Superhero Month: "Iron Man" Review

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Robert Downey Jr. stars in this 2008 superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. The plot surrounds Tony Stark (Downey Jr.), who as an industrialist and master engineer builds a powered exoskeleton and becomes the technologically advanced superhero, Iron Man.
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Superhero Month: "Iron Man" Review

-- Rating: PG-13 (intense science-fiction action, brief suggestive scenes)
Length: 126 minutes
Release Date: May 2, 2008
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Genre: Action/Science Fiction/Adventure

To make a movie about Iron Man, you need someone who can deliver a believable Tony Stark. Surprisingly, casting executives reached into the late 80s and early 90s to pull out an actor for the iconic role. Arguably, Robert Downey Jr. hadn't delivered a highly successful leading movie role for over a decade, but he stepped up to wow audiences as Tony Stark.

Downey's performance is what shoots "Iron Man" out of the ballpark, but a great story, attention-grabbing action, and a strong supporting cast all help to create a solid movie that's capable of becoming the cornerstone of a successful franchise. "Iron Man" begins in Afghanistan. Billionaire weapons designer Tony Stark is riding with a convoy of soldiers when the convoy is attacked by foes wielding Stark-manufactured weapons. The soldiers are killed and Stark gets a shot of shrapnel to the chest, and then he's captured and held hostage.

Just after the opening action grabs audience attention, Favreau brings everyone current with Stark's genius and playboy lifestyle. A series of flashbacks also serves to introduce other leading characters, including Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Colonel James Rhodes (Terrence Howard), and Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). After the brief interlude, the action returns to Stark, who's being held by a terrorist organization that wants him to build a missile. Instead, Stark builds an arc reactor to deal with the shrapnel in his chest as well as the first Iron Man suit, which he uses to escape.

Stark returns to the United States a different man, and it's here that Downey's acting ability really starts to show. It's also clear the casting directors made the perfect call, showing Downey is equally capable of portraying Stark's carefree playboy attitude and the more serious, post-capture Stark emotion. Stark announces his company is going to move from weapons manufacturing to less threatening projects, but he doesn't realize how much opposition he'll face. His right-hand man, Obadiah Stane, is more concerned about company profits and Colonel Rhodes thinks Stark is suffering from post-traumatic stress. Even Pepper Potts, Stark's loyal assistant, has her own misgivings.

Despite his desires to turn to more peaceful endeavors, Stark is pulled repeatedly into battle by circumstances, friends and enemies, and abuse of technology he creates. The resulting movie is an action-packed, wit-filled ride that will appeal to fans of Iron Man comics and modern action movies. In addition to stellar performances from all actors already mentioned, the film includes fun portrayals by Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson and Paul Bettany as the voice of Stark's virtual friend Jarvis.

"Iron Man" grossed over $300 million at domestic box offices and topped $585 million worldwide. Downey's iconic portrayal of Tony Stark, the superb storytelling, and enough action to satisfy any thrill-seeker combine to create a film that will last as an audience favorite. Many reviewers also cite the fact audiences often enjoy seeing a superhero that isn't invincible or imbued with innate power. The Tony Stark/Iron Man pair hits audiences in a way that's similar to the Bruce Wayne/Batman mash up. People like to see a broken person made whole again by doing what's right, and when the story throws in an over-the-top personality, a suit that both flies and shoots, and a couple dozen explosions, and the flick is going to score big with summer audiences.

Arguably, "Iron Man" features the best storyline of the trilogy, although some might say Stark's character gets better with age. Downey has reprised the role of Stark in three Iron Man movies to date as well as "The Avengers." Downey is rumored for another role as Iron Man in a second Avengers movie, which is slated for release in 2015.

Another strength of "Iron Man" is in Favreau's ability to capture classic comic book elements without dating the movie or making them irrelevant to modern audiences. For example, in the comics, stories are set against the Vietnam War or the Gulf War, depending on publication times. Favreau chose to continue the war element, but set scenes in Afghanistan for a contemporary feel. In the decade prior to the film's release, numerous directors were offered the job, including Quentin Tarantino and Joss Whedon. In the end, the job fell to the lesser-known Favreau, which, given the results, might have been the best possible choice.

Individuals who love the Iron Man mythos, old and new comic book fans, and anyone who can appreciate a fun summer action flick will want to check out "Iron Man." The film has everything needed for a rollicking time, whether audiences are seeing it for the first time or the tenth.

Rating: 4 out of 5