howard as Stark's pal Colonel Rhodes went through the paces like a pro but wasn't really given much to do in the film. But there were hints of what he could add to a sequel sprinkled in to the script. Performances by the other supporting actors were true to the comic genre without being too over the top.

As I write, the grosses are yet to be tallied, but I predict a weekend take in the high 80s, with a summer ranking of number two, ahead of the Hulk, and behind only Indiana Jones. On a scale of best superhero movies of all time, "Ironman" falls somewhere between the original Christopher Reeves' "Superman" and edition two of the "Spiderman" series, solidly in the top five of all time. Burton's dark "Batman" and the newer, even darker "Dark Knight" films will still fall short of the "true to the comics" take that "Ironman" successfully mastered in this sure to be sequelled blockbuster.

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