Friday, June 06, 2008

All Hail Iron Man

I’ve never read an Iron Man comic book in my life, so I can’t portray myself as an authority on whether the movie is true to the story or spirit of the book. But the movie is so good, it’s hard to imagine that it takes many liberties with the original vision behind the book.

So many things have already been written about the performances of Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Terrence Howard that it seems silly to add to what others have said. Suffice to say, they’re all terrific, and treat the source material with respect and dignity, which is always key to the success of a “comic book movie.”

For me, the most engaging and gripping scenes in the movie occurred near the beginning, when Tony Stark is captured in Afghanistan and begins his journey towards becoming a super-hero, out of necessity if nothing else. In those scenes, it is the performance of Shaun Toub as Yinsen, who under duress becomes Stark’s assistant and accomplice in creating the Iron Man, which lends the film its moral weight. Yinsen knows that for him there can be no escape, and though Stark has yet to understand the ramifications of what he does for a living (building weapons), Yinsen understands all too well. It is from Yinsen’s strength of character that Stark begins his moral awakening.

All of which seems like pretty heavy stuff for a comic book movie, and it probably is. Because unlike most of even the best comic book movies, Iron Man is rooted in the reality of our times. Which is not to say that there aren’t some preposterous moments, or some preposterously funny moments – there are. After all, this is a comic book – and not one for really young kids (and there were plenty at the showing we attended today).

Among comic books movies I hesitate to rank it right now, except to say that it's definitely one of the best.

One other note – one of the Executive Producers of the film, Peter Billingsley, got his Hollywood start by playing Ralphie in the immortal A Christmas Story.

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