Iron Man (Paramount)
Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content.
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
by Dan Metcalf
I feel sorry for the rest of Hollywood's so-called "summer blockbusters" for 2008. Sure, a few of them will impress or at least provide a few moments of escape from the summer doldrums, but I would be surprised if any of them reach the high-water mark set by Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr. and directed brilliantly by Jon Favreau.
It's not very often that I give and "A" grade to an action film, much less a movie based on a comic book. We've all sat through tepid comic book adaptations like Batman, X-Men, and Fantastic Four, all of which were adequate, but not entirely noteworthy. Iron Man sets a new bar of comic book movie excellence.
I could be classified as your garden-variety science fiction geek, but admittedly, I do not enter into the uber-status of comic book geek, complete with vast collections of action figures hermetically sealed in my mother's basement. I only mention this because I went to the Iron Man screening with no pretense, only having heard of the comic books, but possessing no real prior knowledge or expectation.
That said, I can truly say that Iron Man holds up as a great movie period; not just a great adaptation of a comic book.
The story of Iron Man isn't the story of a metal suit, but the man behind it, Tony Stark - a genius with that rare "rock star" status who men want to be and women want to be with. Stark has reached the pinnacle of success by creating high-tech weapons for the U.S. military machine, complete with smart bombs, missiles and gadgets that can blow up anything or anybody.
Stark's world comes crashing down when he is injured by one of his own weapons after giving a product demonstration in Afghanistan, where he and his convoy are attacked by terrorists, or militia, or the Taliban (we're not really sure who they are, but they are "the bad guys"). Stark is captured by the bad guys, but he is permanently injured by shrapnel that, if not for a magnet placed near his heart, would kill him.
Stark uses his genius to devise a plan of escape from the bad guys: he builds a suit of armor while pretending to build missiles for his captors. When he does escape, Stark has an epiphany, realizing there is more he can offer to the world than weapons of mass destruction. He sets forth to perfect his rudimentary suit built in the Afghan cave (which was destroyed during his escape, or so he thought). The new and improved suit is made, and Iron Man is born.
The soul of Iron Man is a pure creation of the film's writers and director Jon Favreau, whose most notable prior directorial success was 2003's Christmas comedy Elf, starring Will Farrell. Favreau is a rare Hollywood hybrid of a quality actor-turned-director without becoming a self-imposing auteur who stars in his own films.
While Favreau hits all the right notes as Iron Man's director, Downey takes the film even further. His leading performance, along with Oscar-caliber cast members Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard give Iron Man a solid acting pedigree, but it is Downey's performance that stands out and makes you laugh...and think about the world of war. Downey is brilliant as Stark, who struggles with his own genius and the realization that technology and brains can do more than just blow things up.
Another strength of Iron Man is its ability to make you laugh, and there are plenty of comic moments of irony throughout. Paltrow plays Stark's devoted assistant and love interest without falling into the stereotypical damsel-in-distress pitfalls so often seen in action hero movies. Terrence Howard, as Colonel Rhodes, provides some of the film's true belly laughs, delivering the "official" statements of the U.S. government.
Favreau claims he did not want Iron Man to be a "special effects" or "CG" movie, where the smoke and mirrors are obvious. He says most of the action and pyrotechnics in Iron Man are made to be as "real" as possible, and Favreau is mostly successful in that sense. The action is intense in Iron Man, and keeps the audience guessing as to what kind of predicament the hero will fall into next, and how he will get out of it.
If there is one gripe I have about Iron Man, it's a few slow moments at the beginning of the film, but that is overcome by well-written dialog, delivered rapid fire by a top-notch cast. It's reminiscent of a Woody Allen film where actors deliver lines simultaneously, and yet the audience understands what they are saying.
To be sure, Iron Man sets the bar high for summer 2008. It is fun, funny, and remarkable; a film with a soul, not just another comic book adaptation.