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Iron Man (2008): ***½

Directed by John Favreau

This probably isn't going to be a long review because there isn't much to say about Iron Man other than that it's very, very good. It's also a whole heck of a lot of fun. It also has spectacular performances. Also the chemistry between the actors is something to behold. And the special effects are top-notch.

The whole key to the enjoyment of this movie is Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of a Tony Stark you'd love to hate but who is so ungodly likable that you just can't help but love him. He's a crass, selfish, self-absorbed, womanizing, arrogant, warmongering drunk. And yet you love him. And thankfully when he has a change of heart and becomes a superhero he doesn't change completely. He's still a crass, arrogant drunk. He's just trying to do some good for a change. Though really all he's trying to do in this movie is clean up the messes that his own company made. And you get the feeling that he really becomes a superhero just because, well, it's awesome.

There are few surprises in the story, which is the Iron Man origin story (retold very faithfully to the comics origin) and an Obadiah Stane (the "Iron Monger") story after that. The beats in the story are pretty standard. What isn't standard is the joyous energy with which the movie plunges head-first into this story. It zips along, lingering only on the parts that we actually want it to linger on. As I like to say, it POPS. Also un-standard are the things that come out of the characters' mouths. The script wasn't complete when they started filming; they only had the scene-by-scene breakdown but not all of the dialogue. So Favreau wisely let his actors just improvise good chunks of their dialogue, including the hilarious speech at the beginning of the movie (see below1) and much of the great interactions between Tony Stark and Gwynneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts.

Paltrow is great as Pepper Potts, Stark's long-suffering secretary. She plays her as kind of an old-fashioned girl Friday, and their interactions together really seem like they have the honest intimacy of two people who have known each other practically forever and care for each other deeply (if a bit oddly). Their dialogue scenes together are terrifically fun (see below2) and they have that old-timey, 1940s style banter rhythm.

One of the funniest things about the movie was pointed out by my brother: There is a central irony that Tony Stark doesn't really need the Iron Man armor. Tony Stark already has the superpower of invulnerability. Cases in point: He falls about 200 feet encased entirely in iron (the original suit he made) and walks away completely unscathed. He is flung upwards and backwards into a wall and falls about 12 feet ONTO HIS HEAD and walks away unscathed. Any normal man would have been broken.

1Tony Stark: They say that the best weapon is the one you never have to fire. I respectfully disagree. I prefer the weapon you only have to fire once. That's how Dad did it, that's how America does it... and it's worked out pretty well so far.

2Tony Stark: Am I making you uncomfortable?
Virginia 'Pepper' Potts: Oh, no, I always forget to wear deodorant and dance with my boss in a room full of people I work with in a dress with no back.
Tony Stark: Well, you look great. You smell great. But I could fire you if that would take the edge off.
Virginia 'Pepper' Potts: I don't think you could tie your shoes without me.
Tony Stark: I'd make it a week.
Virginia 'Pepper' Potts: A week, really? What's your social security number?
Tony Stark: [Pause] Five...
Virginia 'Pepper' Potts: [smiling] "Five?" You're missing just a couple of digits.

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