Saturday, August 31, 2013

Iron Man (2008): Character Review

SPOILER WARNING: If you are one of the last ten people in our solar system that has not yet seen 2008's 'Iron Man', there are spoilers. This movie has been out for five years and if you haven't watched it yet, close this window and go watch it. Buy it, rent it, download it, go over to your cousin's house, or whatever... GO WATCH THE FILM. If you don't care about spoilers, then I guess that's your fault!

Tony Stark / Iron Man

Portrayed by Robert Downey Jr
   The film goes into great detail into who Tony Stark is: a war profiting billionaire who can do anything, create anything, and sleep with whoever, whenever, and wherever he wants. The opening of the film gives us a brilliant tease of Tony's fast-paced whit and humor before he gets flung right into the middle of an elaborate kidnapping plot. We are treated with the 'IRON MAN' logo, the film begins with a flash back that gives more background on who Tony Stark is and how he got into his position of genius and power. After Tony wins and almost immediately gives away his Apogee Award to a Roman, we start to see RDJ's on-screen presence shine brightly for the audience and his witty improv seemingly catches Paltrow and Howard off-guard more than once within just the first half hour of the film. When we finally catch back up to the prologue of the movie (flashbacks are fun!) we are able to see what makes Tony Stark such an amazing character for more than his fast-paced wittiness: his genius. After having his life saved by Professor Yinsen via electromagnet to keep the shrapnel out of his heart (from the prologue attack scene),  Tony immediately meets the terrorist organization, "The Ten Rings", who have kidnapped him to build a powerful missile system from parts of various STARK INDUSTRIES weapons they acquired from a then-unknown source, but instead uses the opportunity to lead us through a dramatic montage of replacing the electromagnet and golf cart battery (or was it a go-kart battery?) with a miniaturized "arc reactor" and decimates the Ten Rings hide-out with his newly built (and very crude) Mark I armor. Of course, this origin is a heavily modified version of his original tale where Anthony Stark, still a war profiteer (or the more kind version "weapons manufacturer") is caught in Vietnam after stepping on a landmine where shrapnel still gets in his chest and is captured by the evil Wong-Chu. After a period locked up and Ho Yinsen has saved his life, Tony Stark created his very first metal exoskeleton and thus in the comic world Iron Man was born!

   After Tony Stark escapes from his captors and is located by the military, he calls for a press conference and decides that he doesn't want to make money off of weapons anymore (I guess the Stark Industries weapons used in The Incredible Hulk don't count?). After much musing, Tony decides to improve his Mark I suit and begins production on what ultimately becomes the MK II and MK III of his armor. I found the scene of Pepper replacing Tony's Arc Reactor to probably be the most endearing moment as it feels real and showed these two characters evolving basically right before our eyes, more so than the awkward dance they experience later on in the film as it allows the audience to get a good idea on the chemistry that RDJ and Paltrow have between each other and I felt this is what is lacking in the follow-up to this film (we'll talk about this in the upcoming weeks). During the testing phase of MK II we get to see a nice comedic montage of sorts with Tony crashing, flying, and awe-inspiring fly over of the Los Angeles area which really gives you the scope of what these films are capable of, and yeah Tony certainly can fly... when I first saw this film it was way after the film had already been released to home video and of course I've seen all of the previews on TV during it's theatrical run and when it was being advertised for Blu-ray and DVD, but watching the scene of Tony flying high in his MK II, around the Ferris Wheel and turning into an Icicle Man as he hadn't yet compensated for the ice build up by ascending too high... it just makes me awe every time on how real it just feels, and while I know that might sound fanboy-ish or silly but that scene is what made me feel confident in not only this film but the whole universe that Marvel was trying to set up. I found the rest of Tony's arc to be well paced & played out well through his rampage that goes on in Gomera (I'm sure somewhere Yinsen's spirit is yelling, "Avenge me Mr. Stark!!"), his reveal to Rhodey that he is the person inside of suit and the final battle that occurs with Stane / Iron Monger... but that one scene alone truly defines Tony Stark in this film: witty, caring, and for the most part just laid back.

Character Final Summary: Robert Downey Jr. plays this role very convincingly, and even though the script was basically a plot outline and there was a lot of improvisation, his banter between other actors felt real and RDJ has a gravitas. I honestly believe, and I'm sure I'm not the only one, that Marvel got extremely lucky getting Downey into this role because without him I don't believe they would have had the success with their films if they had cast someone else in this role. Kudos to Marvel.

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Made in a cave with a box of scraps. Non-geniuses need not apply.
   The first suit that Tony Stark is fitted with on film is the same suit that debuted in 1963 in the pages of Marvel Comics' "Tales of Suspense" Issue #39 ... more or less. In the context of the film, we really don't know how long Tony Stark has had this design stored away in the back of his mind, but with a looming 24 hour deadline ordered by the leader of this Ten Rings outfit Tony Stark had no choice but to make his attempt on escaping with force. Right before Yinsen assists Stark with plugging the newly built reactor into his chest Tony lets his assistant, and the audience, that this Arc Reactor can power around "fifty lifetimes... or something much bigger for about 15 minutes", and confidently displaying his plans for a metal suit. After making his way through the first wave of terrorists in the scrap-filed cave, Tony sees his new friend dying relaying somber news that he has no family and that dying was always "the plan": I admit, when I saw this the first time and each time I see this I do get a bit sad because there is someone that never really met Tony Stark (except for that time in Bern) and spent several months in captivity with him... it was like Tony had a second father figure and then you see him dying... it's okay if you cry :( After facing the second wave of Ten Ring-ers, destroying all of the Stark tech, and realizing the fight could go no farther the Mark I's rockets are activated and we see it head high for the sky... and then come crashing down. End of Mark I... or is it?

   As you can see, the Mark I in the film is thematically similar to the original Mark I that debuted during the Golden Age era of comics but the filmmakers took some creative liabilities with the design when 'Iron Man' was being developed. The film version is very crude: you can see how Stark and Yensin took various parts of what they were given when trying to assemble a Jericho missile, salvaging most of what they were given and stripping off metal, panels, and systems and turning it into the beast that we got to see earlier via the blueprints Tony smugly showed off earlier (which is a good thing for his character!). The Mark I had a more streamlined design than what we saw on the big screen and what worked in the comics really couldn't have worked in 'Iron Man' due to the drastic changes in the script that was shot for audiences. The vision for the suit was just different back in the 1960s and I really don't believe what we saw on screen would have worked in the past due to the limitations of the genre regarding budget, time limits and artistic ability (nothing against Jack Kirby and Don Hecker, the simpler designs are in many ways significantly better... too much detail isn't always a good thing!) but the beauty of the MK I that we see on film is amazing in itself: the joints are crudely bolted on, the metal that was ripped from other weapons and containers are messily wielded on, and even the clanks and thumps you hear when it moves around all help ground this film to reality while still keeping the fantastical elements of being a man in a suit.


Not as cool as the Silver Centurion, but we're getting there.
   It is only a matter of days that Tony Stark begins to work on the latest version of his mechanized armor by removing everything crude that made the MK I so large and menacing but in this era everything has to be smaller, sleeker, and faster (think iPhone and Android smartphones). Unfortunately we don't get to see much of the MK II in 'Iron Man', but through Rhodey's little whiny hint it is being saved for "next time" ... but the time we do get to see this suit featured (as I mentioned earlier), it involves one of my favorite scenes of Tony flying around Los Angeles and causing a little boy to lose his Ice Cream and a pretty cool bit of foreshadowing with the ice build up on his suit which later on provides us a nice call back during the fight with Iron Monger.

   The MK II first appeared in Marvel Comics' "Tales of Suspense" Issue #40 after Tony realized that he was scaring the hell out of everyone with the silver MK I and decided to paint himself all gold because well, gold is awesome. Aside from the paint job this suit introduced his trademark repulsor beams, improved defenses and increased the ability to fly via his "boot jets". After getting his ass kicked by Master Doll, Tony Stark decided to go ahead and begin the production of the MK III armor.


Just because you're a bad-ass, that doesn't mean you have to look away from the explosion! :(

   The final armor that Tony Stark developed in 'Iron Man' is the ultimate fashion accessory in red and gold. I mean, look at it: it's awesome! After having disastrous results with an icy build-up, Tony needed a suit that could function better but also look cooler but other than that, the film doesn't really go much into detail about the differences between the MK II and MK III armors, and while that makes sense from a storytelling perspective where you usually on get a maximum of two hours to tell your tale, I would have appreciated the geekier and technical aspects between the two different suits. I do love this suit though as of course it does have the classic red and gold color scheme going on and is directly influenced by the great Adi Granov's designs he contributed during his run in Iron Man (you should really check out his latest Captain America stuff!), everything down to the color design, face mask, and even the way the suit moves. While it is not true to the comics on how Tony got his armor the design is flawless from the comic that inspired it.

This design first showed up in Marvel Comics' "Tales of Suspense" Issue #48 and there isn't much I really can say but: FINALLY. When they decided to put red on gold they must have realized how silly the silver and gold Iron Man armors must have been. This is the iconic color scheme that has for the most part been around for 50 years and I expect that we'll eventually get back to these colors soon enough in comics once they stop messing around with things like the "Secret Origin of Iron Man" and his stint with the Guardians of the Galaxy... don't get me wrong, I love his past few sets of armor (Bleeding Edge is still my favorite, but who else doesn't love it?) but the classic Iron Man will always be red and gold.

Character Final Summary: Let's face it, when 'Iron Man' was advertised in the media this is what everyone wanted: super powerful and fast robot suits that blow shit up and that they certainly do, but in retrospect the suits have their own personality. MK I has its ruggedness and giant sized fists of metal, MK II shows us what happens when you slim down for the sleeker model with its incredible speed and flying capabilities, and the MK III is the hot-rod that all boys and girls wanted when growing up but this hot rod has lasers mounted on your hands, chest, and all of the other powerfully explosive goodies you could cram in there. Yes, the suits have no facial expression but the moment that Tony Stark steps into one these suits of armor he becomes someone else: a cold, calculated machine that shows you that sometimes one man can take on the bad guys of the world.

Pepper Potts

Portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow
   Fiery isn't quite the word I'd use to describe Gwyneth Paltrow's interpretation of Virginia "Pepper" Potts, but it is as close of a single word description you can get for explaining her presence on film. We first get a glimpse of her attitude after she greets Christine Everhart (of Vanity Fair) trying to play around with JARVIS (heh) and explains she will do anything for Mr. Stark, including taking out the trash. The way she delivers that particular line is a hot burn and I smirk and giggle every time I hear that line being spoken. It's obvious that Paltrow had to dye her hair for the role, but regardless she plays a the role very seriously with an almost deadpan-like approach with the limited dialog script that was given to all of the actors... now, some actors and some fans might have an issue with such a limitation but I feel that this really helps contribute to the flow of natural interactions and I don't want it to be any way else for any character in this film, not just for Pepper Potts. Pepper Potts shows she isn't a pushover from anyone, not a reporter puts out, a secret government agency, and not even her boss (who was ever so generous with that birthday present.) There has been a lot of criticism for a long time saying that women are always portrayed as weak, helpless, defenseless little victims in cinema and besides from that one brief moment during the Iron Monger battle... Pepper is a very strong woman on film as she can clearly hold her own when it comes to words with Tony Stark and is fast thinking when it comes to handling her situation with Obadiah Stane who can be quite menacing when he is on to you. I like her interactions with Agent Coulson because at first she dismisses him as just another government agent but later on commands them on where to go and reinforces that she has a way of pointing those who need to be pointed in the right direction.

   The only flaw I found with her entire performance may actually not be her fault: the scenes that directly involve her and Stane in the Iron Monger suit were not just the weakest scenes with Paltrow, but I felt they were the weakest scenes in the entire movie and this could either be due to bad stage direction or bad editing but something about the scene with Pepper talking to Tony while he is off-screen is nearly un-watchable for me and I just want to get it over. Is this because there were alternate scenes filmed, cut and didn't pan well or was the Second Unit Director just not doing his job? Who knows what happened during editing..  but I do know is that its bad-bad-bad and I wish they really went back and edited it properly so Paltrow wouldn't have looked so awkward and out of place.

Character Final Summary: I know that Gwyneth Paltrow has already played Pepper in four films now and I hope they keep her on for even more films. For the most part, she is an actress that can keep up with her co-stars fast paced dialogue while at the same time showing that it isn't just the men that can captivate the audience with a role.

Dr. Yinsen

Portrayed by Shaun Toub
   If it wasn't for this man, Tony Stark would be dead. In a desperate attempt to save the life of someone that he barely knew, Dr. Yinsen stuck an electromagnet inside of Stark's chest with the aid of golf-cart battery to prevent the shrapnel that came from the explosives during the film's prologue. I like Toub's performance as Ho Yinsen because when he finishes each sentence I feel more and more sympathy for his character. Here is this man that has been in captivity for who knows how much longer than Tony Stark, has lost his family, friends, everyone he loves and really has nothing else to lose, is forced (I assume) to save the life of a man he had only met once and still creates a father/son relationship with Stark. I know a lot of people will probably say this is because he is also forced to live with Stark and really no other option is available to him but I disagree because he could have been a complete asshole and say, "I'm only doing this because I have to!" - no, we see a real bond formed between Yinsen and Stark, whether it be talking about family or playing backgammon, the film really does a bang-up job at establishing the relationship with Stark, the relationship with the AUDIENCE, that when we see him lying there in blood on the bag of rations, his death bed, that it has a real emotional impact and helps the audience get a grasp on how Tony must feel there just starring at his symbolic father... I believe that if there wasn't so much of an urgency of trying to escape Tony would have stopped right there and would have cried... at least that is what I imagine could have happened but of course that would have ruined the entire pacing of that whole sequence.

Character Final Summary: I've watched a lot of movies... some small in scope, some larger in scope, but I don't feel that supporting characters always leave an impact that Toub's performance as Dr. Yinsen have, I am glad that even though the origin of Iron Man has changed more than once in comics, the film stayed true to who helped really inspire and change Tony Stark from warmongering asshole to someone who takes consequences very seriously. I also am impacted by Dr. Yinsen's appearance even when he is not on film - I couldn't help but think of him when watching the scene in Captain America: The First Avenger when Steve Rogers own mentor meets a similar fate - I'm sure this wasn't intentional by the studio but his performance makes the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe emotionally better.

Lt. Col James Rhodes / "Rhodey"

Portrayed by Terrence Howard
   Since this is my review with my bad grammar, sentence structure and probably bad analysis I am going to be very honest with how I felt about Terrence Howard's performance as Rhodey. Yes, a lot of people do not like his performance in the film especially when they already had formed an opinion on his acting based on all of the behind-the-scenes crap that went on. Yes, it is very true that he was the first signed on for the film and very likely made much more money for his role and yes, he was replaced by Don Cheadle for Iron Man 2 and 3.... but I am going to be very honest. When I was brainstorming for this character review of Iron Man, I asked my wife and some people on Google+ if they could help me come up with a better description than "whiny little bitch" but I couldn't think of anything else at that time. Col James Rhodes in this film is in fact a whiny little bitch, everything from his whininess (yes, that is a word) at the casino, the tarmac, on the plane, the Humvee, the scene where Tony TRIES to tell Rhodey that he is working on something big, the phone call... EVERYTHING. I felt every scene he was in was to complain and the film would actually be better without him taking up screen time as he contributed to NOTHING. Any other character could have been on screen when he was supposed to and the film would not have been any worse...

Character Final Summary: Terrence Howard, you did not do very well this role. Your character did not command anything and the scenes when it gave the illusion you did (calling it a training accident, announcing Tony to the podium, etc), I was anything but impressed. I understand this character was put into the film for two reasons: "conflict" and setting up for the sequel. For the amount of "conflict" Rhodey gave Tony in this film, you could have easily replaced him with a wooden plank with a taped-on sign reading, "No Tony!" and it wouldn't have changed a thing.

Obadiah Stane / Iron Monger

Portrayed by Jeff Bridges
   I'm conflicted with Obadiah Stane in this film. I hated him for being behind the kidnapping of Tony Stark, I hated him for being jealous of Tony since he was young, and hated him even more for dying... but I also love him. I love how manipulative he is... not just with getting Tony kidnapped, the way he was really all behind it all, and being the big bad actually makes me love his character even more. The movie doesn't play around with trying to make us think that Stane was just there to help guide Tony into becoming the CEO of Stark Industries - no, the narrative of the magazine montage during the flashback makes it very clear that he was always going to be in the shadow of Tony Stark. Sure, Stane seems jolly, proud to accept Tony's award but you can just see how much jealousy and disdain he has for Tony Stark as he stares at the Apogee trophy. Ultimately it is revealed during Pepper's investigation that Stane was behind the kidnapping of Tony, behind the power grab using the board of directors and of course rebuilds the MK I armor into the gigantic Iron Monger suit. The way Bridges plays Stane is amazing though because from the point of view from the other characters he seems to do what is in the interest of the company, Tony, Pepper and everyone else.. if he was a complete jerk do you think he'd offer Tony pizza? Do you think he'd be so jokey? Of course, this was most likely just a part of his charade in order to continue his trusting persona among those he was closest with and up until the hostage video being revealed for Pepper and stealing Tony's second Arc Reactor, no one really wised up to his actions.

With there being only an outline of a script, Jeff Bridges was more than able to handle himself with the improvisational-style dialogue that was scattered through out the entirety of the whole film - he never really seemed to be at a loss of words and in fact, you can really see how much he enjoys developing his two-faced character as the film progresses: appears happy, friendly, trustworthy... but on the other side of the coin is cunning, tricky, intelligent, bossy... I just wish the character was a bit menacing. You get a bit of Stane's menacing behavior when he confronts and kills the The Ten Rings cell, but I felt some of it was lost during the Iron Monger battle... you got this very evil looking guy in this very evil looking suit, but the fight just seemed clumsy and goofy and I really blame it on how they went with the Iron Monger suit because it really didn't feel like that big of an improvement... sure, Tony had to worry because his suit was running out of power (never really seemed like a risk), but the fight didn't seem scary and I just wish there was more resolution other than him blowing up. Of course, there was a different sequence played out in deleted scenes where Tony and Obadiah had a final moment to talk to each other in a less confrontational manner.. but I guess the director chose to go a different direction.

Final Character Summary: Obadiah Stane is a good caricature of the evil businessman.. if that businessman had their opposition kidnapped, tried to have them killed and then wore a 25 foot suit of armor with guns, jet boots and giant metal fists. The first half of the film plays Stane as a mentor while living in Tony Stark's shadow and I felt there was some level of respect between the various parties but then the second half of the film continues to strengthen his character but as soon as he becomes the Iron Monger, I just didn't feel like he was very threatening to Stark's MK III armor. Jeff Bridges did very well with what little of a script there was and I just wish this film didn't continue the trend of killing off villains.

Harold "Happy" Hogan

Portrayed by Director Jon Favreau
   Happy Hogan's role is very small in this film but you can immediately tell that this man loves his job. He is very dedicated to the company but probably more of a best friend than Rhodey currently is. In 'Iron Man' the only bit of personality that I could see in Happy is that he is eager to do what his boss wants and will back him up in his intentions such as scoring women or racing up and down the California highways. Again, with a small role in this film there isn't really much to talk about his character but I do appreciate respecting the lore of 'Iron Man' comics.

Final Character Summary: While it is not a significant role, I do appreciate in Favreau including Happy Hogan into the film, establishing that he has history with Tony Stark and sets this character up nicely for Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3.

The Ten Rings

The Ten Rings. The leader, Raza, portrayed by Faran Tahir
   Prior to the film, there was no established group known as 'The Ten Rings' in Iron Man's history. The name 'Ten Rings' takes reference from the Iron Man's greatest villain, The Mandarin. The Mandarin had ten powerful/mysterious/alien tech rings - one on each finger - where each ring had a different power and/or ability. I like how this fictional terrorist group was created for the film, differentiating from the comic universe and grounding it in the real world. When I first watched the film, I already knew the history of the name 'Ten Rings' and hoped it was an Easter Egg for things to come in future films... and while I love both Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3, I wish I was right. As for the main leader of this Ten Rings cell, Raza, I felt he was more than just your stereotypical Islamist terrorist bad guy that I've seen a gazillion times on TV and in movies... yes he spoke in different languages, is brown, as a foreign sounding name but you can just see it in his eyes that he had real ambition, real goals and even a little sympathy. Faran Tahir played this character pretty straight for a bad guy role, but the character just got a little too egotistical with his demands to Stane during their confrontation  .. his demeanor was good as a leader, he got a bad-ass scar after his encounter with the new christened Iron Man (that builds character!) and he was utilized well for pushing the story into the right direction.

Final Character Review: This guy is obviously someone you don't want to mess with in the wacky world of terrorist groups and the cell of the 'Ten Rings' that he was in charge with really felt like they had their plan in order... until they got curb stomped twice by 'Iron Man'. I am glad we never saw the death of Raza which hopefully will keep the door open for a possible return of this character.

Agent Coulson / SHIELD

Portrayed by Clark Gregg
   Another character that is only introduced and has limited screen-time is the ever so lovable Agent Coulson. The story goes that when Clark Gregg was hired on to play the role of Coulson there were only a few lines originally written for him, but as filming went on the cast ended up loving his character so more lines were written as they went along the production schedule and giving the world the performance we saw on screen. Gregg plays Coulson in a semi-aloof manner where you can't really tell if this guy has a sense of humor and it's obvious that through everything that goes on from when he pops up during the press meeting to his last scenes with Pepper and Iron Monger... it's apparent that nothing fazes this guy. 

Character Final Summary: Obviously, Agent Coulson isn't the only taste of SHIELD we get in this whole film because if you're like me (and I hope you're not), you always like to watch the stinger, or post-credits scene, that teases us with Sam Jackson as Nick Fury and the bigger universe at hand. I've read lots of quotes and statements and everyone tries to say it was only added "as a joke", but I don't know who they are kidding because Marvel already had The Incredible Hulk in the can with its Tony Stark cameo ... they're not fooling anyone: they had this planned, they wanted to expand and so far they've done a bang-up job. 

The "I can't read the wall of text" Summary: Aside from Terrence Howard's performance, every single actor and character in this film just blew it away with delivery and their actions. People always ask me, "J, where should I start when starting to watch all of these superhero movies?" and I always tell them: Iron Man. If you're going to get into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you should start with the first. Not only is it the first film in the whole series, but it is one of the best films to start with. Even if you're not a comic book fan like my wife, you will like this film. It really has everything: comedy, action, a little drama... the only thing you'd miss out on is the lack of romance and well, this film isn't really the place for it. The characters feel real, the dialogue is VERY real between the actors and you really look past the actors in their roles. Seriously, if you haven't watched this movie go do it now. Go download it, stream it, buy it, just GO WATCH IT. If you do watch it and you don't like the film... well, then I guess you and I aren't going to have much in common. 

Thank you for reading my Character Review... I know it was a bit rough being my first full length review ... if you didn't enjoy it or you thought it was a bad review I hope you won't be too harsh on me and really my ultimate goal is for my readers to be at least a little bit better informed on the whole Marvel universe.