Iron Man Review

(3.5 STARS)

I remember when I first heard that Robert Downey Jr. would be playing the title character in Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man.” The project itself just sounded like another superhero movie (a genre I thought was growing tired), but the casting choice was inspired. It was shortly after I discovered “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” one of the funniest, freshest movies of 2005, and in my mind, Downey could do no wrong. “Iron Man” features the actor in top form, but it’s not just his film. Don’t get me wrong—“Iron Man” wouldn’t be the same without him. But this is an uncommonly good superhero film. The script is fantastic, as is Favreau’s direction. And there are enough surprises to keep every viewer on his or her toes.

The film begins with a lengthy prologue, showing how Tony Stark (Downey) became Iron Man. The famed weapons manufacturer and playboy is in the Middle East, showing off his latest creation, when his convoy is attacked and he suffers massive internal injuries. He’s taken prisoner and kept alive by a fellow prisoner, Yinsen (Shaun Toub), who creates a device that stops the shrapnel from the attack from going into his heart. Tony’s captors tell him to build a weapon or be killed. He does what they ask, but it’s not the kind of weapon they request. He builds the Iron Man prototype and escapes.

Once back in America, Tony undergoes a change of heart. He can’t in good conscience build weapons of war, so he announces a change of direction for his company. This isn’t what his business partner Obidiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) wants to hear, so he looks into doing business without Tony. Meanwhile, Tony’s best friend, Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) and secretary, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) help him adjust to life post-trauma. But all Tony wants to do is develop his Iron Man.

Usually, superhero origin films are simply a stop-gap to a better, more complete second film. Having now seen “Iron Man 2,” I can say that’s not the case, although I knew that shortly after watching the original for the first time. The storyline is surprisingly compelling for a film of this nature. The film has a few things to say about man’s responsibility, and this subplot gives Downey the most material to work with. Tony undergoes a big transformation, from oblivious rich boy to socially conscious businessman/superhero. It sounds odd, but it’s fascinating to watch. And part of the problem with the second film is that all of Tony’s development appears to be gone.

I was really impressed by the writing in “Iron Man.” The screenplay (which is the work of four different writers, oddly enough) features some dynamite dialogue for Downey to chew on. Iron Man is a fun superhero, unlike many of his contemporaries (like Batman, as much as his films kick ass). The only other comic book series to have this much light-heartedness is Spider-Man, and the less said about those films, the better.

The special effects in “Iron Man” are a bit more low-key than many other films of the genre. In some sequences, like when Tony takes the Iron Man on its first test flight, CGI dominates the landscape (which is understandable for a film of this nature). But in other scenes, like when Tony escapes the cave, it’s less so. The conclusion is a bit much, but on the whole, I thought Favreau (thankfully) restrained himself a little.

I’ve discussed the brilliance of Downey’s performance ad nauseum, but the film is chock full of memorable characters and surprisingly good acting. Jeff Bridges is sinister enough that we always question his motives. Gwyneth Paltrow displays some great chemistry with Downey. And Terrence Howard holds his own with the others, despite portraying a somewhat passive character.

I think “Iron Man” represents everything that’s good about summer films. In a season marred by inadequate, unoriginal efforts, revisiting this recent classic reminds me that not all “mindless summer films” have to been mindless. It’s just a really fun, enjoyable way to spend two hours.

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