Man, I just flat-out loved Iron Man. I may need to brood a bit on its ups and downs to say for certain, but after this first viewing, I feel comfortable concluding that it has rocketed ahead of the original Spider-Man, the first couple Superman movies, and the first couple X-Men movies to land as my third favorite superhero movie of all time, behind only Batman Begins and Spider-Man 2. Well, maybe fourth if you count The Incredibles, but the ranking is irrelevant; what is relevant is that the movie was really fucking good.
To start out with, Robert Downey Jr. is simply one of the single most talented actors working today and has been one of my favorites since Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang a few years back, and he absolutely rocks in this movie. He's alternately awesome and hilarious through the whole runtime, and no one else gives the quirky yet always entertaining line readings Downey Jr. delivers without fail. I doubt it will happen, but an Oscar nomination in the Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean "You'll never win because we'll never award an action movie, but we respect you" category wouldn't be at all inappropriate. Also, after nearly a decade of dead-eyed, snooze-inducing performances, I have to say that Gwyneth Paltrow kind of shocked me here with a hitherto-unprecedented amount of sparkle and pep and energy. I don't know if the director promised her a cookie if she acted or something, but she really lit up the scenes she was in, and is maybe the best superhero love interest I've ever seen on screen.
But even more so than love interests, we go to superhero movies for action. And I am pretty damn happy with the action in this flick. Jon Favreau had a bit of special effects practice in Elf and more in Zathura, but he's never directed a full-blooded action movie before, and I think that might be what makes the action so damn good. He's never "learned" any of the wrong, Michael Bay-esque action tricks of cameras haphazardly swinging in the fray or ultra-spastic cutting that makes the action hard to watch by awkwardly trying to make you feel like you're in it or something, and as a result the action scenes are gorgeous and entertaining. Iron Man fights dudes, and the camera actually stays on the action in smooth noncutting wide shots that let you see and enjoy everything. Almost every action scene in the flick is like that, shot in a wide, clean way that is so fucking refreshing. This gets a monumental thumbs up from me.
Beyond that (this is the "checklist of other cool things" paragraph), the special effects are some of the best I've ever seen. There's nothing precisely innovative about them, but it's Industrial Light & Magic at the peak of their powers, and nothing in the whole movie made me think "fake!" at all. The Iron Man character, while I had no knowledge of him before seeing this movie, is really fun and has pretty sweet powers. And the comedy in the film is incredibly strong; this has a lot to do with how damn funny Downey Jr. is, but the movie has a pretty massive amount of slapstick and one-liners and other hilarity (probably even more than Spider-Man 2) that won huge and consistent laughs from me and the rest of the audience. I like to laugh - it gets the endorphins flowing, don't ya know - so mega props for that.
If the movie has any weaknesses, it's the plot and the music. Not that there's anything wrong with the plot at all, it just won't surprise you. It's a pretty basic and utilitarian superhero origin story, with most of the major goings-on in regards to the the villain and the hero's character progression pretty traditional. A montage of the hero honing / practicing his powers, the hero's love interest being threatened by the villain, and all that. It's just done exceptionally and unusually well. And the music, while again having nothing exactly wrong with it (it's mostly electric and rock-ish stuff, high attitude, you know), doesn't have any truly memorable theme for the Iron Man character. Although I suppose it would be hard to make a theme more iconic than the Black Sabbath "Iron Man" riff, so if and when there's a sequel they should just latch onto that and milk it for all the awesomeness it's worth.
But all in all, mega thumbs up. A completely satisfying summer movie package. See it hardcore. AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STAY TO THE END OF THE CREDITS I AM NOT JOKING ABOUT THIS. Thanks for reading.
4 Stars out of 5