Iron Man (2008)

The summer blockbuster starts in May this year, and it starts with a bang: Iron Man is a big-budget superhero movie that works very well!

The story follows the comic book character's origin quite closely. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a brilliant inventor, president of Stark Industries, famous, and wealthy. He's also a hedonist, willing to drink, gamble, and have one-night stands instead of keeping appointments. His assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is always trying to keep him on track, his military friend Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) wants him to live up to his potential, and his business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) is happy that Stark Industries is making money by making weapons.

Everything changes when, on a trip in Afghanistan, the military convoy transporting Stark is ambushed -- with Stark Industries weapons -- and Stark is injured and captured. Terrorist leader Raza (Faran Tahir) wants Stark to build them some weapons, but Stark finds inspiration in crisis and, with help, builds a large, clunky suit of armor that can shoot flames, punch through steel doors, and fly. Once Stark gets back to the states, he announces that Stark Industries will no longer make weapons. He also begins a very personal project which, after quite a bit of trial and error with a gray suit of armor, leads to the traditional red-and-gold armor Iron Man fans know so well. He makes it his mission to destroy all the weapons his company had made that are being used by the wrong people.

All is not well, though. Stane is outraged that the company that relies on making weapons will not keep building weapons. Further, Raza has found the scraps of the original armor and blueprints from Stark, leading to an even bigger, more powerful suit of armor...

Iron Man is an excellent action movie. First and foremost is the casting. Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, both as the carefree self-absorbed jerk and then as the man whose eyes are opened to the consequences of his actions, and the heroism needed to make up for his cast. Gwyneth Paltrow has a lot of fun with her role, making Pepper into a smart, sprightly woman who both likes her boss and recognizes his flaws; their scenes together have both romantic tension and plenty of laughs. The supporting cast is also excellent, from the shady villains to Terrence Howard as the more responsible pal who's always frustrated by his friend's behavior.

The action and effects also work very well. The armors are a combination of sliding metal and hydraulic gears, creating something both futuristic and almost believable. Director Jon Favreau does better with the Stark-Pepper interaction than with the fight scenes at the end, but the effects are smooth enough that those shortcomings are minimal. My only complaint is that the movie strains itself towards the end by making the bad guys excessively evil so there's no way anyone but hatred for them.

Fans of the Iron Man comic book will find plenty of inside references, from possible characters in future films to a post-credit cameo that could set up a major storyline in the inevitable sequel. Folks who don't know the character will have no problem following the creation and rise of this techno-hero. It's nice to see a superhero movie and a big-budget blockbuster that's funny, exciting, intelligent, and thoroughly entertaining. Iron Man is a great start to the summer movie season.

Overall Grade: A

Reviewed by James Lynch

No comments: