Marvel’s Iron Man movie opened last Friday, and I happened to see it then. I’ll give you a short review up front: it’s a really good superhero movie, and you should go see it if that’s the sort of thing you like.
The Iron Man character is from what I consider a second-tier of superheroes — heroes that are popular and well-known in the comics world, but not necessarily by the general public. The first-tier heroes are icons — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Captain America, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk — almost everyone will have heard of these heroes, even if they’ve never read the comics.
I don’t bring this up to lower your opinion of a movie based on Iron Man. He is, after all, in good company — I consider the X-Men second tier as well, and they had a couple of good movies. (However, let us not speak of the Punisher, Daredevil, or Elektra.) And being a first-tier character does nothing to ensure a good movie or TV show, either. (See all of the above, at some point in their history.)
I bring this up because… well, actually, I don’t have a good reason. I thought my observation of this was kind of clever, but it doesn’t really lend itself to an immediate application in this review. A good writer would cut out the preceding paragraphs after realizing this, but I’m more concerned with filling the entry, so they stay.
Oh! Wait, I did, in fact, have a point I was trying to make, and it is this: you don’t need to know anything about Iron Man to see this movie — it starts you from scratch and lays out everything for you. Furthermore, while I’m sure some people saw Spider-Man or Batman movies for the novelty of seeing a familiar character on the big screen, you don’t need that for this movie. Iron Man is worth seeing because it’s a good science-fictiony action movie, that just happens to be based on a comic book property.
Anyway, the general premise of Iron Man (the movie, the comic, the character, whatever) is that Tony Stark, a billionaire weapons designer and playboy, gets captured by terrorists and realizes the suffering his inventions have caused. When they demand that he build them a weapon, he secretly creates a suit of powered armour that allows him to overpower his captors and escape. As a changed man, he goes on to become a superhero.
The movie, however, focuses mostly on Tony as a character, rather than Iron Man as a hero. There are a few gratuitous show-off scenes, but they’re actually character-based, and there is no hero montage where he goes around fighting generic crime. All of the action grows out of his personal demons and character flaws, in a movie that is exceedingly well-paced and well-acted. And — quite surprisingly for a movie about a guy in power armour — there’s nothing that is exceedingly over the top: nothing that threatens to destroy the city, or the world, no insane villains. The characters and their respective motivations drive the plot, and it works really well.
Part of this comes from the strength of the cast. Robert Downey Jr. plays Stark, and enough comments have been made in other media about the parallels between the actor and character that I won’t do the same. Gwyneth Paltrow ably plays his assistant Pepper Potts, who never quite ends up as the love interest or the damsel in distress, which is actually rather refreshing. Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges also put in solid performances, in what may be one of the best-cast superhero movies I’ve seen.
So, the take-away from all of this rambling is that Iron Man is a good superhero movie — possibly the best of the recent crop — and it’s a pretty good action movie in its own right, as well. If you like either of these things, see it.