Directed By: Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard
Tag line: "Get ready for a different breed of heavy metal hero"
Trivia: This is Marvel Studios' first self-financed movie
Whenever the summer season arrives (Hollywood summer, that is, which, for some reason, starts at the beginning of May), my solo trips to the local multiplex come to a temporary end. See, my sons are huge fans of the typical summer movie fare, which usually means a whole lot of action, supported by a slew of special effects. Of course, the danger of watching these movies with them is that I occasionally get caught up in their euphoria. Like most kids their age, they’re suckers for adventure and thrills of all kinds. Sometimes, I’m immune to their excitement (I couldn’t join in on the fun they were having with the first Fantastic Four), but there are times I find myself seeing a film through their eyes, and don’t immediately recognize its flaws (2006’s Eragon is a prime example). Naturally, upon reflection, my fervor wanes, forcing me to deal with the fact I was temporarily blinded to what proved to be a deceptively entertaining suckfest. So, in 2008, when both boys proclaimed Iron Man their new favorite film, I had to step back for a minute. Was it really as good as the experience felt, or was this yet another instance of the rose-colored glasses dropping in front of my eyes?
Nope. Not this time. Iron Man kicks ass in almost every conceivable way.
Brilliant engineer and millionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is the man in charge of Stark Industries, a company started by his late father that’s now the world's leader in manufacturing military armaments. While in Afghanistan showing off his company’s newest missile, Stark’s military convoy is attacked, leaving him both badly wounded and the prisoner of a terrorist group. Nursed back to health by a fellow prisoner (Shaun Toub), who saves his life by placing an electromagnet in his chest (to prevent shrapnel from piercing his heart), Stark is ordered by his captors to build them a super-missile. Instead, he converts the magnet in his body into a power source capable of running a large metallic suit, which he then uses to escape. Once back in the U.S., Stark, shaken by his experience, announces he’s abandoning arms manufacturing, a move that shocks his Board of Directors, as well as Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), Stark’s closest friend and an executive at Stark Industries. But there’s more than money on the line when Tony Stark sets to work constructing a brand new metal suit, one that will transform him into a superhero known as Iron Man.
First and foremost, Iron Man is as good as it is because of Robert Downey Jr. I simply can’t imagine anyone else doing as much with this role as he did. Sure, Downey Jr. could easily handle the wiseass aspect of Tony Stark’s personality; he’s played that kind of character before, in a variety of films. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was how much more he’d bring to the part. Thanks to Downey Jr., Tony Stark was witty (on a level beyond mere wiseass-ity… or is it wiseassdom?), intelligent (I actually believed he was capable of creating that suit in the early scenes), romantic (there are genuine sparks between him and Gwyneth Paltrow, yet another great casting choice) and even a bit disturbed (while it’s not spelled out for us, there’s little doubt Tony Stark begins the film as a closet alcoholic). For all the bells and whistles that go hand-in-hand with movies like Iron Man, their success owes just as much to the performance of its lead, and in my opinion, Robert Downey, Jr. knocked it out of the park.
The other aspects of Iron Man: the special effects (especially when the title character takes to the skies), the remaining performances (aside form Downey Jr. and Paltrow, I was impressed with Jeff Bridges’ work as Obadiah Stane), and the action (I enjoyed both of the Middle East firefights, though admit I wasn’t a fan of the “final showdown”), are also solid. But for me, it all comes down to the man behind the mask. Tony Stark may be Iron Man, but Robert Downey Jr. was both of them…to perfection.