by: Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges
Released by: Paramount Pictures
Short: Robert Downey Jr.’s performance elevates a decent film to a great one in this sleek, funny, and enjoyable adaptation of a classic Marvel comic.
A Marvel-ous Movie
"Iron Man" is No Painful Marathon
Though they have remained strong box office draws, film adaptations of Marvel comics have seen a distinct drop in quality recently. In the eight or so years since "Spiderman" and "X-Men" effectively kicked things off, ticket buyers have continued to keep the Marvel brand profitable, but fatigue has definitely set in for critics forced to sit through trite, tedious films like "Ghost Rider" and any comic sequel with a “3” on the end of it. Perhaps this is why "Iron Man" is such a pleasant surprise and instills a small amount of optimism regarding the other Marvel adaptations in the pipeline.
On the surface, much of the Iron Man mythos feels like well-trodden territory. Not unlike a certain caped crusader, billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) found himself orphaned at a young age, but takes up the superhero mantle later in life, following his traumatic kidnapping at the hands of an Afghani militant group. Stark escapes by building a computerized metal battle suit, and is subsequently inspired to not only give up weapons manufacturing, but to right his company's past evils. To the writers' credit, the story is kept relatively uncomplicated by super-villains (though one reveals himself later in the film), allowing the relationships between the few main characters to comfortably develop. Director Jon Favreau keeps the action and effects as streamlined as the film's pacing, all of which harmoniously pairs with a brisk, witty script to make this one of the rare examples of a popcorn flick done right.
Without a doubt, however, the one element that makes all the others shine is the film's star, Robert Downey Jr. Considering his character’s reputation as an alcoholic womanizer, it almost seems like stunt casting, but what really makes Downey Jr. perfect for the role is his well-honed ability to play highly intelligent men who see little value in shedding adolescent impulses. In a performance that elevates every line he's given, playing Tony Stark may do for Downey Jr. what Jack Sparrow did for Johnny Depp.
Compared to its highly charismatic lead, the rest of the cast can't help but look a tad dimmer, but there's good work displayed all around. As Stark's military contact Jim Rhodes, Terrence Howard plays the amiable straight man with an edge of subtle exasperation. Gwyneth Paltrow seems more accessible than she has in years as Stark's skillful personal assistant Pepper Potts, though she flirts with the edge of hysterics once or twice. Though it's by no means a bad performance, Jeff Bridges leaves the weakest impression once his duplicitous Obadiah Stane, Stark's former business partner, delves into typical maniacal villainy by the film's end.
For a movie that positions modern warfare and Middle East politics at the center of its conflicts, it maintains a smart enough balance for liberals and conservatives alike to find their politics represented, though it could be argued this is now an industry prerequisite for any potential summer blockbuster. Yet it also indicates that with the right people helming their franchises, Marvel should hold onto the mass-audience critical for the brand's longevity and even win back some naysayers…provided that they do whatever it takes to keep Robert Downey Jr. around for the sequels.
Reviewed by Matt Kane
Check out our movie review of Iron Man 2
||(Updated: 05/06/10 AR)