The Plot: Billionaire playboy and weaponry designer/developer Tony Stark is kidnapped by a group of terrorists while showing off one of his new products in Afghanistan. In order to escape from his captors and save his own life, Stark secretly builds a metal exoskeleton equipped with powerful armaments for himself to wear. Upon returning safely to America, he opts to stop producing weapons, as he has now seen the kinds of trouble they cause firsthand, and vows to only work to better mankind. His first goal is to create an improved version of his exoskeleton with which he can fight back against those who do harm to others. Unfortunately, when the secrets of his "Iron Man" technology fall into the hands of his enemies, Stark realizes that his armored suit may in fact cause more problems than it can solve.
The Review: I've never disliked Iron Man, but the character and the comic books about him have also never really had a place among my list of favorite stories. Regardless, ever since the beginning of the recent superhero movie boom of the past decade began, I've always named this title as one that I'd really like to see brought to the big screen. The idea of a man building a futuristic suit of armor packed with weapons just seemed more suited for a film to me than a hammer-wielding god of thunder or a scientist who can run faster than the speed of sound because he accidentally spilled some chemicals on himself in his lab. I'm sure that those properties to which I'm referring could make equally entertaining movies, but something about Tony Stark suiting up in a repulsor ray-equipped mechanical exoskeleton to fight crime, while not necessarily my favorite concept on the page, has always very much appealed to me as the potential subject of a feature film. So, what are my feelings on the topic now that it has finally come to pass?
I loved Iron Man. As far as comic book/superhero-related films are concerned, this film has found a place right near the top of my personal "best of" list along with Spiderman 2 and X-Men 2. Now for the why's...
Although I hadn't personally considered Robert Downey Jr. for the role of Tony Stark before the official casting announcement was made during the preproduction on Iron Man, as soon as I heard his name linked to the project I couldn't imagine anyone else donning the red and gold armor. Just as I anticipated, Downey Jr. was the perfect choice for the role and served as the perfect set of shoulders upon which the entirety of the just over two hour film could rest. His comedic timing is perfect and his portrayal of Stark, while not taken verbatim from the original source material, was 100% satisfactory in my mind. A casting choice which didn't seem so obvious to me upon it's announcement was that of Jeff Bridges in the role of Obadiah Stane. No matter how many of Bridges' films I see, the first of his roles that will always come to mind when I hear his name will be "the dude" from The Big Lebowski, which is a character who is about as far removed from Stane as you can get. I'm going to have to carve out a little room in the back of my memory bank for Bridges as Tony Stark's despicable mentor and former friend now, though, because he was great in the role. There is a particular moment during the film when Stane angrily confronts a scientist in his employ which all but gave me goosebumps when I realized how threatening he could be. Rounding out the key cast were Terence Howard as (the eventual War Machine) Jim Rhodes and Stark's personal assistant Pepper Potts as played by Gwenyth Paltrow. Howard has never been a favorite actor of mine (though I did think that he was particularly good in Hustle & Flow), but while I didn't find him overly impressive in Iron Man, he honestly didn't have a whole of screen time to get on my good side. As for Paltrow, while she didn't necessarily wow me in this role, I've got no complaints about her performance whatsoever.
As far as the story and direction are concerned, I found very few problems with the film, and any that I did find were all rather minor. It is true that there is a lot of time spent on build-up before the Iron Man armor (Mach 1 or otherwise) finally makes it's appearance onscreen, but this didn't bother me at all. There were more than enough humorous moments and interesting story points to keep me focused on Stark even when he wasn't suited up. Speaking of which, even after the exoskeletons make their debut, they don't necessarily tie up the remainder of the running time, but that was fine with me as well. I wouldn't have complained if we'd gotten a few more action scenes here and there, but as far as I'm concerned the plot and pacing are perfect as is. Having only seen the directorial efforts of Jon Favreau in the forms of Made (which I enjoyed, but wasn't very visually exceptional) and Elf (which I didn't really like at all), I was honestly incredibly impressed with his ability to handle the material. If I hadn't known beforehand that Iron Man was directed by Favreau, I'd have probably assumed that it was helmed by someone with a more action-centric catalogue of films. The action (for the most part) was clear and didn't rely on a lot of quick cuts and shaky cam shots like so many other modern visual effects-driven extravaganzas (*cough*Transformers*cough*), which was quite refreshing. The effects themselves were top-notch and nearly without any noticeable flaws, and the comedy, drama, and action all meshed perfectly at all times.
The Verdict: As I previously stated above, after one viewing I already hold Iron Man in the same regard as both Spiderman 2 and X-Men 2, which should essentially state my overall feelings on it rather clearly. The humor was great, the action was top-notch, the acting was spot-on, and the writing and directing was on par with the best examples of the superhero movie genre. In my opinion, as far as comic book films, superhero films, or action films in general are concerned, it doesn't get a whole lot better than Iron Man.