At long last, a comic book adaptation that doesn’t reek of smugness. This is admittedly not my favorite genre, and that’s due in large part to not only the quantity and sheer mediocrity of its entrants, but also a self-seriousness that, in my view, can only be laughed at. Batman Begins emerged as an exception, and Iron Man joins the short list. Here is a film that finally has fun with its ridiculous premise, and thanks to an outstanding performance by Robert Downey Jr., we do, too.
Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark, a science prodigy and billionaire industrialist. His company, Stark Industries, produces cutting edge warfare weaponry. As the film begins he is travelling to the Middle East to debut a groundbreaking new weapon, Jericho. The transport goes awry and Stark finds himself held captive by a group of terrorists who want him to build a missile with as much punch as the Jericho. With the help of a resourceful doctor (Toub), Stark escapes the terrorist compound by making a suit out of metal scraps and charging his way out (think of it as Iron Man 1.0). Rescued and taken home, Stark is viewed as a hero. However, he now has a new outlook on how his weaponry is utilized, and his new life’s purpose becomes rebuilding his iron man suit and stopping evil on his own terms.
Iron Man delivers on all levels, and massive credit must be given to director Jon Favreau and his screenwriting team. The film doesn’t have as much action as the trailers hint at, but the story more than makes up for it. Peppered with current events and pitch-perfect humor, this adaptation is nearly flawless. There is a palpable sense of wonderment throughout, thanks in part to Stark feeling the way the audience does when he propels himself to the upper reaches of the atmosphere for the first time. The film doesn’t play down to its audience, and it’s amazing how well that can work out.
This is Robert Downey Jr.’s show from minute one, and it speaks volumes that such a great actor could wind up being most remembered as a superhero. Stark is rich beyond belief, but Downey Jr. never turns him into an elitist snob. When he gets back from captivity, he wants a burger. He acts as any of us would, and that’s why so many will identify with him. His comic timing is spot on, and there are many laugh-out-loud moments to be found. The supporting cast is also above-average for this type of fare. Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow are both perfectly cast, though Terrence Howard really isn’t given much to do. This is likely to change in later installments, however. Also keep an eye out for mastermind Stan Lee, in his best cameo yet.
Iron Man has set the bar high as we enter the summer season, and it certainly couldn’t bode better as the first entry from Marvel’s brand new production company. There is a something for everyone to be found here, even people like me who could really care less about comic books. Quality storytelling and acting still serve a purpose, and Iron Man has upped the ante for this genre big-time. We may not see a better movie this summer.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Length: 126 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content.
Theatrical Release: May 2, 2008
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby & Art Marcum & Matt Holloway. Characters by Stan Lee & Don Heck & Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby.
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leslie Bibb, Shaun Toub