“IRON MAN” (2008) Review

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“IRON MAN” (2008) Review

I had never heard of the Marvel comic book hero, Iron Man, until I saw the trailer for the new movie, a few months ago. Mind you, I had heard of Iron Man’s alter ego – Tony Stark. The latter’s name had been mentioned in several Internet articles written about Spider-Man. Which is why I could not summon any excitement when I saw the trailer for the new movie starring Robert Downey, Jr.

Until the release of 2000’s “X-MEN”, I have never been that familiar with most of Marvel Comics’ costumed crime fighters – with the exception of Spider-Man, the Hulk and the Fantastic Four. I had spent a great deal of my recreational time with DC Comics characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Just about anyone could imagine my reaction when I learned that Robert Downey Jr. had been signed to portray Tony Stark aka Iron Man. Not particularly thrilled. But I was impressed by the major cast of actors who had signed up for the film – Downey, Gwenyth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges. All four performers have been favorites of mine over the years, along with director Jon Favreau. And since “IRON MAN” was a Marvel Comics film, I decided to give it a chance.

I might as well say it right now. “IRON MAN” has already become one of my favorite movies of 2008. And if I must be honest, I think it is one of the BEST superhero movies I have ever seen, hands down. I would place “IRON MAN” in the same golden circle as“X-MEN 2: X-UNITED” (2003)“SPIDER-MAN 2” (2004) and “BATMAN BEGINS” (2005). Yes, it is that good.

What would be the point of focusing upon the movie’s many virtues, when my previous statements pretty much said it all? But . . . I am going to try, anyway. And I would like to start with the excellent screenplay written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Arthur Marcum and Matthew Hollaway. They managed to create a good, solid story focusing upon Iron Man’s origins. In an unusual move, the writers began the story with Tony Stark in Afghanistan in the company of an Army escort. Stark had just presented a demonstration of Stark Industries’ latest weapon – the Jericho missile. While Stark jokes around with his military escort, Afghan terrorist group called Ten Rings. At this point, the movie rewind back to thirty-six hours earlier before Stark’s departure from the States. This opening immediately conveyed to me that the movie might turn out to be ten times better than I had originally assumed. By the time Tony Stark uttered those last words – ”I’m Iron Man” – it proved me right.

There are two aspects of “IRON MAN” that truly made it a cinematic gem for me. One happened to be Jon Favreau’s direction. The other turned out to be the movie’s superb cast. And speaking of the cast, I might as well start with the man of the hour. What can I say about Robert Downey Jr.? He IS Tony Stark aka Iron Man. Downey now owns the role. I have never seen an actor take possession of a role so thoroughly since Daniel Day Lewis in “THERE WILL BE BLOOD”, Daniel Craig’s debut as James Bond in“CASINO ROYALE”and Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in the “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN”trilogy. Downey is also the first actor or actress I have seen portray a comic book hero as a wiseass. And he also managed to produce sparks with not only his supporting cast, but also with an android and a computer voice.

Supporting Downey was Terrence Howard as USAF Lieutenant Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Air Force liaison to Stark Industries and personal friend of Tony Stark. Howard portrayed Rhodes as a stalwart military man who found Stark’s cavalier life both exasperating and enduring. I have never seen Howard do comedy . . . until this movie. And I was surprised to discover that his flair for comic timing seemed to match Downey’s. Some people have pointed out his role had been reduced. I cannot say that I agree. One, he had yet to become War Machine, Tony’s future armored crime fighting partner. However, his line – ”Next time, baby” – as he glanced at the extra armor suit seemed to hint that he will play a bigger role in future movies. And two, Howard possessed such a strong on-screen presence that no one was bound to forget . . . no matter how many scenes he had.

When I first learned that Gwenyth Paltrow would be playing Stark’s personal assistant, Virginia “Pepper” Potts, I found myself wondering if her career was in a decline. Playing the main hero’s Girl Friday seemed like a step down – even from her role in”SKY CAPTAIN: WORLD OF TOMORROW”. Fortunately, the script and Paltrow’s witty and elegant performance gave her the opportunity rise above the usual cliché of the Girl Friday role. Mind you, “Pepper” Potts never struck me as interesting as the charming and conniving Polly Perkins from ”SKY CAPTAIN”. But instead of becoming the “damsel-in-distress”, Paltrow ended up helping Stark/Iron Man to defeat the main villain. Good show!

Speaking of villains, I must applaud Jeff Bridges for portraying one of the smoothest that I have seen on the silver screen – namely Tony Stark’s business partner and mentor Obadiah Stane. Not even Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine from ”STAR WARS” had possessed such subtlety when it came to evil. At first glance, Bridges did not seem the type who could effectively portray a villain. Then I recalled his performance in the 1985 thriller with Glenn Close, ”JAGGED EDGE”, in which he portrayed a similarly subtle villain. Being a skillful actor, Bridges managed to convey many aspects of Stane’s personality – a superficial warmth and intelligence that hid a murderous and manipulative streak.

Another memorable villain was portrayed by actor Faran Tahir, who portrayed Raza, leader of the terrorist group – the Ten Rings – hired to kidnap Stark while the latter was in Afghanistan. Like Bridges, Tahir did an admirable in projecting villainy with suave, sophistication and a strong presence. In regard to a strong presence, I could say the same about Shaun Tolb, who portrayed Dr. Ho Yinsen, an Afghan surgeon and captive of the Ten Rings that saved Stark’s life. I have seen Talb portray some interesting characters over the years. But I must admit that his warm, yet firm portrayal of Yinsen made me realize that he possessed quite a commanding presence.

As I had earlier pointed out, the movie’s four screenwriters managed to produce a script that featured a very solid story. Unlike many other comic book movies, ”IRON MAN”seemed to be laced with a great deal of witty dialogue and humor. There were times when I wondered whether I was watching a superhero action film. But there was plenty of action-filled scenes to remind me that this movie was basically an adventure film – like Iron Man’s two encounters with the Ten Rings group in Afghanistan, his encounter with two USAF fighter planes and his showdown with Stane in downtown Los Angeles. Director Jon Farveau, along with the four screenwriters and cast, managed to bring together all of the action, humor and drama with perfect balance.

Okay . . . let me rephrase my last sentence. Perhaps ”IRON MAN” was not completely ”perfect”. In fact, it was not really perfect at all.  I do have  some quibbles about the movie. One of them happened to be the first sequence in Afghanistan. I realize that the setting of Iron Man’s origins could not be in Vietnam. And it would make sense for the setting to be changed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. The problem is that most of the sequence featuring Stark’s captivity by the Ten Rings was boring as hell. It almost seemed to drag forever. And matters did not help much that most of this sequence was set inside a series of caves. Another problem I had with the movie was its score. Quite frankly, I found it unmemorable. But I am not surprised. I can only think of three comic book hero movies that had a score or theme song I found memorable. Unfortunately, ”IRON MAN” is not one of them.  And if I must be brutally honest, I would not regard the film’s narrative as particularly original or mind blowing.  The plot for “IRON MAN”was basically a paint-by-the-numbers comic book hero origin story.  Only the character of Tony Stark made it unique . . . at least back in 2008.

But despite the first Afghanistan sequence and the movie’s score, it is easy to see why ”IRON MAN” proved to be one of the best summer movies of 2008. With Jon Farveau in the director’s chair and Robert Downey Jr. as the leading man, the movie became – well, briefly – one of the best of its genre.

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“JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK” (2016) Review

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“JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK” (2016) Review

Four years after the release of the 2012 hit, “JACK REACHER”, Tom Cruise starred in a second movie featuring the main character in “JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK”. The movie is an adaptation of Lee Childs’ 2013 novel, “Never Go Back”

Directed by Edward Zwick, who worked with Cruise in the 2003 movie “THE LAST SAMURAI”“JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK”begins with former Army officer-turned vigilante drifter setting up a small town law officer to be arrested for human trafficking. It turns out that this latest case was one of several in which he had been assisting an Army officer named Major Susan Turner. When he finally arrives in Washington D.C. to meet her, Reacher discovers from a Colonel Sam Morgan that Turner had been accused of espionage and arrested. Turner’s attorney, Colonel Bob Moorcroft, later reveals that Turner might be involved in the murder of two soldiers in Afghanistan. Reacher believes that Turner has been framed. He also learns from Moorcroft that an old acquaintance named Candice Dayton has filed a paternity suit against him, claiming that he is the father of her 15 year-old daughter Samantha.

When Moorcroft is murdered by an unknown assassin, Reacher is blamed, arrested and transported to the same prison where Turner is being detained. Assassins arrive to kill her, but Reacher rescues Turner and the pair escape and make their way to Morgan’s home upon realizing that he is a part of the conspiracy. Unfortunately, following their meeting with Morgan, the latter is murdered by the assassin. Worse, Reacher and Turner’s enemies become aware of Samantha and try to use her as a means to control the former. Reacher and Turner intervene before the adolescent girl could be snatched. With Samantha in tow, the pair set out to discover the details behind the conspiracy that has framed both of them; and evade an Army unit led by one Captain Anthony Espin, who was under Turner’s command.

After watching this movie in the theaters, I had overheard another theater patron claim that the 2012 movie was better. Apparently, many critics seemed to share the guy’s feelings since the movie had garnered mixed reviews. And yet . . . I personally found it hard to share their views. I would not say that “NEVER GO BACK” was better than “JACK REACHER”. But I do not believe it was inferior to the other film. However, I am not going to waste my time in examining why others believe it was the inferior of the two films. After all, what is the point?

I certainly had no problem with the film’s production values. “JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK” was set in Washington D.C. and New Orleans. As someone who has always enjoyed visiting both cities, I must say that Oliver Wood’s sharp and colorful photography did justice to both cities. I also impressed by Billy Weber’s film editing. I thought his work was especially impressive in the sequence that featured Reacher breaking Turner out of a military jail and the pair’s attempt to save Samantha from the mysterious assassin during a Mardi Gras parade on the streets of New Orleans.

But like the 2012 movie, “JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK” had a well-written plot that I found intriguing. What I found interesting about this story is that the actual crime(s) that kick-started the story had occurred before the movie’s first reel – namely the murder of two U.S. Army soldiers in Afghanistan, who had been investigating a military contractor on her unit’s behalf. Thanks to the script written by Zwick, Richard Wenk and Marshall Herskovitz; I came to the conclusion that the movie had been set up to resemble a cold case. While Reacher and Turner struggle to evade arrest by a pursuing Captain Espin or murder by the mysterious assassin . . . and take care of the young Samantha, they also investigate the two soldiers’ murders. The entire scenario seems to be one balancing act.

If I must be brutally honest, I do have one problem with the story. “NEVER GO BACK” started with Reacher helping Turner arrest a lawman for human trafficking. I never understood why an Army officer would be involved in such a case in the first place. It seemed like one for the F.B.I. More importantly, Reacher and Turner had yet to meet face-to-face. Unless a piece of dialogue had evaded me, the movie never explained how the pair became acquainted with each other in the first place. I understand that they had first became aware of each other in one of Lee Childs’ previous “Jack Reacher” novels. But I wish the movie’s screenplay had been more clear about the matter in this film.

The performances featured in “JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK” struck me as pretty first-rate. Tom Cruise did his usual excellent job in portraying the ex-military vigilante. He was ably supported by Cobie Smulders’ excellent performance as Army officer Major Susan Turner, who seemed outraged by the criminal charges against her. Both Cruise and Smulders had one great scene in which their characters argued over who would remain in their New Orleans hotel to guard Samantha, while the other conduct their investigation. I found their performances rather entertaining to watch.

The movie also featured solid performances from Aldis Hodge, who portrayed the pursuing young and intense Army officer Captain Anthony Espin; Patrick Heusinger as the ruthless and barely stoppable assassin; Holt McCallany as the corrupt Colonel Sam Morgan; Austin Hebert as former soldier-turned-homeless drug addict Daniel Prudhomme; and Robert Catrini as Turner’s attorney, Colonel Bob Moorcroft. There were two performances that really caught my attention, but for different reasons. Robert Knepper, of whom I am usually a fan, seemed a bit over-the-top to me as a military contractor named former General James Harkness. On the other hand, I was very impressed by Danika Yarosh’s performance as the embittered adolescent Samantha Dayton, who may or may not be Reacher’s biological daughter.

Well . . . I cannot dictate the opinions of movie critics or any filmgoers. I can express my own view of “JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK”. And although I feel that the movie’s beginning was a little shaky about Jack Reacher’s acquaintance with Susan Turner, I cannot deny that overall, I was very impressed with the film. And I believe that Edward Zwick’s top-notch direction, along with a pretty solid script and a talented cast led by Tom Cruise, made this movie just as enjoyable as its 2012 predecessor.