Film Review: The Iron Giant (Brad Bird 1999)

the-iron-giant_special-edition-dvd-cover_2004.jpgIt’s been a while since I last reviewed a film but I figured it was about time I reviewed them again, starting with The Iron Giant. I was never too interested in the film as a child but as an adult I’ve wanted to watch it for quite a while, and just recently I finally got the chance. For a bit of background The Iron Giant is an adaptation of The Iron Man, a children’s story by Ted Hughes though there are a number of key differences between the book and film. Having never read the book, I will not focus on this point and will instead review the film on its own merits. The film revolves around the titular Iron Giant, whom crash lands on earth near a sleepy American town in the fifties, before being discovered by a boy named Hogarth Hughes, whom quickly befriends the giant and protects it from the united states army, represented by the paranoid agent Kent Mansley.

The first thing I noted was how beautifully animated it was, so much so that I for a long time I actually believe it to be a Disney film. In reality it was the work of Warner Bros whom had previously produced animation in movies such as Space Jam. It is a testament to the skill of the animation team that I made this error. In particular I was a huge fan of the human characters in the film who seemed to have an incredible amount of detail in their movements. The Iron Giant itself is nothing it shake a stick it either and I loved seeing the fight sequence at the end, where it finally unleashes it full arsenal in what was one of the most frighteningly beautiful scenes I have ever seen.

Most of the characters seemed to be realistic and well written. Standout characters include the giant itself, the beatnik Dean and Mansley the agent. Despite being barely able to speak at the beginning and generally having limited speech even as it learns more words, it is hard not to emphasise with the giant, particularly as it realises its true nature and begins to fight against it. Seeing it grow up and learn about humanity made it hard for me to see the giant in any kind of negative light, and seeing it struggle against its programming towards the end was one of the most heart rending scenes in the entire film.

Dean and Mansley are two similar characters in that both are wary of the giant, yet they diverge and go on to personify the ways in which humanity may react to the giant. Dean eventually accepts the giant and realises that despite everything it means no harm. Meanwhile Mansley never accepts the giant and doggedly seeks its destruction, leading him to effectively stalk Hogarth so he can get the evidence required to prove the giant’s existence to his superiors. Despite this Mansley still retains a degree of sympathy since he is clearly paranoid about the very real threat the giant could pose, though he loses said sympathy as his methods becomes increasingly more extreme. I think the ending scenes made Mansley weaker as a character since they made him more of a cartoon villain, a rabid dog who wants little more than to kill the giant no matter how many dogs he has to kick. I think it would have been better if he had at least a little sympathy at this point even in his rabid paranoia but overall his character is good despite this, I just felt like he could have been better.

The story itself is probably one of the most gut wrenching I’ve seen in a long time and ultimately it is about choosing who you want to be. The Giant’s struggles are real and the fact that is forced into a battle with the army at the end makes you feel sorry for him even after his programming forces him to unleash his full arsenal against them. When the missile heads towards the town there is a sense of dread that you don’t normally see in a movie, this idea that this really could be it. This makes the giant’s sacrifice to stop the missile all the sadder since you realise that this is the only way it can end. Granted the giant is revealed to be alive in the final scene but the fact to see him revered as a hero by the people who believe him to be dead in the scene afterwards is still sad and what makes the film one of best I’ve watched in a while.

Overall the Iron Giant is an animated classic beyond a shadow of a doubt. The animation truly brings the fifties to life and the political backdrop of the era creates an atmosphere of unease amongst the adults such as Mansley which makes their motives for being paranoid about the giant understandable. Truly an underrated gem and one I will watch again many times for years to come.

SCORE: 4.5/5

IN A WORD: SAD

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