IRON MAN (2008)
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leslie Bibb, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Clark Gregg, Bill Smitrovich and Sayed Badreya.
Screenplay by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway.
Directed by Jon Favreau.
Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 126 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Iron Man was always sort of a B-level superhero in the Marvel Comics universe. He never quite got the adulation and respect that was afforded to Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk or even The Fantastic Four. He was always more of a utility player, more on a level of more hard-core cult faves like the X-Men, Captain America and the Silver Surfer.
In recent years, all of these characters (except Captain America, who is coming soon enough – tentatively in 2009) have made it to the multiplexes. Now it’s Iron Man‘s turn, and the pleasant surprise is that this is the best Marvel adaptation since the first Spider-Man movie. (Yes fan-boys, even better than Spider-Man 2.)
A huge amount of the credit for this quality is the unlikely, but pitch-perfect, casting of Robert Downey, Jr. in the title role.
Downey has always been one of our best actors, but due to personal demons and professional bad luck he has never become the huge star he deserves to be. He discussed this conundrum in his career with us when we interviewed him a couple of years ago about A Scanner Darkly, one of many films he has made which didn’t quite take off. At the time he was working on David Fincher’s Zodiac, apparently a splashy role that would push him up into the A-List. Only Zodiac never quite reached the audience that was expected, so it didn’t launch him into the stratosphere.
“I just look for the highest degree of difficulty and disappointment [in a project], just because of better quality,” Downey said at the time. “Life’s really messy…. I think that I hold the record for having been the actor who has done the most movies [who] still makes the same amount of money as [I did] when I was three movies in…. It’s my lot in life just to be really patient and wait and be disappointed. It’s not about your day job, anyway. It’s about what you’re here to do, whatever that is.”
However, now he is clean and sober and after putting in some of the best work in his career in some slightly under-the-radar films – as well as occasional high-salaried sellouts (and who deserves it more?) like The Shaggy Dog. His reward will come with Iron Man.
Downey uses his whip-smart devil-may-care wit to great effect as Tony Stark, a multi-millionaire scientist, arms manufacturer, philanthropist and playboy (and in the wonderfully offbeat world of the movie, that description is not a contradiction in terms).
While showing off his latest weapons breakthrough in Afghanistan, Stark is kidnapped by terrorists and forced to recreate the missile for them. Instead, Stark plans his escape by making a flying armor suit.
Back in the States, Stark becomes determined to no longer create weapons which can be accessed by the enemy to kill Americans. He also works diligently to perfect the super-armor which saved him. Stark sees it as a way to vanquish evil, his partner (Jeff Bridges) sees it as the greatest weapon yet.
However, for all the action sequences – and Iron Man has several good ones – the real thing that makes the movie special is the characterizations. Not only is Downey near pitch-perfect, but Gwyneth Paltrow gets her best role in years and Jeff Bridges makes a nice against-type villain.
The movie has blockbuster and franchise written all over it. Ironically, Iron Man will push both the actor and the character into the A-List, where they belong.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 3, 2008.