Downey and Favreau Pump ‘Iron’
Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges
Directed by Jon Favreau
Up until now, it was a foregone conclusion that while Iron Man was certainly one of the more popular Marvel Comics superheroes created by Stan Lee to emerge from the early 60s, he wasn’t an instantly recognizable icon like Spider-Man, the Hulk or the Fantastic Four. It was also safe to say that while Robert Downey Jr. was widely looked upon as one of the finest actors of his generation, he wasn’t an A-list star like Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts, whose names above the title were guaranteed to open a movie.
That will likely change on both fronts — and in a very big way — when the $180 million-budgeted version of “Iron Man” officially kicks off the summer moviegoing season. And what a way to start, since not only does “Iron Man” save what has so far been a dreadful year at the cineplexes, but it’s also up there with “Spider-Man 2,” “Batman Begins” and the first “Superman” as one of the finest superhero movies ever made.
Downey plays Tony Stark, a billionaire industrialist and weapons contractor whose sheer brilliance is matched by his raging ego, his penchant for booze and his appetite for women. When his convoy is ambushed in Afghanistan following a weapons test, he is mortally wounded and ordered to build a devastating new weapon by the insurgents holding him hostage. But Tony instead uses his skills to build an invincible contraption that covers his body, protects his weakened heart and allows him to escape to safety.
Upon his return to America, Tony decides to take his company into a bold new direction. That doesn’t bode well for Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), Tony’s right-hand man who has a lot to lose if Stark Industries gets out of the weapons business. But Tony has his sights on other interests — particularly the high-tech, fully loaded suit of armor that he’s been tinkering with in his workshop. With the help of his longtime assistant (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his military liaison (Terrence Howard), Tony Stark prepares the world for its newest superhero — but first, he must deal with the shocking betrayal of his most trusted aide.
There’s no question that “Iron Man” will please fans of the comic as well as more commercial moviegoers simply looking for a good time. But in an era where film franchises like “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” seem to have run their course (at least, for the time being), it gives the genre a creative boost by launching a refreshing new superhero series. That’s because it’s loads of fun, action-packed and, most of all, filled with engaging characters — and with a lean running time of 2 hours and 6 minutes, there’s no time to waste. It also has a smart screenplay written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway that effectively updates the 60s origins of its character in all the right ways.
But most of all, it gives Robert Downey Jr. a spectacular showcase that’s unlike any he’s had before — and after finally gaining control over the personal demons that nearly derailed his career a few times over, he deserves it. It’s obvious from the start that the one-time Oscar-nominee (for 1992’s “Chaplin”) is perfectly cast as Tony Stark, and judging by his charming, magnetic, confident performance, he’s loving every minute of it.
The supporting cast is also rounded out with top notch Oscar pedigree, including Jeff Bridges as the intimidating executive who becomes threatened by Tony’s change-of-heart, and Terrence Howard as Tony’s noble military confidante. The irony is that while Gwyneth Paltrow is the only Oscar-winner in the bunch, her underwritten role as Tony’s love interest doesn’t leave her with much to do (hey, there’s always “Iron Man 2”).
After previously licensing its characters to other studios, “Iron Man” has the dubious distinction of being the first film that Marvel is releasing under its own production banner. It’s a worthy choice, since it will not only change the fortune of its character and its star, but also its director. Up to this point, Jon Favreau was better known as an actor than as a filmmaker (even though he scored a hit with “Elf”), but that will likely change with “Iron Man,” an exceptionally well-made, incredibly entertaining and — dare I say it — marvelous superhero movie.
VERDICT: SEE IT!