© 2008 Ray Wong
Once in a while an action movie comes along and blows us away. A few years ago, there was the long-anticipated Spider-Man. This year, summer officially begins on May 2 with the electrifying Iron Man.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is the playboy billionaire who owns and runs Stark Industries, the world's leading weapon manufacturer. Stark's world changes when he is abducted by terrorists in Afghanistan. He's badly injured and he needs a magnetized chest plate to keep tiny shrapnel from entering his heart. He realizes his weapons have been acquired by "bad guys" all over the world. The terrorists force him to make his latest and greatest missile for them. Instead, he makes a body armor with a miniature reactor as a chest plate, and breaks out of captivity.
Once rescued and back to Los Angeles, Stark decides he doesn't want to make weapons anymore. He doesn't want his dad's and his legacy to get into the wrong hands. That doesn't sit well with his business partner, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), who urges Stark to take some time off. During his "recovery," Stark improves on the body suit and decides to don the suit to rid the world of bad guys and their weapons. His stunts upset his army buddy Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) and worries his assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Meanwhile, the terrorists get hold of his blueprints and are making their own armored suit. The race is on.
As Tony Stark/Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. (Zodiac) is perfectly charming, droll and smug. He's at once not your typical hero (is he ever serious about anything?) and the hero you can actually root for. Tony Stark is spoiled, irrelevant, and irresponsible. Yet his alter ego, Iron Man, is full of purpose and pathos. Robert Downey Jr. captures that essence of the character extremely well -- it's almost impossible to imagine anyone else in the role.
Jeff Bridges (A Dog Year) plays Stark's nemesis wonderfully. He can effortlessly convey certain darkness under his "concerned uncle" veneer. With his shaved head and grizzly beard, he looks fantastic. Terrence Howard (Awake) doesn't have a whole lot to do as Tony Stark's best friend, but he's sincere enough to make an impression. Gwyneth Paltrow (Running with Scissors) is excellent as Stark's assistant and potential love interest. She's cool and sophisticated and beautiful, and she has some of the best lines in the film.
The supporting cast includes Leslie Bibb (Talladega Nights) as a saucy, hard-nosed reporter, Shaun Toub (The Kite Runner) as the captive who saves Stark's life in many ways, Clark Gregg (Choke) as a serious agent, and Faran Tahir (Charlie Wilson's War) as the leader of the terrorist group.
Adapted from the Marvel comics, the writing team, headed by Children of Men's scribes Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, injects much sophistication, energy and real heart in the script. It all starts with the writing, and the writing here is crisp, taut, and it moves well with lots of humor. The dialogue is snappy and funny, and the relationships between the characters are well developed. You really do believe in the genuine affection between Stark and Pepper, and there's just something real about the friendship between him and Jim Rhode. When you believe in these characters and their relationships, you've achieved 80% of the challenge in telling a generally tongue-in-cheek superhero story.
Granted, it's easy to pick apart the plot if we want to. But do we? Sure, when Iron Man hits the fighter jet, one has to wonder why Tony Stark doesn't die just from the impact and vibration? Or why would he leave the blueprints in the cave without destroying them first? But really, who cares? This is a superhero movie. It's supposed to be fun, not scientific. The fact is, the script is actually very intelligent, with tons of geeky pleasures for us techno-nerds to salivate over. Just watching Stark learn how to fly is fantastic fun. And the romantic subplot is subtle enough to be touching yet not mushy. And that's the important thing, and the film delivers.
Actor-Director Jon Favreau (Zathura) does a great job putting the film together (he also has a cameo as Stark's personal assistant Hogan). Full of energy, the pace is brisk and the plot moves so well you hardly notice the movie is over two hours long. Granted, the plot can be predictable but that's actually a good thing. You don't really want to think too much while indulging in an adventure like this. Favreau's job is relatively simple, given the sharp writing, and the great performances by the award-caliber actors (all four leads were either Oscar winner or nominees), but he pulls it off beautifully.
While it may be somewhat too intense or at times too adult for the young ones, Iron Man is a fantastic, fun movie for the entire family, and in particular, the fanboys and fangirls. This and its inevitable sequels should do iron-clad business at the box office for years to come.
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leslie Bibb, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Clark Gregg
Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway (based on Marvel comics)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violance, and brief suggestive content
Running Time: 126 Minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 8 out of 10