May 12th, 2008

"Iron Man"

On Sunday afternoon the 11th, we met a few friends to see "Iron Man," the latest movie adaptation of a major Marvel comic book character. It was good fun. Like the other Marvel movies of the last decade, it gives us an updated version of the character's orgin story, which shows us "Tony Stark" (played by Robert Downey, Jr.) as CEO of Stark Industries, a high-tech operation that has some briefly mentioned other lines, but chiefly exists as a weapons manufacturer. The plot is developed in the first few minutes, when Stark, returning from a demonstration in Afganistan, is blown up by one of his own weapons in the hands of the enemy. The plot then follows the familar comic book history: forced to create weapons for his captors, he creates the prototype "Iron Man" suit and uses it to escape. There aren't any HUGE surprises after that, although the way things do work out is handled cleverly, with style, and with some twists. The major fun of the movie lies in Stark's refinement of the Iron Man suit, which one can see was a real labor of love both for the CGI techs and the physical prop fabricators, as well as the script writers and Downey (and/or his stunt men). And, frankly, I love the invention of the 'arc reactor' as a power source. The power supply for the various versions of the comic book suit have always been varieties of 'hand waving' but I like having a definite if fantastic invention that drives the rest. (Now I just need to get one to hook up to my oscillation overthruster and flux capacitor--). I also thought the idea of having most of the suit's outer covering be reconfigurable as part of the flight control systems was very neat. That said, although the science-fiction was nice, there were some really boneheaded errors in basic science that I'll pick on below the spoiler alert. This is (mostly) separate from Stark's "mad science*" approach to development, which provides much of the humor in the movie. (Really, who would do a first test of the boot jet system at 10% power a) without having a calculation how much thrust would be developed, and b) indoors?)

*My definition: A scientist works out the hypothesis, then designs an experiment that will show if the hypothesis proves true or not. The MAD scientist says: "Hmm. I wonder what will happen if I do--THIS! Ha-ha-ha!" (Or, uses themselves as experimental subject--.)

Downey gives a very nice performance as the playboy inventor who is coming to grips with the idea that his work may not all be for the "good guys." There are actually, in my opinion, even better performances: Gwyneth Paltrow as "'Pepper' Potts", Stark's personal assistant, manages to be both appropriately squeamish when helping Stark plug his reactor into his chest, and reasonably under control flipping switches to help defeat the bad guy while the building is coming down around her ears. Part of this, of course, is the character, who, in the comics was always feisty and not a screamer, but Paltrow carrys it off. The usually likeable Jeff Bridges shows a good talent for villainy and enjoys himself an awful lot as the corrupt corporate heavy, "Obadiah Stane".

Good fun for fans of the comics, and enjoyable and accessible for newcomers.

And now for the quibbles. Beware of the spoilers!
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