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May 14, 2008 > Movie Review: Iron Man

Movie Review: Iron Man

By Jeremy Inman

Iron Man brings startling new credential to a genre that has historically been devoid of noteworthy entries. It joins the ranks of films such as Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins remaining true to the spirit (and in this case, the history) of the original comic while providing a genuinely entertaining movie-going experience for both fans and non-fans of the character.

Iron Man tells the story of brilliant billionaire industrialist Tony Stark - a world-renowned weapons manufacturer and one of the world's smartest men. In true Marvel Comics fashion, Stark is not without character flaws; he happens to also be a womanizing, arrogant, borderline alcoholic jerk. He's also completely engrossed in his work leaving no room for meaningful human connection - which accounts for the cadre of nameless young women he beds on a regular basis. Early in the film, Stark is captured while demonstrating a new missile in the Middle East and is forced to take part in a terrorist weapons development program. To escape, he builds a suit of armor which, among other things, allows him to fly, withstand gunfire and other heavy weapons, and take on squads of literally dozens of men at once.

With the help of his caring, semi-love interest Pepper Potts and air force buddy James Rhodes (both supporting characters from the comic), Stark sets out to rid the world of the dangerous weapons he helped create. Standing in his way is power hungry Obadiah Stane who has a huge stake in Stark's company continuing to make dangerous weapons.

This is Marvel's first attempt at funding and producing its own film. In the past, the work had been contracted to other studios to bring the heroes to the big screen - Sony for Spider-Man, Fox for the X-men and the Fantastic Four, Universal for Hulk, etc. With Iron Man, Marvel comes out of the gates running strong. A large degree of the films success can be attributed to the outstanding cast; actors like Jeff Bridges as Stane, the villain, and Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard as Stark's personal assistant and military liaison, respectively.

However, it is Robert Downey Jr. who truly puts this film over its mark - turning in an intricately nuanced and highly entertaining performance as the man in the flying suit. A sort of Howard Hughes for the modern age, Downey Jr.'s Stark is a complex man. Brilliant and calculating, his outward appearance is one of joyful frivolity masking an internal drive to rid the world of the instruments of destruction he created.

Much like Sam Raimi with the Spider-Man films, director Jon Favreau had a preexisting knowledge of and love for the character. This allowed him to deftly capture the spirit of the original books (going as far back as the 60s) for modern audiences. For his first action film, he did an admirable job displaying some of the high flying, explosive-heavy action sequences that a film of this nature demands. While the narrative arc of the film isn't very far removed from most superhero films (especially first films, which need to establish the rules by which the universe operates, etc) it does have enough subtle differences in portrayal, shot selection, and sheer sense of style to set itself apart. Stark is a breath of fresh air compared to the mopey Spider-Man or the too-serious Batman. He is likeable despite his flaws, largely due to Favreau's roots directing character-driven comedies.

Hopefully Iron Man is the first of many great films to come out of Marvel's new film production studio. There's definitely sufficient evidence to prove that they've got big plans which should appease at least the comic book fans (stay until after the credits!). We'll see if they can continue this positive momentum into this summer's new Hulk reboot, The Incredible Hulk - which is rumored to have a cameo by Robert Downey Jr. as Stark. With plans like this, it's only a matter of time before we see all of Marvel's mainstay heroes on screen together fighting some epic confrontation that no one of them could overcome. Until then, we'll have to settle for Marvel's new studio re-legitimizing the superhero genre one film at a time.

Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 126 mins.

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