Iron Man: Rated “PG-13” (126 Minutes)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges
Directed by: Jon Favreau
With the huge success of The Avengers— now playing in theaters — we thought that we’d re-present our film review of the Marvel Superhero movie that kicked off the Avengers franchise.
Although no bats had their heads bitten off during the filming of this Marvel Comics superhero outing, and Black Sabbath’s signature tune — so proximately featured in the trailer — only is played (albeit briefly) once, at the end of all the action, just prior to the roll of the credits, this film clearly announced the first of a new breed of Marvel Comics superhero films. Sure, sure, both the X-Men and Spider-Man trilogies were solid hits, some of the others were less so (Daredevil, Electra). This is totally not the case with Iron Man. Which hits the ground running with an over-the-top firefight set in the middle of the Afghanistan dessert as Millionaire, industrialist, playboy, Tony Stark’s military Humvee is blown to kingdom come and his military escort is executed by insurgents.
Updated from his comicbook Vietnam War origins, Stark’s story unfolds essentially the way you remember reading it in the comic. He is site-testing some new weapons system that he has provided to the military, he sustains shrapnel in his chest due to the explosion and saved from imminent death by a professor Yinsen (Shaun Toub — retconed here from a Chinese physicist to an Afghan PHd.), who helps Stark rig up a way to keep the shards of metal from traveling through his bloodstream to his heart (by rigging up an electromagnet in his chest and hooking it to a car battery — ingenious, if disgustingly cool). Yinsen then helps Stark build his first set of armor before sacrificing his own life that Stark could make good his escape.
Back in the states, Stark has reached an epiphany due to his traumatic experience in Afghanistan, and vows to halt production of Stark munitions, and pursue a more humane business plan. Needless to say, this greatly distresses not only Stark’s business partner Obadiah Stane (Bridges) but his stockholders as well, causing Stark Industries stock to take a serious tumble. Meanwhile, Stark himself goes into seclusion, and builds himself a new suit of armor, while (unbeknownst to him) Stane begins to manipulate the Board of Directors to oust the younger man.
The rest of this hi-tech film revolves around the humanizing (and “heroizing”) of Stark, as he comes to realize what a hollow and lonely life he had been living. The film expertly compacts the 46+ year history of the comics into a neat 126 minute running time of the film. During the course of the film we get to see most of the major players from the comics, including his crack Administrative Assistant Pepper Potts (Paltrow) his buddy/driver/bodyguard Happy Hogan (Favreau — who also directed) and James Rhodes (re-imagined as a Colonel and Stark’s liaison with the military). Hey, we even get to “meet” long-time Avengers butler Jarvis (who is cast as the disembodied sentient computer’s voice ala Hal from 2001).
Yep, this one is everything and a bag of chips. It even sets up not only the next Iron Man film, but…well by now everyone knows that plot point, if you still don’t, sit through all of the credits to learn what is about to happen, in what has to be the coolest bit of post-trailer action this reviewer has ever seen. As for the film itself, the armor is believable, the action is spot-on, and the acting is clear, clever, and pulls you right into the film itself. You totally buy Downey (with his checkered personal past) as the devil-may-care playboy, bedding Maxim girls one minute, driving his Audi R8 around town the next, and finally (brilliantly) inventing state-of-the-art hi-tech armor.
Ultimately, what truly makes the film work is that there is a fluid mix of real drama, human pathos, computer-rendered SPFX, sexual tension undercurrent romance, lighthearted hi-jinks and humor, as well as nicely-played chemistry between the film’s stars (Downy & Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Stark’s executive assistant). Especially important, the film’s producers realize that it was important for them to take the comic’s storyline as serious source material and pay homage to that material, treating the characters and storyline with at least as much respect as the producers of the comic itself treated the comic. (You can always spot when film producers, directors, and/or writers treat comicbook adaptations as “kiddy” fare. For when they do, the film completely disintegrates upon release.)
Here, it is obvious that the source material is given the kind of credibility and respectability it deserves, thus launching the film into the stratosphere for its opening weekend (not Spider-Mannumbers, but quite healthy, to be sure). So, yeah, you are going to want to watch this film a couple of times, if only to pick up on all of the fun that is to come.
Robert J. Sodaro has been writing professionally for over 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as here and elsewhere on the web.