I’m presuming there was an Iron Man 1 and 2, though I had not previously heard of the movie franchise (much as my kids were asking me if there was a Slaughterhouse 1-4!)
Iron Man is yet another chain of movies based on Marvel Comic superheroes (not forgetting the DC Comics and others), and yet another movie made in 3D. I’ve written about multi-sequel franchises at some length and 3D to some degree, so this review will instead focus on superheroes, with an honourable mention for 3D since this movie only confirms my previous belief that it is merely a gimmick and adds no value whatever. Oh, and also worth saying that another of my previous gripes is also proven to be true by virtue of the number of screens at Cineworld Braintree taken up by showing various instances of this movie – more screens, less choice!
Enough of my gloating and back to superheroes. These were of course all the rage in the comic book era, and have been brought to the screen with increasing frequency (a) as the imagination of film-makers diminishes yet further, and (b) as CGI improves to the extent that previously impossible stunts can be brought to the screen without blowing up most of the infrastructure of the US in the process. Let’s face it, some of the stunts depicted in 50s and 60s versions of superhero epics were so tame that kids thirsted for more, and I include in that the original Batman TV series with Adam West, complete with on-screen KA-POWs when the hero thumped a villain. It was only in the 70s and the rise of Christopher Reeve’s Superman that the genre really began to take off.
Since then we’ve had hosts of them, all with subtly different approaches. There was the Spiderman series, courtesy of Sam Raimi, Batman/the Black Knight, the Hulk, the Blade, the Silver Surfer, the X-men, Hellboy, Elektra, the Green Hornet, Judge Dredd, Captain America, V for Vendetta, Ghost Rider, Watchmen, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and even yet another Superman movie is destined to join the collection in 2013. The full list (see here) is just mind-boggling, even without the animated versions.
So it would appear superheroes retain a certain durability, both for young fans looking for action movies with interesting characters capable of super-human acts, and indeed older fans who remember the original comics, and in some cases collect them in pristine plastic folders. In fact, it is no accident that Iron Man is cast with the likes of Robert Downey Jr (henceforth RDJ), Ben Kingsley, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce and (by voice only) Paul Bettaney – all actors designed to appeal to mums and dads in the audience, and, not accidentally, actors who can really act, as opposed to stars who largely stand there and look nice while their stunt doubles limber up for the next action sequence.
Another thing about superhero movies: given the sheer volume, it’s hardly surprising that the makers of each respective franchise have attempted to endow each with subtle differences apart from their special powers. Watchmen, to choose one example, was a decidedly darker movie (18 cert!), as were some of the more gothic Batman movies – making the all-American bumbling hero Clark Kent seem way too clean cut by comparison.
But one factor common to all superheroes is that they have a weakness, and Iron Man, in the shape of RDJ, is no exception. This hero is subject to anxiety attacks, albeit short-lived. However, what characterises IM more endurably is: (1) that as a techno-nerd he is able to manufacture computerised flying suits (in more ways than one) made of, if not iron then some other metallic material in which he can be cocooned and fly, or manoeuvre by remote control, and (2) that he is wisecracking from the first moment to the last, thus giving RDJ the opportunity to demonstrate his innate ability to time a line better than 95% of other movie stars. My main reservation about RDJ is that I simply do not believe that a 48-year old man can have a shock of perfectly black hair and black beard without a hint of grey. For that he would need the help of make-up or to be a real-life superhero!
That’s by the by, for his is a fine performance, even if to my impaired hearing the tendency of all characters to mumble or be masked by other sounds mean that I probably clock one speech in two at best. To me, the script, plot and character relationships are the bedrock of any movie, and credit to director and scriptwriter (Shane Black for both, Drew Pearce for the latter) for trying to develop their characters into rounded three-dimensional beings, even if on occasion the emotions ring hollow (neither RDJ nor Paltrow seem terribly fussed at losing their home to a missile attack sponsored by arch-enemy The Mandarin.
Ah yes, the Mandarin. As anyone knows, you have to have a good baddie, and in American movies it’s usually the Brits who play them, since Americans only ever want to play the good guys. Ben Kingsley, sorry Sir Ben Kingsley, seems to have made a habit of doing menacing evil ever since he won his Oscar for Gandhi, thus ensuring he is not typecast. Credit to him, he does them with enormous relish, but here there are several new dimensions. I don’t suppose for a moment that it is any accident he is portrayed as Osama-bin-Mandarin, complete with long beard and robes, a neat subtext on the American pursuit of the real bin Laden.
It is all the more ironic when said Mandarin turns out to be an actor called Trevor Slattery, employed by the real baddy (who is Aussie Guy Pearce, but to domestic audiences that will count as non-American so it’s OK) to be the public face of evil, since the baddies in real life always lurk in the shadows. This is a serious and intelligent point, and adds greatly to the credibility of Iron Man. It also turns out to be a comic moment, as Kingsley sends himself up outrageously in the process, and full marks to him for doing so.
But to most of the audience, all they will care about are the action sequences, and there are plenty of them. They come thick and fast as Pearce pulls the strings and lets out his hot troops (literally) to disable the superheroes. The problem with most CGI-enriched action movies is that it all happens far too quick for the eye to pick up everything that is going on. Doubtless there are people who will watch this movie twenty times to make sure they pick up every minute detail, every subtle nuance lovingly programmed for their attention, though in the final analysis it matters little.
Good will ultimately triumph over evil, but then you knew that all along – and that is the primary reason why Hollywood loves superheroes. That and the love interest and the inclusion of a cute kid, both of which are present and correct in this movie.
In fairness, this is not really my sort of thing, though I happy acknowledge that my lad and many more friends and their families have declared this to be good fun and great entertainment. Of its type it is done well, carefully constructed, well scripted and professionally acted. It’s certainly not the fault of anyone concerned that the problem lies with the genre and the need to move on and demonstrate originality of thought, but from the perspective of the makers and distributors any movie that fills half the capacity of a multiplex is damn good.