Movie Review: Iron Man
By Eric Hughes
June 18, 2008
Spidey who? Ever since Sam Raimi served up a disappointing third installment of Sony's Spider-Man franchise, the seat to Hollywood's king of comic book adaptations has been basically left vacant for the taking. Fantastic Four decidedly doesn't deserve it, and neither does X-Men, which met its own miscue issues with the release of 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand. The heir to the throne? Definitely Iron Man, a surprise to some - including myself - considering that up until a few months ago I didn't know such a comic even existed. But after watching the film in theaters recently, I couldn't help but think that Robert Downey Jr. is back - and in a big way.
For those who have yet to treat themselves to the visual delight that is Iron Man, the story centers on Tony Stark, an engineering genius and weapons expert who has a reawakening of sorts following his imprisonment by a terrorist group. Instead of following orders and building the faction a replica of his company's Jericho missile, Tony and a fellow captive develop an armored suit, powered by an ultra efficient arc reactor, which allows Tony to escape the camp and return to his California home. While there, Tony manufactures an even better suit, powered by an even better arc reactor. And alongside the birth of the superhero we have come to recognize as Iron Man, we also witness the rebirth of Tony, who vows to cease allowing his company to create new weapons in favor of a larger legacy.
First things first. The casting in Jon Favreau's take on the little known Marvel comic is impressive. Terrence Howard puts in another solid performance as military liaison James Rhodes, and Jeff Bridges breaks free of his kind, early grandfather-ish demeanor in his scary portrayal of Stark Industries executive Obadiah Stane. In fact, his bald head/full beard look appears so apparently natural that I had a tough time, at first, to remember how exactly Bridges' mug typically registers in my visual memory.
One actor I was not particularly fond of, at least at the onset, was Gwyneth Paltrow, who in the film plays Tony's assistant, Pepper Potts. I figured she looked a bit old for the part - and forgive me, considering she, as I tend to forget, is only 35. But as the film rolled onward, I grew to enjoy her charm and suppressed charisma.
However, when you get right down to it, the only casting decision that truly matters - we're talking in the long run - is Tony himself. If Paramount expects to turn Iron Man into a lucrative franchise, which it has already since Iron Man 2 is due in theaters in 2010, the studio has to wow 'em with the lead. And boy, does it hit a grand slam by signing on the eccentric Downey Jr. Really, in my mind he was the best choice for Tony Stark, who is a quirky character calling for someone with snarkiness and spunk, topped with a full helping of sass, among other qualities. And Downey Jr. delivers on all cylinders here, producing a character with surprises seemingly around every bend. Yet, he at the same time appears to have enough secrets lurking in the shadows that will undoubtedly be uncovered in later installments. Examples would be darker elements to Tony's character, like alcoholism, which director Favreau said he wants to analyze in the sequel.
What I really appreciate about Iron Man, though, is how the origin of the superhero actually derives from fairly plausible roots. This certainly isn't Spider-Man, where some stupid, mythical spider chomps on our hero, and thus enables a young boy to exhibit extraordinary abilities. In Iron Man, Tony is presented with the arc reactor, a miniaturized version of a power supply his company has already created, to help power his impressive suit, which only comes into being in the first place due to Tony's superior knowledge in the engineering field. Of course, we aren't quite "there" as far as technologies are concerned, but it's quite clear that a character like Iron Man arrives light-years ahead in believability against Superman, all of the X-Men, and the like.
In the end, Iron Man is an incredibly fun superhero flick. And like most entries in its genre, the movie works quite well as a summer release, blending snappy dialogue with fast action sequences and even a pitch of humor thrown in there too. Based on Iron Man's phenomenal box office returns, this soon-to-be franchise looks to be a summer season mainstay for many years to come. And it's a good thing, since other comparable superhero behemoths as of late have pretty much exhausted their supply of exciting storylines.