HISTORY OF IRON MAN
I had the opportunity to catch the midnight premier of what is likely to be the initial “summer blockbuster” of the 2008 season. Iron Man has since this debut had the second biggest non-sequel opening day in history, trailing only Spider-Man. Last summer had 14 sequels, this summer only 7. More on the movie itself later. First, this film had not only an interesting debut, but has some interesting high-tech tie-ins.
The event in Colorado Springs was sponsored in part by First Showing which is a local promotional company. This event, like other blockbuster previews — for example my article about last year’s Spider-Man III — was what I’d call “event marketing.” It began by having a booth out in front of the theater, with full sized posters, the company’s logo, a couch and chairs in front of a gaming console and TV. The fact that it was cold outside did not discourage the faithful from stopping by.
Before the midnight show began, there were about 40 minutes of pre-show fun. Tests of strength, skill, and armor building ensued. The emcee directed these events, the most interesting was a test of “repulsors-driven flight” on a long board through wickets holding lighted pods. The audience really got into it.
Many in the audience came dressed in Iron Man tee-shirts, some were custom made.
During the credits, I noticed that computer graphics were done by Tata Elxsi’s Visual Computing Labs. I used to work for Tata ELXSI some 20 years ago, when they were making one of the world’s most powerful super mini-computers.
But there is a more contemporary high-tech tie-in. Oracle is co-promoting the movie, with a tie-in to the fact that “Marvel Entertainment relies on Oracle to manage growth and provide seamless technology integration.”
The computer graphics in this movie have defined the new state-of-the-art for film. Like the Transformers movie before it, CG works well for rendering machines. Computers are better at rendering machines than rendering people, which are so much more subtle. Here, it is almost seamless, unlike in the Spider-Man movie.
Did I like it? Absolutely. I’d give it an A-. This is perhaps the most deeply gratifying film adaptation of a comic book. Many believe that only Batman Returns rivals it. Indeed, it will not have missed the notice of some that there are some similarities between the Marvel Comics hero Iron Man and DC Comics‘ hero Batman. In their secret identities, they are both billionaire industrialists, inventors of creative technologies, and flamboyant playboys. Both characters battle their own personal demons. In the case of Tony Stark (Iron Man), he has battled alcohol addiction, which is ironic, considering the casting of Iron Man.
Robert Downey, Jr. has had a checkered past in Hollywood, battling drug addiction. Nevertheless, this Academy Award nominated actor carries the movie. His sardonic wit, his throwaway lines, and his comic timing make him a flawed and believable industrialist. Initially arrogant and oblivious to the effects of his munitions sales, he comes to repent of his past business failings during the course of the “origin story” part of the film.
I was impressed by his performance and was willing to believe this obsessive personality could become aware of his weaknesses, limitations, and a dawning appreciation of his loyal secretary.
In the role of his dedicated executive assistant Pepper Potts, Gweneth Paltrow lit up the screen. My only complaint is that we did not see her enough in the movie, almost as if she was underutilized. But the chemistry between this Academy Award winner and Downey was palpable, and she was stunning in the role. I could not help but remember her similarly plucky role as Polly Perkins in the movie Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow.
Terrance Howard plays Tony Stark’s best friend and confidant, Lt. Colonel James Rhodes, military liaison to Stark Industries. This Academy Award nominated actor has been getting a lot of notice for his recent roles. I particularly liked him in the recent film August Rush.
Academy Award nominated (notice a pattern here?) actor Jeff Bridges is featured as Obadiah Stane, a bear of a man, as top executive of Stark Industries and right hand man to Tony Stark. He appears as a bear of a man and chews up the screen each time he’s on the screen.
The action was impressive, the interaction between a talented cast, and the plot made this movie work. I’ve frequently compared this to the Spider-Man movies, as it serves as the benchmark of the Marvel Comics movie franchise. Spider-Man has historically been the most popular title of the Marvel universe, in the same way that Superman has been for DC Comics. And while I started reading Spider-Man comics in the early ’60s, and have not been a close follower of Iron Man, I found the later to be more satisfying as a movie experience. Perhaps it is because Spider-Man is about the travails of an adolescent — appropriate to comics’ primary demographic — while Iron Man deals with the problem of a grown man. The writing for this movie covered more sophisticated themes and more stark violence (no pun intended). The comedy worked better too.
For example, Iron Man creator and Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee had a cameo appearance in this movie, has he had in the previous Marvel movie adaptations. Keep your eyes open, it’s more amusing than his previous movie appearances.
Here’s a tip if you’re planning on seeing the movie: stay to the end of the credits. Not only will you see something interesting in the credits, but you’ll see something at the end of the credits that will be a treat.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian