Best superhero movie ever? No. (I still say Spider-Man 2, followed by Superman and Superman II.)
Really damn great superhero movie? Hell yeah!
I'm sure I'm the last person in America, let alone the blogging world, to see this movie, but I'm throwing up a SPOILER ALERT anyway, for reasons I will soon make clear.
First of all, what a brilliant cast. Robert Downey, Jr. is off-the-charts amazing as Tony Stark. Just a pleasure to watch, every single second. The film overall is strong, but Downey propels it to another level entirely. I love Gwyneth Paltrow, and while she doesn't have a lot to do here as Tony's loyal, smitten assistant Pepper Potts, she helps bring some humanity to the film and certainly brings plenty of chemistry to her scenes with Downey. Terrence Howard is great as Tony's military pal Jim Rhodes (who, if we're playing by the comic book's background, is destined to don armor as well, and become the superhero War Machine); in fact, casting Howard in this role is bordering on overkill (same with Paltrow). And Jeff Bridges is tremendously satisfying as the villainous Obadiah Stane, a warmongering weapons manufacturer -- kind of the anti-Lebowski (sorry to drop that name again, which I feel I've done a lot of over the past year, but I've watched The Big Lebowski enough now for me to associate Bridges primarily with that character). Bridges is a great actor, and he helps to elevate a cartoonishly obvious villain far beyond the script.
Let me make clear, though: I'm not slamming the script. It's a tight and thrilling two hours, and I was never close to bored. An evil industrialist is cartoonishly obvious, yes, but the script doles out Obadiah's villainy in appropriately increasing increments, and Bridges sells the hell out of it. Downey's transformation from shallow playboy to... slightly less shallow playboy with a conscience (my favorite line comes after his transformative experience in captivity: as he enters the big gala, he responds to a beautiful woman's plea, "Remember me?" with a callous, "Sure don't!") plays out quite well; it's believable, from the writing and the performance, that Tony never even gave a thought to how his weapons might be misused until his face was rubbed right in it, until he saw American soldiers and civilian innocents threatened and killed (not to mention getting himself near-mortally wounded) by the weapons he built and sold.
And the direction is also fantastic. I haven't seen director Jon Favreau's space adventure Zathura, which is the only thing on his resume that comes close to the FX-loaded Iron Man, so I was incredibly impressed to find he had the skills to pull off a blockbuster like this. It's obvious he cares as much about the characters, maybe more (probably much more), as he does about the big whiz-bang action scenes, which is exactly the opposite of most blockbuster directors, who treat story and characters as excuses to get to explosions. Favreau also blatantly mimics (or homages) Robert Altman's signature overlapping dialogue throughout the film, which creates, with its attempt to mirror the reality of everyday conversations, a significantly different feel from any other superhero movie ever filmed. That said: he still blowed up shit real good.
What didn't I like about the film? Not much I can put my finger on. The Afghani terrorist villains were a bit uninteresting and generic, though I enjoyed the fact that the terror network was called the Ten Rings. And I don't think the main terrorist was ever definitively killed off -- does that mean he'll return in the sequel as the Mandarin? (As I had to explain to my non-comics reading buddy after the movie, and as I will now explain to the non-comics readers among you, the Mandarin is one of Iron Man's greatest enemies; his power comes from ten rings, one on each finger, each of which has a different super-cool effect.) But other than that... it was missing a certain je ne sais quoi, is about the best I can explain it. I loved it, but it's not immediately selling me on the whole "best superhero movie ever" thing. I'd like to see it again (and probably will many times on DVD), and see if it can convince me, because I have the feeling I could be convinced. There's just something a little bit off about it -- a vague feeling that it's falling short of some threshold of epicness I was expecting -- that's making me withhold that ultimate stamp of approval.
Oh, and as for that last shot, after the credits -- hell yes, I loved seeing me some Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson as Nick Fury. Sadly, the fact that this was going to happen was spoiled for me by, of all people, Sean T. Collins, which is disappointingly uncharacteristic of him. I mean, check his spoiler alerts for this post about Lost, or this other Lost post, in which he takes care to edit out character names from events that happened seasons ago. Or this recent post in which he laments another blogger's spoiling of M. Night Shyamalan's upcoming film The Happening. I'm not trying to be a dick or call you out or anything, Sean, but -- come on, man!!! Your blog was the last place I expected to see a spoiler like that. (Whether the revelation of an actor and the character he's playing in a ten-second cameo is a legitimate spoiler or not, you may all debate -- but I vote yes. Saying there's something after the credits that has to be seen: no. Saying exactly what it is: yes.) Hence, the spoiler alert on the top of this post. Because you just never know.