Iron Man


 

Iron Man

Stop! In the na-ame of love…Robert Downey Jr. finds his inner Supreme.

(2008) Superhero (Paramount/Marvel) Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Gwynneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Jon Favreau, Leslie Bibb, Shaun Toub, Bill Smitrovich, Paul Bettany (voice), Nazanin Boniadi, Micah Hauptman, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Faran Tahir. Directed by Jon Favreau

 

Some superheroes are born to be heroes. Others are made by circumstance. The question is, were those sorts born to be heroes and always had that characteristic in them, or is it more a matter of necessity.

Tony Stark (Downey) has it all; the brilliant CEO of Stark Industries, he is young and one of the brightest minds in America. Most of the cutting edge weapons the military uses as their bread and butter were inventions of Stark, overseen by his partner, Obadiah Stane (Bridges) who worked with Stark’s dad, the founder of the company. Stane more or less bridged the gap between father and son.

In addition, Stark has a beautiful and efficient assistant, Pepper Potts (Paltrow) and a succession of Maxim supermodels to share his bed at night. His butler, Jarvis (Bettany) is completely electronic. He has a magnificent home in Malibu with a panoramic view of the Pacific. What’s not to like?

Out in Afghanistan demonstrating a new missile along with his good friend and military liaison Col. Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes (Howard),  Tony’s convoy is ambushed by insurgents and Stark is gravely injured, but taken to the caves where the insurgents are holed up. Just before losing consciousness, Tony notes that the weapons that attacked the convoy were manufactured by his own company.

There is shrapnel near Stark’s heart so Raza (Tahir), the leader of Ten Rings (the terrorist group that captured him) forces Dr. Yinsen (Toub) to keep Stark alive, which he does with an electromagnet ringing the industrialist’s heart powered by a car battery. Once Stark is able to, Raza orders him to build the Jericho missile (the same sort that Stark had been demonstrating) for his group which Stark knows will be used against American forces. This he cannot abide. He convinces Raza he’s building the missile while in reality he and Yinsen are creating a suit of armor that will allow him to break out of the caves and get away. He does, but barely – he has to construct a miniaturized nuclear power source called an ARC reactor to power the suit but the flight capabilities of the armor are limited and Stark crashes some miles from the caves, destroying the suit.

Back at home, Stark announces that Stark Industries would be getting out of the weapons industry to the consternation of Stane and Stark’s shareholders. Stark responds by withdrawing from the public eye, going into his home workshop to upgrade both the reactor and the armor. The sleeker Mark II armor, red and gold after his racing team’s colors, prove to be a powerful weapon as Stark returns to Afghanistan to prevent Ten Rings from destroying Yinsen’s village, leaving Raza to the less than merciful villagers.

In the meantime Pepper discovers that someone within Stark is selling advanced weapons technology to terrorists and had set up Tony for capture and eventual murder by Ten Rings. She notifies SHIELD, a newly formed government agency set up to deal with exactly these sorts of issues and Agent Coulson (Gregg) is dispatched to investigate.

Ten Rings has discovered the pieces of Stark’s original armor, as well as the blueprints for it. Scientists attempt to reverse engineer the armor which they do, but they are unable to build an ARC reactor to power it. There’s only one of them in the entire world – and it’s the only thing keeping Stark alive. The terrorists want it and will use whatever means necessary to get it.

When this was released in 2008, Marvel had licensed their characters to specific studios; X-Men, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four to Fox, Spider-Man and Ghost Rider to Columbia. They had a vision of creating a shared universe like the one they created in their comic books but in order to do that they would have to have control over their characters and how they were being used; this couldn’t be done if they were licensed all over hell and gone so they decided to create a movie division of their own and with a fairly substantial investment, announced an ambitious slate of five films of which this was the first.

It is here that the roots of The Avengers were laid. The tremendous success of the movie not only established Marvel Comics (who were already seeing great success with their licensed properties) as a major force in Hollywood. Even the notoriously hard-to-please comic fan base were impressed not only with this film specifically but with the vision of Marvel generally.

The fact that this is a kick-ass summer movie doesn’t hurt. Downey is perfectly cast as the wise-cracking billionaire industrialist with an eye for the ladies and a mind unparalleled anywhere in the world. Much of the dialogue was ad libbed and Downey tends to excel in that kind of environment with a quick wit of his own. Downey was already a fan of the comics when he was approached to play the part; he had a real understanding from the get-go as to who Tony Stark is and what makes him tick.

Favreau hit a home run not only with the casting of Downey but with the look and feel of the movie. In many ways this was the anti-Batman; whereas Nolan’s hero is dark and brooding, Stark takes himself less seriously. That both are wealthy playboys is about all Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark have in common.

In fact, the movie looks like it could be taking place right here, right now. Most of the weapons that are employed during the movie (of course excluding the armored suit and the Jericho missile) are at least based on weapons that are either already in use or not far away from it. That gives the movie a sense of realism that other superhero films lack.

The supporting roles are more or less backseat drivers for the movie. Bridges looks like he’s having a good ol’ time as the bald and bearded Stane. Paltrow provides some nice chemistry as Potts and Howard, while given not much to do, does it well at least.

This turned out to be a huge fanboy chubby-inducing blockbuster of a film. It accomplished nearly everything it set out to do, creating a huge universe for filmmakers to play in – one that has been expanded upon with every succeeding film. They’ve also set the quality bar very high, one which has been at least approached if not met with all the other films that Marvel Studios has released since (not including the Ghost Rider films – sorry Nic). This is a favorite that holds up well even after all the other films that have since seen the light of day. It all started here and it’s worth going back to the beginning once in awhile to see how far you’ve come.

WHY RENT THIS: Kick-started Marvel Studios into becoming one of the industry’s big players. Elevated both Downey and Favreau’s career.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Final battle between Iron Man and Iron Monger kind of anti-climactic.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of action which of course means violence – some of it on the ugly side. There are also some suggestive situations. Tony Stark is a playboy billionaire after all.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The sound used during a target lock on Iron Man’s Head Up Display is the sound of a laser cannon firing in the original Space Invaders arcade game.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a look at the history of the Iron Man comics, as well as some rehearsal and audition footage. There’s also a hysterical piece from the Onion News network about the adaptation of the Iron Man trailer into a feature length film. The Blu-Ray edition also has a “Hall of Armor” that examines the various iterations of the armor complete with 360 degree rendering.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $585.2M on a $140M production budget; the movie was a great big hit!

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spider-Man

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Craigslist Joe

The Company Men


The Company Men

The future of our prosperity looks grim and grey when you're laid off.

(2010) Drama (Weinstein) Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Maria Bello, Craig T. Nelson, Patricia Kalember, Eamonn Walker, Anthony O’Leary, Angela Rezza. Directed by John Wells

Nowhere else like America do people identify themselves so closely by their careers. In many ways, our jobs are an extremely important element of our self-identity. When that part of ourselves is assaulted by a layoff, it weighs heavily on our psyche, sometimes threatening to destroy the essence of who we are.

GTX is a Boston-based company that started out as shipbuilders before diversifying into other transportation-based industries and at last into non-related industries like health care. However, given the recent economic meltdown and the accompanying downturn in jobs, things are changing for the company’s bottom line and in order to avoid a hostile takeover, the executives of the company – led by CEO James Salinger (Nelson) decide on massive layoffs to try and bring the stock price up.

Bobby Walker (Affleck) is one of the better salesmen for the company but as the shipbuilding division is being gutted he is one of the first to go. At first, he’s pretty breezy about it. Even though he’s driving a Porsche and has a huge mortgage on a house that’s way too big without his salary coming in, he figures it’ll only be a few days and he’ll be working again. He acts as if there is nothing wrong and in fact tells nobody but his wife about his situation, figuring that by the time they suspect anything has changed he’ll have a new business card in his pocket.

His wife Maggie (DeWitt) isn’t so sure. She sees the bills, she knows the score and begs Bobby to economize but he refuses at every turn. His pride won’t allow him to admit that they’re in financial trouble. As days become months, the word gets out that Bobby was laid off (GTX’s layoffs were big news in Boston and most people are aware that the company Bobby worked for had undergone massive cutbacks). When his pragmatic brother-in-law Jack (Costner) offers him work in his home refurbishing business, Bobby turns it down scornfully, which prompts Jack to label him a…well, a part of the male reproductive system.

Phil Woodward (Cooper) is in a whole different predicament. He’s pushing 60 and has worked at GTX essentially his entire life. Now he’s close to retirement and nobody will hire him. He has no future and only an alcoholic wife for comfort. He faces an uncertain future; not able to retire comfortably and no way to resume the high salary he had been pulling, competing with much younger men willing to work for less for the jobs that are available.

Gene McClary (Jones) helped build GTX along with Salinger, his best friend. He has been content to be in charge of the shipping division while Salinger ran the whole she-bang. However, Gene is becoming more and more distressed with what he perceives to be a focus on profit over people. He’s more or less old school, all about building things that are tangible and standing behind the people who build them. He is horrified that the layoffs have nothing to do with production or performance but profit.

This doesn’t prevent him from having an affair with Sally Wilcox (Bello), the human resources executive who has been tasked with giving the bad news to the affected employees. Gene’s wife (Kalember) is distant and all about the perks, like having a company jet fly her out to a spa vacation.

That disappears, particularly when Gene gets the axe himself after failing to support Salinger in the board room. The lives of all these men suddenly need re-evaluation and all of them go at it in different ways; some constructive, others less so. One thing’s for sure – when one is faced with the loss of a significant amount of their identity, it changes the game entirely.

Wells has crafted a simple but timely story that focuses mostly on Affleck’s Bobby Walker character but also gives a goodly amount of time to Cooper and Jones. It’s an impressive cast; even those in smaller roles pull off some pretty impressive work.

In particular I was impressed with Chris Cooper’s performance. If the movie had been released last year when it was originally scheduled to be, he might have merited serious consideration for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Unfortunately, the suits at Weinstein inexplicably decided to push the movie into a kiss-of-death January release, insuring that this would get no Oscar consideration whatsoever next year or any other year for that matter. That’s a shame, because the movie could have used some given the dearth of publicity the movie got.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins helps the picture in a big way, making the corporate offices look faceless and sterile, while taking wide vistas of grey, cold shipyards and blue, sunny suburbs; his work is subtle but goes a long way to setting the emotional tone of the movie throughout.

This isn’t what you’d call the feel-good movie of the year, nor is it the feel-bad movie of the year either – it is simply a rational and sensitive treatment of our own tendencies to be a job-driven society, and how the effects of corporate profiteering further erode American confidence. Perhaps that’s why the executives at Weinstein chose to bounce it around the schedule for over a year before finally giving it a limited release in one of the worst movie-going periods of the year – they may have thought the film hits too close to home for most. 

It’s easy to pat yourself on the back when there are plenty of jobs and lots of opportunities, but as companies streamline and downsize, America doesn’t look quite so number one anymore. While I found the ending to be a bit pat and Hollywood-esque, I don’t mind the concept of the real toll of the economic downturn, the one that they don’t talk about on Fox News. The human cost is what I’m talking about, and that’s a payment that while it can’t be measured quantitatively, will nonetheless be the measure of our nations’ worth when all is said and done.

REASONS TO GO: Very timely subject matter that explores the topic in a sensitive and intelligent way. Terrific acting, particularly from Jones and Cooper.

REASONS TO STAY: Somewhat too close to home for a lot of people. Ending not terribly realistic.  

FAMILY VALUES: The language can be rough and there’s a scene of brief nudity.  

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is director John Wells’ first feature film. Previously he is best known for his work as in television as a writer/director and creator of shows like “E.R.,” “China Beach” and “The West Wing.”

HOME OR THEATER: Although I think it deserves to be seen, it works just as well on home video as it does in a big theater.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: The Eagle