Quick housekeeping update, as my website is in the middle of undergoing a redesign. So jasonpinter.com is down for a brief bit while the files are transferred, so don't worry, I haven't joined Maximum Financial.
Last night I saw Iron Man, which is probably the best 'first' superhero movie I've seen since the first Spider-Man, and it does give that movie a run for its money. Why does this one work when so many others (Daredevil, Ghost Rider, pre-Christian Bale Batman, Fantastic Four, to some extent the new Superman) have failed? A few reasons.
First off is the cast. While there's no shortage of A-list talent, the biggest difference is that the A-list cast here is made of quality actors. No hammy, over-the-top performances. No bland heroes with impeccable hairdos. No villains cackling like Snidely Whiplash. The characters are, first and foremost, people. Robert Downey Jr. is terrific as Tony Stark, bringing both humor and surprising pathos to a man whose whole life has been spent in pursuit of women, money and fame at the expense of humanity. His transformation into Iron Man comes more from an emotional change than a physical one (no radioactive spiders, no gamma rays, he just sees the error of his ways firsthand). Stark has wrongs to right, but isn't against having a dirty martini or two along the way. Jeff Bridges, one of the most underrated actors working today, is nicely understated as Obadiah Stane. Gwyneth Paltrow is solid (if not a bit superfluous) as the dutiful Pepper Potts (think Alfred in a backless dress--then again, don't), and Terrance Howard shows promise as Stark's best bud Rhodes. (I'm not a fan of the comics, but according to the friend I saw it with there are a lot of seeds planted that touch on the comic's mythology)
Second is the script. The film is actually smart. No banal dialogue, no tortured soliloquies, and no gazing wistfully out of windows (I'm looking at you, Spider-Man). As much as this is a superhero movie, the characters in it talk like real people. A huge difference.
Third is the direction: clean, crisp, and uncluttered. The action scenes are shot perfectly. No ADD-style quick cuts, no close up fights where you can't see what the hell is happening (my only quibble with Batman Begins). Jon Favreau--who has an extended cameo as Stark's limo driver (and now resembles Oprah with his drastic weight loss, then gain, then loss)--proves to be a surprisingly good action director. He uses the full frame. Plus, the film is not overlong. Clocking in at just over 2 hours, it's a lean, mean fightin' machine.
I give Iron Man a solid A- (the only negative the unnecessary romantic subplot between Stark and Potts that goes nowhere and adds nothing). The bar has already been set pretty high for summer action movies. And since I'm giddy as a schoolboy for Indiana Jones and The Dark Knight, this could be a pretty good movie season.
Oh, and if you see Iron Man, make sure to stay after the closing credits...