Saturday, May 31, 2008

What Makes Iron Man So Good?

I just came back from seeing Iron Man, and it's been years since I've seen a superhero movie as good. Within the first 30 minutes I was hooked. (Truth be told, I was hooked within the first 5 minutes.) I sat in the theatre drawn in to the story, but also trying to hang back enough to figure out what the director, writers, and actors had done to make the film work so well. Here's what I came up with.

First, the film has wonderful character development. Tony Stark's character—his personality and motivation—come to life within minutes, but in a way that feels closer to three-dimensional rather than two-dimensional. We see that he's incredibly brilliant and bored hedonist, playing out the role smart and smart-ass industrialist without a real purpose in life. The first 30 minutes of the film don't feel like a superhero film because the characters are so well explicated and the relationships among them so clear. Unlike many superhero films, Iron Man shows the relationships among the characters rather than simply tells the viewer about the relationships through narration or embedded in dialogue.

Second, the story arc of Stark's transformation from a smart-ass hedonist into a superhero is believable. No science fiction needed—no aliens, no superpowers, no genetic mutations. Just a brilliant and creative engineer motivated to save himself and destroy his captors. (I suppose if I were an engineer I might think that the technical aspects of the story were beyond the realm of possibility, but I'm not, so the story didn't seem outlandish to me.)

Third, Stark fights two sets of enemies—one set that is clearly the "bad guys" (his captors) and the other is someone close to him. I won't give away too much here in case you haven't yet seen the film. But because Stark has enemies who are not quite so easy to spot, the story is less black-and-white than some other superhero movies where the villain is clear from the outset, such as Spiderman I.

I could go on, but I urge you to see the movie and make your own analysis.

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