Iron Man Review (Verdict: 126 Minutes of Gadget Porn)

The Iron Man flick pressed my buttons from start to finish. Specifically, that little gadget nerd button over my heart, right where Tony Stark's arc reactor plugs in. On one hand, Stark's legendary womanising, alcoholism and vanity are way underdeveloped. (Disappointingly, Downy Jr. looks too sober.) But if you're at all interested in the future of exoskeletons, holographic 3D CAD, advanced heads up displays and stuff blowing up under the recoil-free power of repulsor beams, you're going to want to see this movie, well, just to see it.

AU: I wouldn't class anthing in here as a spoiler as such, but there are some aspects of the movie discussed that might upset some people wanting to see the film. If so, don't read it.

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The story, well, it's there. Stark, a wealthy playboy CEO and genius of his weapons company finds himself held hostage by terrorists using weapons he designed. That unbearable irony and guilt lead him to Do The Right Thing. He builds an advanced exoskeleton suit but won't sell it to the military. Oh no, he's done being a merchant of death. He's going to blow up those using his weapons for wrong and eventually he uses it to battle a Traitorous Adversary. It's believable to a nerd, like most comic books. (Because we want to believe.) But the tech, the tech is set up in a way that makes it unnecessary to suspend your disbelief. Just sit back and enjoy the techno porn. More or less.

So, this was definitely the best part: blatant displays of advanced technology and engineering scattered in almost every moment of the movie. And not the cheesy kinds you'd find in shit like The Net or Hackers or Lawn Mower Man. It all looks so good and feels so good that know-it-all part of your geek brain won't trigger alarms at the fictional gadgets. Not that often, anyhow.
Let me try to step through a few of em.

Stark, notorious womaniser, is being grilled by a gorgeous lady reporter and with a cocky turn of phrase, ends up bedding her. After a short, unexciting unsatisfying love scene you (seemingly directed by a 40 year old virgin) you find her alone the morning after. And Stark's tech hits us full in the face. The Malibu mansion's outer wall doubles as an overwrought alarm clock with translucent touch interface spitting out dozens of metrics for the day including temperatures, news and other must knows by voice and those floor-to-ceiling windows. As the camera pans away from the visuals, which I wanted to stare at for another few minutes, you see an unnecessary qwerty on the side of the wall. The reporter, skin looking so soft and wrapped in a white sheet, stares out over the ocean, but seems half astounded by the tech too. Rightfully so.

There's this whole kidnapping thing from here, and well, you see Tony banging on a suit he builds in a cave, from the trailers. Sure, OK.

Back to modern life, Stark prototypes the primary Iron Man suit as a matter of obsession, and we're brought through the process. He's got a bunch of Dell gear on multiple monitors, and a pen type stylus he waves in the air, as if he was Mickey in Fantasia. He starts a new project file, a copy of the original, and then uses the stylus to drag it all over, in real air, to a horizontal desk with a white top. The square is a holographic projector, but not some lame arse 1-way projector. He dips his hands into the well of light and the models in the air move with his touch. He starts from scratch, and so, the old designs get manually tossed into a digital bin on the side, one piece at a time. All the while, he is conversing with Jarvis, his AI butler who he assigns more menial design tasks to, like calculating the time til the prototype will be complete (5 hours or so.) At some point, one of the high points of geek giddiness, Stark's reaches into the repulsor gauntlet design hologram, and wears it. Wears a hologram!

The crowd, Techcrunch readers, and by nature, technologists, did not laugh at any of the tech until the scene where a hacking-by-usb scene occurs, complete with "Download 100% complete" popups. I will say no more.

There are, of course countless fire fights, including those versus the Final Boss, a pair of US Joint Strike Fighter planes, and plenty of terrorists, and a tank. All very satisfying applications of the suit, but you can find that in any superhero blockbuster. It was all the underlying geek subtext inbetween all the fights that made it worthwhile.

You've seen the suit in the seductive movie trailers, including this one where an army of robot helpers dress Stark up, and another where he tests out the HUD and flight capabilities. Just know there's a lot more of that, and to good effect. When he first puts it on, the dialog between Stark and Jarvis reaches its nerdiest, with talk of suit compression leaks at altitude, Titanium gold alloys, air control surface test runs, and a lot more stuff I can't remember and shouldn't spoil. Oh wait, wait, there's a fun moment when Jarvis is giving Stark constant alerts of impending battery run down and Stark yells back,"Shut up, just put it on my screen!" for an instant UI tweak. Watching the suit develop through trial and error helps to explain the power the exo skeleton has, and all the times he screws up while doing test run make everything just a little more digestible of a fantasy.

The source of Iron Man's power is that little glowy ring in his chest, which creates massive power for its size. (3 Kilajoules per second or something in its beta form.) That too would be suspect since Tony micronised the company's room sized cold war arc reactor technology to fit in a watch box while being held captive in a cave. But hey, you're dealing with a genius here; the best engineers in Stark Enterprises attempt to recreate it in the labs, and call it impossible without Stark's spark.

Again, I'd say that Tony Stark's character was underplayed. Yes, Robert Downy Junior was a natural in this role as a drunk, womanising playboy. But I don't think the script let him run far enough with those facets.

Another thing: Tony's taste in real estate, women and weapon tech is high end, but the product placement of every day brands didn't live up to the man's lifestyle. I nitpick: Don't mind the wonderful Audi R8 in a dull silver (or those fake burn out noises that Quattro doesn't suffer from and the lower end V8 engine), the S5, and a Q7 which plays as projectile in one urban battle. I mean, I like Audi, but the suit stole the show. The same complaint goes for the LG/Verizon handsets which do video chat in the Afghani desert, and the Dell gear all over the place. At least I think I saw some Linux action going on in there. But I'd peg Stark for a guy who'd use a Nokia or Sony Ericsson, if not a hacked A-Phone.

Even the final tick of a solution to the movie's final problem is a technical one having to do with the suit's flight surfaces at altitude. The explosions never cease, but the answer to the conflict has to do with the gear's engineering. It's a triumph of fantasy tech gear over evil. And that's why Iron Man could be the perfect Gizmodo blockbuster.

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