Iron Man
directed by Jon Favreau
(Paramount/Marvel, 2008)

An avid comic-book reader, I still had grown weary of the Iron Man character years ago, and I had no desire to see ol' Shellhead get the big-screen treatment ... until I saw the trailer, and I cautiously added it to my summer viewing list. Now I've seen the movie, and I'm a fan all over again.

Sometimes a movie can survive on special effects, but Iron Man avoids that pitfall by placing exactly the right man in the title role. Robert Downey Jr. is a perfect Tony Stark, covering all the bases to make him a brilliant, admirable and yet very flawed character.

The movie has a nice, brutal beginning in the Middle East, where Stark has gone to demonstrate a new and devastating missile system, before leaving him bloodied and captured while we flash back 36 hours for a little exposition and to define Stark's pre-crisis playboy mindset. There's just enough to establish him as a complete and utter ass -- albeit a brilliant one -- before flashing forward again to Afghanistan, where Stark is laboring under threat of torture and death to make weapons for his terrorist captors. But clever Tony conceals his work as he uses the raw materials at hand to build instead a clumsy, lumbering but powerful suit of armor. After blasting out of captivity, he returns to his California home conflicted about making and selling arms -- and unable to resist toying further with his rough Iron Man design.

Understand, this isn't a guy who was bitten by a radioactive spider, fell to Earth from another planet or spent his life devoted to learning the arts of combat and sleuthing. Stark becomes a hero through ingenuity alone, and it's entertaining to watch as he hashes through his ideas. And, before long, Iron Man makes his first public appearance as a gleaming missile of red and gold; from a clumsy tank that was all strength but no subtlety, he devised a sleek, almost delicate creation.

While Downey is unquestionably the right man for the role, he is supported by a cast that meets the challenge. Jeff Bridges -- bearded and bald -- is a bluff and hearty Obadiah Stane, a glad-handing industrialist who was Stark's friend, mentor and ultimate betrayer. The always luminous Gwyneth Paltrow is a sweet and competent Pepper Potts, Stark's indispensable personal assistant. And Terrence Howard, as Stark's military liaison Jim Rhodes, is champing at the bit to break his character out and do a little damage in the inevitable sequel.

The film does have its slower moments -- a lot of the movie is, after all, about a guy building stuff in his basement workshop -- but it more than compensates with plenty of mind-blowing action. From duking it out with terrorists to dogfighting jets and clashing mightily with the massive Iron Monger, Iron Man delivers a powerful punch that reminds me why comic books -- and comic-book movies -- can be so darned fun.

review by
Tom Knapp

17 May 2008

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new