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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, May 10, 2008

 
Saturday Night At The Movies



Sky high Fe: Downey carries the torch for Iron Man
























Robert Downey Jr. forges a head.


By Dennis Hartley

Although it’s about a month too early according to my calendar, the season of popcorn has now been officially thrust upon us with the release of Iron Man, the latest live-action “issue” produced from the seemingly inexhaustible stable of Marvel Comics superheroes.

This marks the fourth feature film and the second fantasy-adventure in a row from director-writer-actor Jon Favreau (Made, Elf and Zathura: A Space Adventure). Despite his growing list of director’s credits, Favreau the actor is probably still most recognizable for his role as the neurotic, lovelorn stand-up comic in Doug Liman’s 1996 cult film Swingers. Favreau also wrote the screenplay for that film, which means that you can credit (or blame) him with being the party who is responsible for adding the now ubiquitous catchphrase “Vegas, baby, Vegas!” to the pop culture lexicon.

For his new film, Favreau turns screenwriting chores over to Mark Fegus and Hawk Otsby; but those who are paying close attention will catch a brief, clever visual homage to Swingers in the opening sequence, which takes place in (you guessed it) Las Vegas. Favreau casts himself as one of the nattily attired security men for wealthy inventor/industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) who is in town to accept a recognition award for his ingenious achievements in the advancement of weapons technology. Stark is a cocky eccentric who enjoys the typical pursuits and distractions of a rich playboy, when not ensconced in the high-tech basement laboratory of his (movie fabulous) cliff mansion in Malibu. He is attended to by a beautiful and trusty gal Friday, Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow). In other words, he’s living the uber-geek’s fantasy life.

While on a junket in Afghanistan to demonstrate and promote sales of his latest missile technology, Stark’s military escort convoy is ambushed and he is captured by a group of terrorists, who then demand that he construct a crude prototype of his new warhead for their further development. With the assistance of a fellow prisoner, (a doctor/scientist, naturally) Stark instead constructs an armored suit with built-in weapon technology and jet-propulsion capabilities, which enables his eventual escape. You know-the kind of thing most of us can throw together by just recycling a few items laying about the cave.

Stark is quite shaken by his experience, and is particularly traumatized by the realization that the terrorist’s cave complex was chock-a-block with crates of weaponry labeled “Stark Industries”. He calls a press conference after his return to the states. Stricken by his conscience, he announces that his company will detach themselves from the propagation of the war machine and instead devote research and development to high-tech products that will be more beneficial to humanity (now THERE’S a fantasy). The scene reminded me of that famous newsreel where a-bomb developer Robert Oppenheimer utters his mournful epiphany: “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”, precipitating the anti-nuke crusade he was to embark on for the rest of his life.

This sudden and unexpected amendment to the corporate mission statement doesn’t settle well with the VP of Stark Industries, Obadiah Stone (Jeff Bridges) who thinks the CEO has gone off his rocker. Obadiah’s duplicitous machinations eventually lead to his transmogrification into our newly minted superhero’s first arch-nemesis, “Iron Monger”.

Paltrow and Downey have great chemistry in all their scenes together. I would have enjoyed a bit more screen time for Bridges; the transformation of his character from standard issue corporate weasel to super villain suffers a bit of the bum’s rush. This is likely due to time constraints; the movie clocks in at just over two hours as is, and it always takes longer to “introduce” the protagonist in the first installment of a franchise.

The film is thankfully bereft of the headache and/or vertigo-inducing f/x overkill one usually encounters in this genre (the reason I generally avoid the comic book inspired action flicks these days; chalk it up to the joys of aging). The action sequences are exciting and quite well done, but parceled out in just the right amounts. The emphasis is on character development, helped along quite nicely by a talented cast. Downey’s knack for physical comedy enlivens a hugely entertaining montage depicting the construction of his “new and improved” body armor. Downey keeps getting better, and despite the fact that he is not the first actor one thinks of as the “superhero type” he is perfectly cast here as the complex Tony Stark. You could say… the irony suits him well (insert groan here).

Heavy metal kids: Rocketeer, Inframan, Robocop Trilogy, Transformers , King of the Rocket Men, J-Men Forever!, Gandahar(aka Light Years), Aliens, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Knightriders, Excalibur, The Court Jester, Monty Python and the Holy Grail , The Wizard of Oz, Man in the Iron Mask(1939), The Man in the Iron Mask (1998),The Iron Giant , Castle in the Sky, The Terminator, Dr. No, The Spy Who Loved Me.


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