In-Depth Movie Reviews & High Quality Trailers

Posts tagged “jon favreau

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3I must give you fair warning.  A careless Facebook commenter ruined a major plot twist of this film for me before I saw the film.  I was very upset by that, and it did indeed affect my experience with the film.    This is why I write spoiler-free reviews of newly released movies.  Regardless of that, while I did find Iron Man 3 entertaining and mostly enjoyable, I have some strong stinging points to raise against it.  I do not feel it is the best of them all.  In all actuality, I still prefer both of the previous films over this one.  That is sad because this had the potential to be really great, but it has at least one major failing, among others, that I will avoid spoiling for you.

Brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) goes against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds.  When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy’s hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible.  This journey, at every turn, will test his mettle.  With his back against the wall, Stark is left to survive by his own devices, relying on his ingenuity and instincts to protect those closest to him.  As he fights his way back, Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?

Let’s start out with what I liked about the movie.  It does a lot of fresh, inventive things with the suits.  Tony being able to call upon the Mark 42 at will with some injected sensors was excellent, and many of the suiting up sequences stemming from that were fantastic.  There’s even one action scene where Tony is fighting to escape captivity, and he only has one gauntlet and one leg of the suit to work with.  He has to be more clever and dynamic with just these two parts to combat his enemies.  I really liked that, and there’s even more awesomeness in the climax, which I’ll get to later.  For most of the film, he’s stuck with this not entirely functional prototype that continually gets beaten up, requiring Tony to cobble together various resources to survive and battle his foes.

Of course, Downey still does a great job with the character.  He’s lost nothing after his previous three outings, including The Avengers.  There’s very good material here for him to work with that shades Tony’s story a little darker than before.  He has some demons to resolve, and Downey does a fine job working with that.  However, as good as Downey is, the script has its shortcomings with that material.  There is the fact that Tony is struggling with these anxiety attacks, this sort of post-traumatic stress, but as the same as my gripe with Skyfall, we never see the character actually resolve this problem.  It’s there and then it’s not there.  This paralyzing fear that keeps striking Tony simply evaporates from his being with no resolution at all.  In Iron Man 2, Tony went through an arc where he dealt with his issues, made a mends, and rediscovered his purpose and ambition.  None of that effort exists within this movie.  Downey handles Shane Black’s comedic writing greatly, but this is a film that could have benefitted greatly from less humor and a lot more dramatic turmoil and peril.

It is pleasing that we get a little more Don Cheadle here as Colonel Rhodes, but I still feel the character should be a lot more fleshed out by this point.  Granted, this film puts him more into the thick of the action, both in and out of the suit, but I want to feel like Rhodey is more than just a supporting character.  You’ve got an excellent actor here, and I don’t think he’s been used to a tenth of his potential, yet.  The one thing I do like is how Tony kind of speaks for the audience in that rebranding War Machine into Iron Patriot doesn’t sound like a good idea.  War Machine is who Rhodey has been in the comics, not Iron Patriot, and besides that, War Machine sounds like a guy you just do not want to mess with at all.  That’s a bad ass name.  Iron Patriot, not so much.

Now, Ty Simpkins portrays a young boy named Harley that Tony crosses paths with while trying to untangle the mystery of the Mandarin and the bombings he’s been behind.  Simpkins does a stellar job trading sharp, witty dialogue beautifully with Downey.  The two work wonderfully together, and I really did like and enjoy Harley.  He was a great companion for Tony to have for a while that helped him along the way, and remained endearing and smart.  He also gets a great pay-off at the end that was charming.

I am a big believer in the talent of Guy Pearce.  I think he is an immensely talented actor that should have broken into the big time a good decade ago.  His Aldrich Killian is the controller of this Extremis technology which creates nearly indestructible human weapons allowing them to regenerate body parts and repair fatal injuries almost instantly.  Yet, the tech is not entirely stable resulting in some volatile reactions.  Pearce makes Killian rather compelling with his charisma, air of sophistication and culture, and definitely with his underlying merciless villainy.  I did find him to be an effective villain, but not a great one.  Pearce certainly sells every bit of the character’s ruthless savvy and sociopathic relentlessness with just the right degree of arrogance and intelligence.  In the climax, he definitely becomes a wicked bad ass that is not easy to take down.  So while he’s not a villain that jumped out and stuck in my mind greatly, Killian is still a damn good one in the hands of Guy Pearce.

Now, the first thing I didn’t really care for was the Tony Stark narration at the beginning.  Some months ago, I tried to watch Shane Black’s other directorial effort with Robert Downey, Jr. – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.  It was the incessant narration that turned me off to that film as well.  It made the film too self-aware in a bad way, and I just couldn’t even get twenty minutes into it.  The narration is not incessant here, but it just didn’t establish an inviting tone for me.  It just felt like Tony was breaking the fourth wall on me, and I didn’t like that feeling.  Ultimately, it really only ties into the comedic post-end credits scene, which was funny but really frivolous.  That was yet another thing that was spoiled to me going into it.  This is sort of a movie experience that makes me realize there’s just too much information, preview clips, trailers, and TV spots spoiling important aspects of movies today.  That’s why I’m glad for the marketing of Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel – they have given us fantastic glimpses of the films while spoiling nothing crucial.  I’m excited for both films while still going into them knowing very little about the plot and layout of the films.  Iron Man 3 just spewed out every little piece of footage and information people could get their hands on, and it terribly impacted my experience seeing this film.  I’d expect a big, marketing savvy studio like Disney or Marvel to be more strategic in what they release, but apparently, that was a false perception on my part.  It felt like I had watched this movie in sections on television, and was only now watching it in full for the first time.  Of course, careless commenters on Facebook are beyond their control.

Now, while Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian is an excellent character and villain here, showcasing much of Pearce’s wonderful talent and charisma, the issue I have is hotly focused on the handling of the Mandarin.  Again, I will spoil nothing about the plot twist that goes into either of these characters, but simply said, the Mandarin is horribly, insultingly wasted.  In the comics, he is Iron Man’s archenemy, and this film had such a powerful, masterful setup for this revamp of this villain.  Instead, they chose to piss all over that potential and flush it down the toilet.  If I didn’t have this essentially spoiled for me in advance, I think I would have been pissed sitting in that theatre.  Almost as pissed off as I was at the end of The Dark Knight Rises because it is just stupidity at its finest handled in the most asinine way.  I have no passionate connection to the Iron Man mythos, but I do know a bad idea on screen when I see it.  You have this amazing actor in Ben Kingsley portraying this menacing, threatening, foreboding, and brutal character, and you make a complete and utter insulting waste of his talent with this horrendous plot twist.  Frankly, the Mandarin could have elevated this film to an astonishing height with his reign of terror, but instead, it came crashing down because of what Shane Black did with him.  In the comics, the Mandarin is a genius scientist and martial artist utilizing ten power rings adapted from alien technology as his primary source of power.  Shifting that to a more grounded straight up terrorist with advanced technological bio-weaponry was working immensely well in the film until it was all dashed.  The fact that Tony Stark was abducted by the Ten Rings in the first film created a closed loop of storytelling here that could have worked beautifully, but we are denied any ingenuity or brilliance here.  The Mandarin is reduced to a punchline that I found no humor in at all.  It is the biggest black mark on this film because it presented to us with amazing, potentially stunning potential, and turned it into a bad joke.

The other thing I really didn’t like was how much this film forced itself into feeling like the final act of a trilogy.  I am so sick and tired of everyone’s obsession with trilogies these days.  What happened to just telling a solid, independent story?  Why MUST everything be conceived as a trilogy?  Shane Black drops in so much stuff, especially at the end, making it feel like Marvel is closing the book on Iron Man.  That’s surely not the case, but does this film ever feel like the final act of a movie trilogy.  I really don’t get what the problem is with just making another sequel that allows for an ongoing series.  There’s no reason this film had to be written as if it’s some final chapter for Tony Stark when Marvel is likely, in no way, considering that.  I almost guarantee you we will see Tony Stark as Iron Man in The Avengers 2, but the way this film ends, you’d think otherwise.  It’s such a blatant message that really annoys the crap out of me.  The Mandarin issue is indeed worse, but this further burned me as the film came to an end.

And lastly, I felt the film indulged in too much humor.  I really miss the sharp, punchy comedic timing that came with Jon Favreau’s direction.  He rarely ever lingered on a joke or gag.  He kept it tight and to the point.  Shane Black drags too many bits out for too long.  The joke plays itself out, but the film keeps running with it.  There’s also frivolous gags like how Happy Hogan is dressed up like Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction in the flashback to 1999 (five years after that movie came out).  There’s no reason for that.  It’s just there as a gag that no one in my theatre even picked up on to laugh at.  Probably because you could barely tell it was supposed to be Jon Favreau in that ridiculous getup.  Most importantly, I feel the humor outweighs the drama of the story.  There’s an over abundance of it with the dramatic turmoil going on is brushed aside.  Almost no scene goes by without some kind of witty, funny banter between characters, and that really weakens the dramatic weight that Black attempted to inject into this film.  The previous two Iron Man films knew when you shift tones and focus on the emotional or dramatic poignancy of the story.  This film barely does that at all.

There is also the inevitable thought that’s going to come into the minds of a lot of people.  With this terrorist threat imposing itself upon America, where are the other heroes?  I mean, you’d at least expect Captain America to be called upon to combat an enemy to the American people.  Even Iron Patriot doesn’t get called in until almost the last minute.  At least with Thor, he’s off traveling to different worlds and realms, and the Hulk is too potentially unstable to call in on a whim.  Yet, Stark shouldn’t have much hesitation in doing so considering the Hulk saved his life, and he and Banner are now close buddies.  Still, even S.H.I.E.L.D. is apparently not even involved.  At least in the comics, you have dozens of storylines running concurrently with all of these books being published showing what’s occupying these heroes at all times.  You don’t have that luxury here.  Marvel Studios is going to have to craft these films extremely carefully to explain away these issues.  You can’t have a shared universe with stories that take place in a vacuum.

Now, Iron Man 3 does contain the best climax of the series, so far.  The all-out assault on Killian and his Extremis soldiers was killer!  The entire army of Iron Man suits greatly ties into Tony having had too much time on his hands from all his sleepless nights.  Him jumping in and out of various suits throughout this sequence to escape various scenarios was an exciting, brilliant idea.  It has a lot of peril and awesome action that blends together in masterful fashion.  It all taking place at this shipyard with cranes and scaffolding really allowed for great dynamics to have the Jarvis-automated suits flying around attacking and being attacked.  How Tony tries to jump into certain suits, only to have them blown away, or only get part of a suit added to the unpredictability and danger of it all.  The battle between Tony and Killian was fantastic and bad ass.  I really loved it all the way through.  And while I loved the quirkiness of what Tony does after the fight with the suits, the connotation it left me with was not to my liking.  Again, it’s part of that forced trilogy style close-endedness which seemed ridiculous and stupidly unnecessary.

The main problem here is that Shane Black seemed intent on making this an entertaining, humorous film with a backdrop of drama and consequence, but ultimately, did not give most of those dramatic aspects their just due.  The only time he does allow any dramatic resolution is in trying to tie off all character threads at the end like it was a conclusion to a trilogy.  Black also sacrifices coherent, intelligent, and solid storytelling for a few extended gags.  I mean, if you’re not going to do the Mandarin justice, don’t bother putting him in the film at all.  Also, don’t bother having that PTSD aspect part of Tony’s character if you’re not actually going to have him go through the process of dealing with and overcoming it.  While Iron Man 2 was an over-bloated film with too many plot threads and a story that veered off track, I can still enjoy it because it at least did nothing to raise my ire.  It’s a lightly enjoyable mess.  This film has enough abrasive stinging points for me to say I don’t really like it.  There are things in it I do like and found a lot of enjoyment from, but as a whole, those miscues and bad ideas sour me to it.  After I found The Avengers to be a largely entertaining, yet hollow movie with a paper thin plot and stock villains, I had hopes that the individual sequels would be better developed and more substantive, like what had come before.  While Iron Man 3 has substance, this was not at all the right script to sign off on.  I’ve loved a lot of Shane Black’s work from Lethal Weapon to The Monster Squad to The Last Boy Scout, but this is clearly where Marvel Studios should have exercised more creative control, in my opinion.  Maybe you won’t find these issues so objectionable upon your viewing of the film, but for me, they really drive me away from wanting to see it again.  There is a lot of entertainment value to be had, but this film, for me, features more than just a few stumbling blocks.  It has some rocky pot holes in its road.


Iron Man 2 (2010)

Iron Man 2I do like this sequel.  I’ve never vocalized any criticism of it because it is fun and enjoyable, but yeah, it does have some problems that should be pointed out.  Probably its biggest is a few too many plot threads running through it.  They never make the film incomprehensible, just a little bloated, but there is the fact that the film constantly veers off track by following the wrong story after not too long.  It had promise at the start, but let’s see how exactly they dash that.

Now that Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has revealed to the world that he is Iron Man, the entire world is now eager to get their hands on his hot technology – whether it’s the United States government, weapons contractors, or an unknown enemy.  That enemy happens to be Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) – the son of now deceased Anton Vanko, Howard Stark’s former partner.  Stark had Vanko banished to Russia for conspiring to commit treason against the US, and now Ivan wants revenge against Tony – and he’s willing to get it at any cost.  But after being humiliated in front of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, rival weapons contractor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) sees Ivan as the key to upping his status against Stark Industries after an attack on the Monaco 500.  All the while, an ailing Tony has to figure out a way to save himself, stop Vanko, and get Hammer before the government shows up and takes his beloved suits away.

Simply said, I think Iron Man 2 could have been a better movie if it didn’t overload itself with so many plots.  The story we get with Tony dealing with a self-destructive mentality has some great stuff in it.  Instead of dealing with alcoholism, which has been a major issue for Stark in the comics, it deals with his failing health due to issues with his arc reactor.  What’s saving his life is also killing him is a fine idea.  I do like that this ties into Ivan Vanko and Howard Stark, creating something that appears cohesive in concept.  Yet, adding in all the unneeded machinations of Justin Hammer and the S.H.I.E.L.D. plot elements convolutes things, taking away the focus and poignancy of the core story.

I feel that everything directly involving Tony dealing with his father’s legacy, and rebuilding himself is excellent.  It creates the weight and gravity of the film, and it is what I love about Iron Man 2.  While it does seem like the filmmakers kind of took Tony back a step from the more altruistic and compassionate guy he became in the last film, I can see how Tony’s deteriorating health could alter his personality and disposition.  Once Tony’s health is on the upswing, and he becomes inspired by his father’s legacy, he rises back up to being that hero we knew.  Still, that kicks in for the third act, and so, for the majority of the picture, we have the more self-absorbed, self-destructive Tony Stark.  Downey continues to do a fantastic job in the role bringing his charm and charisma into the fold to maintain Tony as likeable even if he’s being a belligerent ass.  You know there’s a better guy underneath and he just needs a kick in the back side to open his eyes and mind again.

Obviously, I really liked Terrence Howard as Rhodey, but after a disagreement over money, Marvel replaced him with the equally talented Don Cheadle.  He does a fine job following up on what Howard did, but admittedly, I can’t help but constantly think how Howard might’ve played things a little differently.  That’s not a knock on Cheadle, who I love, just the unfortunate fact of having to re-cast a role.  Regardless, Don Cheadle is a strong fit for this role focusing more on a character of serious candor and conviction with a few touches of humor.  We still get moments of compassion from Rhodey, but he’s forced into a more conflicted role of trying to help Tony, even went it turns adversarial, while maintaining loyalty to the U.S. military.  Cheadle takes the role and runs with it adding his own vibe and depth to it while not betraying what was done previously.

Scarlet Johansen is amazingly sexy and killer as Black Widow.  She’s got some sharp, alluring chemistry with Downey.  Natasha Romanov is able to lead Stark on while also never giving into his advances, making her a very smart and assertive character.  When it comes time to kick ass, she is immensely impressive handling all the agile fighting skills beautifully.  She’s a wonderful and vibrant fit for this role.

On initial viewings, I found Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer to be nearly insufferable and obnoxious.  He came off like the lame guy at the party trying to act like the coolest guy at the party and failing.  I understand that this is sort of the intention with the character.  Make him seem like a second rate Tony Stark who is more lame by trying to be cool, but annoying is sort of what I got out of the performance.  The film sets him up as this inferior and incompetent competitor to Stark, and he never becomes anything but incompetent and egotistical.  No one in the film is really buying any of the bull he’s selling, especially Vanko, and you can see that even he views Hammer as a foolish, abrasive joke.  Rockwell is a highly talented actor with many various talents, but I think this character is too much.  He eats up so much scenery and screentime while being one of the least consequential characters in the movie.  At times, I can enjoy him more now, finding some humor in what Hammer is doing, especially during his weapons presentation to Rhodey, but the film really would have been far better off without this character.

It’s almost sad that Hammer has so much screentime compared to Mickey Rourke.  While Ivan Vanko’s story is simply revenge, it has more potential substance than Hammer’s purely ego-driven scheme.  It would’ve pushed the more internal conflicts with Tony into the foreground, and have Vanko represent everything wrong and twisted with his family’s legacy.  Rourke can be a fantastic actor, or in the least, a very entertaining one.  There are scenes here where Rourke does very solid dramatic work, especially when Vanko and Stark meet after the Monaco incident.  Rourke makes this a great, intimidating, and menacing villain that should have been the main threat throughout the movie.  Yet, he quickly becomes relegated to be a minor character after he joins up with Hammer, and even the conclusion to his part of the film is very dismissive as a generic “villain in a suit” throwaway action sequence.  With so many plot threads weaving through this film, it seems the filmmakers lost sight partway through of what was pertinent to the core story and what was just entertaining fluff.

The scene between Vanko and Stark after the race track incident is the best scene of the film, and it is terribly wasted.  The thematic material Vanko brings up in it and the questions about the Stark family legacy are barely followed through on in the remainder of the film.  This scene establishes a serious, dramatic tone that is not really revisited.  Even in the trailers, this was the dramatic hook for me.  If this set the tone for the remainder of the film, it would have been a tremendously solid film, but alas, that was not to be.

Again, the film is a little over bloated and a bit indulgent.  Stuff about Vanko obsessing over his bird is entirely frivolous, but thankfully, doesn’t take up more than a few minutes of screentime.  Yet, the film has little moments like this where it indulges in extraneous junk, such as in the Senate Committee meeting.  The film gets cluttered with too much junk that it can’t see the track to stay on it.  The main plot of this film deals with Tony Stark falling apart and having to rebuild himself by rediscovering his father’s legacy.  That’s apparent right from the beginning, and it would have flowed very well if the film dealt mainly with Ivan Vanko’s intentions of revenge.  It would all thematically tie in solidly, but again, it is the Justin Hammer aspect that disrupts that plotline of the film.  The first part of the film through Vanko’s incarceration is great to me.  It felt like the film was on-track, for the most part, towards a meaty story filled with emotional resonance.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t maintain that because the filmmakers felt it was necessary to add a second, frivolous villain who overshadows the more superior and relevant villain.  This really is my main gripe with the movie, and it is why I keep harping on it.  Vanko has strong motivations based in bitter emotions that make him a formidable adversary.  Hammer just has ego going for him, and that is just not very interesting.  Beyond that, he’s just a lame character good merely for small jokes, not a forefront storyline.

Now, people say that this film being a setup for The Avengers is its biggest problem.  Frankly, that is barely part of the movie.  Yes, there are ways you could have written Nick Fury and Black Widow out of this for a tighter, less crowded movie, but let’s look at what they contribute to the film.  They provide Tony with an injection that curbs the symptoms of his ailment, provide him with further knowledge into his father which leads to Tony discovering the new element to power his Arc reactor, and Black Widow helps to stop Vanko’s assault with the Hammer Drones.  They don’t actually impede upon the plot, or wedge their own plot into the film, they are part of the on-going plot of the movie.  They assist Stark with various aspects of it, and while they are there in order for there to be a segue into The Avengers and more concretely establish S.H.I.E.L.D., they don’t hijack the movie from Iron Man.  It’s still his movie, and they just happen to be in it.

On the upside, Iron Man 2 does feature some excellent action sequences.  They are all different and exciting from Vanko’s attack on the race track, which creates a sense of grave peril, to the fast-paced finale teaming Iron Man and War Machine together against the Hammer Drones.  It does have less action than the first film, but what Jon Favreau and his creative team of filmmakers achieved with these sequences is still excellent.  There’s enough plot going on to maintain a rhythm and pace in the film for it to survive and mostly thrive without the aid of additional action sequences.  I do feel that the Hammer Drone attack is far more satisfying than when Vanko shows up in his Whiplash suit.  This is mainly because the Hammer Drone segment is just an action scene with the sole intent of delivering excitement in a smart and slick fashion.  Vanko’s conclusion, again, feels flat and secondary, at best.

Regardless of its problems, I still do find Iron Man 2 quite an enjoyable film with plenty of excitement, charisma, mostly great performances, and some very smart ideas for evolving Tony’s character.  I do think that Marvel Studios had all the right talent and elements, but weren’t able to either trim them down for a leaner story or arrange them in the most effective order.  You could have Justin Hammer be in the film without him dominating so much of the plot.  He could easily be a more minor character enabling Vanko, who remains in the forefront enhancing the thematic elements of the story.  In any case, many do see this film as a stumbling block in just the Iron Man franchise, but I’m far from thinking it’s terrible.  I know others disagree.  It’s a film that still had substance and evident talent behind it which still manages to be entertaining, in my view.


Iron Man (2008)

M Payoff 1shtSometimes, when you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.  That’s how I feel about the Marvel films.  Until Iron Man, I don’t think anyone entirely handled the Marvel Comics properties correctly on a consistent basis, and so, it took until Marvel Studios was launched for a cohesive and high quality franchise of films to be created.  This was the groundwork, and on every level, it was a stunning success.

Billionaire industrialist and genius inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is the CEO of the leader in military weaponry, Stark Industries.  After Stark conducts a demonstration of the company’s state of the art Jericho Missile, his convoy is attacked and he is taken captive by a group of insurgents who want Stark to build him their own missile.  Instead, using his intelligence and ingenuity, Tony builds a high-tech suit of armor and a means to prevent his death from the shrapnel left in his chest by the attack.  Stark soon escapes captivity, and when he returns to the United States, he  changes his outlook on life, and begins to dedicate himself to peace instead of war.  He finds opposition and criticism from his closest confidants in business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), his best friend Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (Terence Howard), and his smart and affectionate secretary Peppers Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).  Yet, when he uncovers a nefarious plot with global implications, Tony Stark dons his powerful armor and vows to protect the world as Iron Man.

This is absolutely one of the best superhero origin stories ever realized on film.  I had not been thoroughly impressed with any Marvel Comics movies before this since Blade.  Whether it was unfaithfulness to the source material, the wrong talent involved, or the wrong tone being implemented, nothing from X-Men to Daredevil to Spider-Man ever really got it completely right in my view.  Iron Man is a perfect example of handling it right.  This set an excellent tone for the full Marvel Cinematic Universe, and also reflects the tone of Marvel Comics, in general.  It can have good drama, but usually, Marvel Comics are meant to be largely fun and colorful.  Director Jon Favreau does an exemplary job meshing those ideas together in a very cohesive and entertaining film.

It’s beautiful how Favreau sets up and establishes Tony Stark here.  We get a dash of the charisma and personality followed by the awards ceremony video package detailing his history in short.  It gives you all the basics right up front in an entertaining and succinct fashion.  This style permeates the film being sharp, smart, and stylish.  It also reflects Stark’s personality.  He’s a man of sharp wit, arrogant intellect, but is irrefutably charming and fun.  I can hardly imagine anyone but Robert Downey, Jr. pulling off this diverse and engaging role.  The charming yet arrogant egotist is a major challenge, but it seems to come easy to Downey.  It’s that sense of heart and lovability he adds in there, especially opposite Paltrow, which allows Tony Stark to come off as a charismatic joy instead of a self-important jerk.  Downey is simply a vibrant, solid leading man who handles the dramatic, soul searching aspects of Tony Stark as strongly as the fun, humorous bits.  He’s compelling and electric on screen.  He makes that subtle, yet profound evolution from the self-important genius to the selfless, righteous hero masterfully.  He doesn’t just embody Tony Stark, he launches him into excellence.

Jeff Bridges does an excellent job as Obadiah Stane.  He’s an immensely diverse actor able to do the full spectrum from kind hearted hero to tough, gritty guy, and here, he gives us some taste of that whole range.  We get the upbeat, friendly guy who is very close to Tony, and can work an awards ceremony audience or a press conference with charisma and spin.  Then, we get the gradual transition to the intimidating, menacing villain.  It’s a masterful turn towards the corrupt businessman willing to sell out his company, best friend, and country for profit.  Bridges embraces all of these fascinating aspects with great zeal making Stane a very solid and smart enemy for Stark to combat.  In general, he just plays an awesome heavy.  And apparently, Bridges always wanted to shave his head for a role, and I think maybe that propelled his enjoyment of the character.

I also really love Terrence Howard.  He’s an amazing actor that I hold in high value.  As Lt. Colonel James Rhodes, he’s really a joy.  The strongest qualities are his vibrant chemistry with Downey, and the sense of compassion and honor he has.  Rhodey’s clearly a great character with a lot of depth and dynamics to offer, and I think Howard was wonderful in this part.  It’s a performance that gives us a character of potential, and while it’s unfortunate that Howard could not negotiate a return for the sequel, the character has yet to go to waste in any actor’s hands.  And of course, I’ve always loved the little tease of War Machine we get going into the third act.  It’s a great moment thrown out for fans, but also works smartly for non-comic fans.

And of course, Gwyneth Paltrow is wonderful as the sweet and smart Pepper Potts.  It’s great how Pepper brings out the heartfelt honesty in Tony, and Paltrow does that with some great subtlety and charm.  She makes Pepper this interesting person who can be very assertive and a sharp business personality, but then, get very sweet and flustered when trying to keep up with Tony’s rapid fire wit.  The chemistry between her and Downey is beautiful, and really allows for the humanity of Tony Stark to show through.

What we get here is a very strong and smart origin story that never bogs us down.  So many origin stories seem to suck up a lot of time just establishing every little element methodically before we get to see the hero come into being.  With Iron Man, the film unfolds at a tight rhythm always pushing the story and character forward to where you are fully invested in Tony Stark, and what he’s going through.  We see the man himself evolve and change his sensibilities in order to make Iron Man what he needs to be.  It is a story of redemption.  Stark is reforming his ways and becoming accountable for what his company does, and how his negligent behavior has facilitated Stane’s corruption of Stark Industries.  It’s qualities like this which make Stark one of the more fascinating Marvel superheroes.  He has a lot of bad behavior and decisions to make up for while trying to build a better, safer future for everyone.  The relationship with Pepper Potts beautifully reinforces the depth of humanity that is motivating Tony.  He wants to be a better person that saves lives instead of enabling war.

I love the motivating scene where Tony is watching the newscast of the Ten Rings having ravaged Yinsen’s hometown while he is working on the Iron Man gauntlet.  It’s that moment which triggers Stark into action as a protector doing what no one else can.  That is the moment where his purpose and path is clear.  He’s been betrayed by one of his closest friends, and sees that betrayal has lead to this level of tragedy and injustice.  He will not stand for it, and that is the scene where Iron Man is solidified.

We also get those great phases as Tony goes through the Mark I, Mark II, and Mark III armors gradually refining Iron Man.  Each one is excellently adapted from the pages of the comic book making them convincing as functional pieces of machinery.  The visual effects married with practical elements create a cohesive and seamless result.  These are top grade visual effects featured throughout this movie giving us dynamic, cinematic images that serve the story superbly.

This film has plenty of sharp, smart humor.  These moments really create the fun factor of Iron Man, and maintain the entertainment value in between the scenes of action and engaging drama.  They hit in just the right moments to highlight the well written and developed qualities of these characters.  And the dramatic qualities of Iron Man are executed with equally great skill and care.  The emotional weight and drive of this story is powerfully accentuated throughout.  Excellently directed by Jon Favreau, all of this results in a movie of great thrills.

This is just filled with wonderfully done action sequences.  They are never frivolous.  They drive the story and characters forward each time.  Stark has something to fight for each time whether it’s freedom, destruction of his back market sold weaponry, or protecting those he cares for, it all has a purpose to exist.  The action climax is beautifully done.  It has bombastic intensity and emotional stakes while all the while being fun and thrilling.  It is exceptionally satisfying.

Needless to say, Iron Man is one of the best comic book movies ever made.  The casting of Robert Downey, Jr. was brilliant and pitch perfect.  There are possibly other actors that could have done a fine job with the role, but what Downey brings is that sharp wit and charisma that instantly and endlessly entertains an audience while hitting all the dramatic beats beautifully.  Favreau was also ultimately a fantastic choice for a director bringing in a lot of those same elements from behind the camera.  This was an exciting, successful launch to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that little tease after the end credits of Tony getting a visit from Nick Fury drove fans crazy at the time.  What Marvel Studios has since done with this universe and franchise is an amazing achievement that is not ready to slow down anytime soon.


Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Unlike many, I wasn’t anticipating this film for a long time.  It was only when I saw the trailer before Transformers: Dark of the Moon that I became interested and excited for it.  It seemed like a very original film in style and concept populated by a fine cast, and helmed by a proven director in Jon Favreau (Iron Man).  The film does have merit with some fine performances and entertainment value.  However, I was disappointed that the concept was not realized to its fullest extent.

In 1873, Arizona Territory, a mysterious loner (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of the desert with no memory of who he is, where he came from, or how the high tech device got latched onto his forearm.  After dispatching of some ill meaning folk, he proceeds to the small town of Absolution where is tended to by a local preacher, but soon makes trouble for the unruly Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano).  Things go further awry when the local law enforcement recognize him as Jake Lonergan, a wanted criminal.  Percy’s rich cattleman father, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), comes to collect his son, and Jake for stealing his gold.  However, the stand-off is cut short when the town is mysteriously attacked by alien flying crafts.  The device on Lonergan’s forearm starts beeping and flashing.  The ships abduct various townspeople, but not before the device helps Lonergan blast one out of the sky.  This sets Dolarhyde, Lonergan, and several other townsfolk on a mission to recover their lost loved ones.  Taking a particular interest in Jake is Ella (Olivia Wilde), who has some secrets of her own that she needs Lonergan’s help in resolving.  They all set out on this adventure of danger together for different reasons, but towards the very same goal.

The positives of this film start with Daniel Craig.  He has great presence like the western anti-heroes of old who doesn’t need to speak much to impact a scene.  Lonergan is a man of action, and those actions speak quite clearly for him.  Of course, he is also intelligent and cunning, but not without a dash of charm and compassion.  Craig is a perfect lead handling all that befalls his character with perfect reactions, and acting like a hero you can take stock in.  Another highlight is Clancy Brown appearing as Meacham, the town’s preacher.  The character has a very refreshing philosophy on his religion.  Things such as you have to earn God’s presence.  You have to make the effort to do good deeds, to improve yourself before he’ll grace you with good fortune.  Meacham seems to believe God is more of a guiding force that helps you along the journey instead of laying it out for you to walk without question.

Harrison Ford stars here as a former Colonel named Dolarhyde who pretty much runs things around these parts.  Ford’s had an amazing career playing so many versatile roles, but I have not seen him in anything much since The Fugitive.  Here, Ford is crusty, hardened, and mean-spirited.  To a certain point, that works for the character, but Ford barely deviates from that characterization to show us what the script is trying to do with the ex-Colonel.  In concept, Dolarhyde is meant to win over an audience by showing that he’s not as bad of a man as we think, it’s just history and circumstances that have jaded him.  That’s the intention, but Ford’s performance doesn’t show that depth.  He speaks the words, but there’s no variation of emotion when he does to convey a sense of a dimensional character.  He just exists in the film.  Ford handles the action of the piece well with guns, horses, and so forth.

Olivia Wilde is about what you expect from her.  It’s no breakout performance, and it might not be everything that it should be.  However, it’s not bad.  Things in the film tend to range from mediocre to great.  Of course, too much languishes on the lower end of that spectrum.  Wilde services the role decently enough making for an all right female lead, but next to Craig, she falters.  His is such a strong character and performance that she doesn’t stand out as well as him.  The character has a nice arc, and secrets of her own to reveal.  However, like much in this film, it’s played too safe.

The supporting cast is a little mixed.  Walton Goggins is his always entertaining and memorable self as a member of Lonergan’s former band of thieves.  Paul Dano is very entertaining and a nice fit for the immature, unruly, and troublemaking Percy Dolarhyde.  He’s mostly a comic foil to contrast Craig’s harder edged character in their few scenes together, and plays it perfectly.  However, Adam Beach comes off far too flatly.  It’s clear that, by the end, we’re supposed to have some emotional resonance with the character, but there’s nothing within Beach’s performance to grasp onto.  He seems like a plain supporting cast member.  Attempts are made throughout the film to have him bond with Ford’s Dolarhyde character, but as I said, Ford doesn’t give much to help his character be anything of anything.  Sam Rockwell portrays the local bartender who has tried to make a new beginning for him and his wife here, but faces trouble every step of the way.  He’s a man facing circumstances he doesn’t have the courage or confidence to overcome.  To me, he seemed like the guy that gets dragged along on the journey even though he has nothing to contribute.  So, they slap some clichéd story arc on him of a man that’s never handled a weapon, never fired a gun, and finally comes through at the end to save someone’s life by firing a shot.  It’s terribly by the numbers.

As I said, the premise and concepts of Cowboys & Aliens should’ve been pushed further for a more fantastical experience, but that never happens.  I just felt like everything was held back.  That they had a fertile idea here that never went beyond the basics of cowboys clashing with aliens.  While meshing western and science fiction genres is not a new thing, I have not seen this particular premise played out before.  The closest would be Joss Whedon’s Firefly, which married the two concepts well in a futuristic setting.  It meshed the ideals and themes of a western into a futuristic science fiction setting, and maybe that’s where the strength of the idea lies.  Aliens abducting people from old west towns seemed cool at the beginning of the film, but the premise falters a little when you find out why the aliens are even here at all.  It was ridiculous to me that all they wanted was to mine for one natural resource because it’s valuable to them.  It’s not like it’s a fuel they need to power their machines, or a precious resource they need to sustain their species.  They just want it because it has monetary value.  That comes off as a very weak idea that someone thought up in two seconds, and never decided to evolve further.  The aliens create their own problems by coming out and abducting people.  Had they just stayed hidden in the mountains, no one would have ever known they were around.  Had they been discovered, and were almost fighting back in defense of themselves, that would be something.  Unfortunately, the aliens just come off as foolish through and through.  Their motives and methods really have no rationale or logic behind them.  Humans posed no threat to them until they unnecessarily revealed their presence, and started abducting them for the sole purpose of the learning the weaknesses of a enemy that knew nothing of their existence.

I’m also rather tired of the personality deprived alien concept.  Predator got it right by making the alien silent, but also having it demonstrate a great deal of character and personality.  That is birthed mainly from having the right person inside the suit along with someone brilliant like Stan Winston behind the design of it.  CGI has robbed us of a performer’s nuanced quality when it comes to creatures like this.  One comes off no different than another, and that is just from a lack of creativity.  They are just creatures designed to fill up the plot, and serve as a physical enemy to combat.

The visual effects are about mid-grade.  They are generally okay, but they won’t win any awards.  They service the story, and that’s about it.  They are better in some instances than others, depending on the setting and what the effect actually is, but yeah, there’s not much to really say about them all.  They definitely could be far better to improve the overall quality of the film, but that’s hardly the only shortcoming of this movie.

Another thing that I felt kept the film from reaching its full potential is a lack of atmosphere with the visuals.  The sound design and score are really solid.  I love the meshing of musical styles in the score, and I think that achieved more than the film itself did in combining western and sci-fi themes.  However, with the marketing campaign as it was, showcasing a lot of colorful, shadowy, and moody visuals, I had hoped there would be more of it than we got.  Those such scenes are handled excellently.  They are lit and shot in a very effective way as something conceptually evocative of Ridley Scott’s Alien.  However, much of the film unfolds in broad daylight scenes which offer no stylized vibe to them.  Yes, it suits the western side of things fine, but again, if this is a meshing of genres, the lines should be blurred between them.  It should be that the two styles mix to create something unique and consistent instead of switching from one look and tone to another as it shifts from the western plot elements to science fiction ones.  The film is rarely ever both a western and a science fiction film.  It’s either a western, or it’s a science fiction movie.  It doesn’t really deliver on the potential of the premise by meshing them both together in smart, clever ways.  Generally, this is a film where style and substance should have reigned in abundance, and they skimped on both.

Favreau does handle the action scenes very well.  They are compelling sequences filled with suspense, tension, and excitement.  The initial nighttime abduction scene is stellar all around with the sharp visuals, beautiful colors, and exciting tone.  Later, when everyone is hiding in a ravaged and upside down river boat, and a lone alien comes stalking, all is handled with style and horror movie level tension.  Favreau’s skill in this matter does help build up the intimidation level with the aliens.  I only wish they did make them more than just monsters to fight.

Again, Cowboys & Aliens has its bright points with Craig in the lead role, and a few of the supporting roles.  Now, the movie doesn’t become outright bad.  It’s just underdeveloped by the filmmakers, or underplayed by certain actors.  What felt like it should have been a rather memorable and remarkable genre-bending film really never takes off at any point.  Nothing is delivered on to its fullest extent, and the ending feels a little short on emotional impact for the characters.  It is an enjoyable and generally entertaining film that is worth some of your time, but expectations need to be wrangled back before watching it.