Iron Man, starring Robert Downey, Jr., is a great adventure and top-flight all-around movie. Based on Jack Kirby's Marvel comic books of the 1970's, the film updates the story to reflect today's geopolitics and technology without losing much at all from the original source material, which can be a rare and difficult feat for a comic book adaptation.
Downey has described the making of the film as showing up everyday, crumpling up the script and throwing it against the wall, and starting from scratch, with director Jon Favreau playing along. Certainly the dialogue and the scenes are pre-planned, but they do have a freshness and immediacy which lends some credence to his report. Still, the structure is very solidly in the comic-book movie genre and, of course, with so many effects-laden sequences, not everything could have been improvised on the spot.
The film opens mid-story, with our hero, billionaire playboy defense contractor Tony Stark, balancing a Scotch while riding through the Afghan desert in an armored vehicle with several U.S. troops. Their convoy comes under spectacular attack, ending with Stark running for his life and realizing during his last moments of consciousness that the weapons he has just been attacked with are proudly labeled, you guessed it, "STARK."
Then we flash back in time to the weekend before, to an awards ceremony in honor of Stark in Las Vegas, including a montage of his brilliant Bill Gates-esque career as an engineering student prodigy leading to his ultimate takeover of his father's defense contracting company at a remarkably young age. Stark, of course, misses the ceremony, preoccupied with gambling and drinking. An enterprising reporter (Leslie Bibb) tracks him down and hits him with some hard questions, all of which he has clearly answered before. A quick roll in the hay with said reporter clearly establishes Stark's playboy bona fides.
Downey is excellent throughout the film, playing Stark's devil-may-care hotshot with humor and aplomb. When Stark awakens in a cave in the mountains with his heart hooked up to a large electromagnet to prevent shrapnel from the attack from entering his heart and killing him, with orders from terrorists to recreate for them his latest mega-killer bomb, his genius and sense of responsibility are revealed without clichés or sentimentality. Instead of performing his assigned task, however, Stark immediately begins improving his electromagnet to power a giant robot suit to effect his escape, with the help of Yinsen (Shaun Toub), an Arab scientist in similar straits as Stark.
All of the "origin" story is handled well and briskly, with an impressive action sequence for his escape and more during subsequent improvements to the Iron Man suit when Stark returns to the United States and his fabulous digitally rendered Malibu mansion. Also upon his return, Stark declares that his company will no longer manufacture weapons, setting up an inevitable clash with his business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges with beard and shaved head).
The Iron Man suit, which with moviemaking technology of just months ago might have seemed hokey, is put across in an extremely visually and technically impressive way. Reminiscent of RoboCop, it also establishes its own wizardry and helps define the character's hypertechnological vulnerability with wit and intelligence.
Indeed, the only quibble with the film might be that it could have used just one or two more action sequences featuring the suit in full action, but then again, why complain when a movie leaves room and an appetite for more? Downey, Bridges, Bibb, Taub, Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark's assistant "Pepper Potts" (I know), Faran Tahir as terrorist mastermind Raza, Terrence Howard as Stark's buddy and military liaison and Clark Gregg as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson all perform up to snuff and deliver a great comic-book ride of a film.
Overall, Iron Man is wonderful for comics fans and also those more unfamiliar with the comics. And stay after the credits for a worthwhile surprise and set-up for any number of possible "next films" in this series.
Followed by Iron Man 2 (2010)
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