The long days of summer mean something different for many different people. Most get excited for the long days at the beach, sunbathing, travelling, or all of the above. For we, the intrepid moviegoers, summer represents a monstrous pile of Hollywood blockbusters. Usually those films are not exactly worthy of the millions of dollars they will inevitably accrue, but on occasion they are surprisingly good. The summer blockbuster bonanza kicked off last week with the release of the much anticipated, Jon Favreau directed “Iron Man.” Simply put, it can safely be said that the bar for films this summer has been set very high.
Iron Man has never been the most popular comic character. Behind the shadow of Marvel Comic giants like The Hulk, Captain America, and Spider-man, Iron Man has always been seemingly forgotten by the American public. With his big screen debut, there is very little doubt that this REAL man of steel will finally get his close-up.
In the original comic, Tony Stark is a millionaire reaping the benefits of the Vietnam War through Stark Industries, his weapons manufacturing company. Favreau, not intending to create a period piece, moved Stark’s captors to Afghanistan. While in the Middle East, a convoy carrying Stark is attacked and he is kidnapped by terrorists and ordered to create sophisticated weapons. Stark’s injuries are dire and shrapnel in his chest threatens to pierce his heart. With his fellow prisoner, Yin Sen (portrayed by Shaun Taub of 2004’s “Crash”), he constructs a powerful chest plate to keep the shrapnel from reaching his’s heart, keeping him alive. Stark uses the workshop to secretly design and construct a suit of powered armor. In this new suit he escapes, and returns home to start his journey into the hero he is destined to become: Iron Man.
Robert Downey Jr. stars as Tony Stark/Iron Man in what is the best superhero casting since Christian Bale in 2005’s “Batman Begins.” This is Downey’s best accomplishment as an actor by far (even better than his wondrous Oscar nominated role as the title character in 1992’s “Chaplin”). When Downey is on screen, he shines. In fact, his performance is utterly addictive. He works an excellent balance between his amazing comedic talents with his range as a dramatic actor. It’s very refreshing to see such an underrated actor fit successfully into a role like Tony Stark – a role that could lead to bigger and better parts.
“Iron Man” is also filled with supporting characters that purely enhance the film. Gwenyth Paltrow is particularly well-cast as Tony Stark’s diligent personal assistant Pepper Potts. Paltrow hasn’t had too many major film roles since 2005’s “Proof” and it’s good to see her back on the screen in a very fitting and well-acted performance. Terrence Howard (“Hustle and Flow”) plays Jim Rhodes, Stark’s best friend (and future Iron Man replacement War Machine, although that is not fully developed in this film). Howard is a sufficiently excellent actor and he works very well in the role, although he is not given enough screen time. Finally, the brilliant Jeff Bridges (“The Big Lebowski”) plays the delightfully evil Obadiah Stane a.k.a. Iron Monger. Bridges’ performance is superb with this role and he has crafted an excellent film villain that ranks up with Jack Nicholson’s Joker in “Batman” and Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock in “Spider-man 2.”
The film truly belongs to Downey, but should also be credited for some exceptional special effects. Favreau made a smart investment in hiring George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic to create the visuals. The switches between the usage of these effects and the actual Iron Man suit are exceptionally cohesive and remarkably detailed.
On the outside, “Iron Man” is seemingly your everyday action film but in fact it truly has a brain – and a heart. Featuring a screenwriting team of four credited writers, this film shows honest hard work in filmmaking. A lot of blockbusters are unnecessarily rushed (as was the problem with 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand”) and under-produced based on spectacle and mindless entertainment. This script is succinctly perfect, delivering a very consistent and respectful comic book story that can both excite fans and those not familiar with the comics. The film is actually quite structurally similar to the innovative “Batman Begins.” The first 45 minutes serves as an account of why and how Tony Stark finally becomes Iron Man, while the rest provides fast-paced action and never fails at being absolutely enthralling.
Favreau deserves a lot of credit, and hopefully this film will achieve the commercial success that it should. He first gained fame in the mid-nineties after scripting hits like “Swingers” and its follow-up “Made.” In recent years he has become a go-to director with hits like “Elf” and the flawed yet interesting “Zathura.” With “Iron Man,” Favreau (who also appears in the film as Tony Stark’s bodyguard) could be a name that we may soon associate with excellent cinema such as we did with names like Spielberg and Lucas in the ‘70s.
The recent slew of Marvel films such as the extraordinarily disappointing “Spider-man 3” and the horrid “Fantastic 4” travesties can be immediately forgiven after one viewing of this film. This is a wonderful start to what promises to be a summer of excellent Hollywood fare including Spielberg’s upcoming “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and Christopher Nolan’s intriguing “Batman Begins” follow-up “The Dark Knight.” “Iron Man” is as solid as its title suggests with not one bit of rust to be found.