Marvel Comics, unhappy with the lack of creative control and its share of profits in the films made by other studios based on their characters, recently started their own film division. The first film from this endeavor, “Iron Man” starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard, is a lot of fun, and sure to generate a number of sequels based on the huge amount of money made on opening weekend. This is good for Marvel Films because they will need to use some of the profits from this film to offset the inevitable loss for their next film, “The Incredible Hulk” starring Edward Norton, Tim Roth and Nick Nolte, due later this summer. Watch the trailer and you’ll see what I mean.
But I digress. “Iron Man”.
Tony Stark (Downey, Jr.) is a brilliant man who grew up in his father’s shadow, an inventor, Starks Sr. & Jr. both learn they can make any of their ideas a reality Sr. was one of the people who helped build the Atomic bomb, so it probably comes as no surprise that Stark Industries sells weapons; weapons of every size, shape and megaton. When Tony comes of age, he takes over the company from his father’s right hand man, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) and the two work together, as a team - Stark handles the inventions, Obadiah handles the business side of things. Stark takes a trip to Afghanistan to demonstrate his newest weapon, a huge missile and bomb combo designed to level mountain ranges. Driving back, his convoy is attacked and he is taken prisoner. During the attack, Tony is injured and a fellow prisoner fits him with a magnet saving his life. When Tony wakes up, he learns his captors want him to recreate the weapon he just demonstrated, for their use. But he comes up with a better idea and creates a new power supply for the magnet, allowing him to move without a car battery at his side. He then uses a list of equipment procured from his captors to create an iron suit, complete with weapons, to wear and escape captivity. When he returns home, he realizes he can improve the suit, its powers and its abilities. Now that Tony has seen his products create death, mayhem and damage, he wants to do some good in the world. Naturally, Obadiah is a little disappointed to learn of the companies new, less profitable business plan. But Colonel Rhodes (Terence Howard) is happy to see the change is his longtime business associate and friend. And Stark’s personal assistant, Pepper Pots (Paltrow) is also a little more attracted to her boss. After a test run of his new, sleeker, more powerful suit, Stark realizes he left some unfinished business behind in Afghanistan. Then, some trouble begins to brew back home.
Directed by Jon Favreau (“Elf”, “Zathura” and an actor with many credits) combines unconventional casting choices, very good acting, an intelligent screenplay and some kick a** special effects to create an enjoyable movie going experience and a great kick off to the summer season. This is one of those occasions when you can almost anticipate the sequel, when you can’t wait for it. Now that they have all of the exposition concerning the creation of the superhero out of the way, the sequel can get down to business and throw us directly into the story, keeping us on the edge of our seats. I am an eternal optimist.
“Iron Man” is a lot of fun and more intelligent than you might expect. Robert Downey, Jr. seems like an unconventional choice to play a superhero, and he is, but he is actually the perfect choice for the role of Tony Stark. A rich, highly intelligent industrialist, Tony works hard, spending a lot of time and money coming up with new ideas and inventions, making them work, making his company all the more rich and powerful. But he also plays hard. Living in a fancy, modern house on a hill overlooking the ocean in Malibu, Tony has state of the art everything in his house, allowing him to spend as much time as possible working and playing. He is also a lothario, sleeping with and hitting on as many women as he possibly can. He picks up a reporter in Vegas and the next morning, in his house in Malibu, she is awakened by the house ‘opening’ the curtains to his bedroom, his assistant, Pepper, holding her dry-cleaning. Tony also has an advanced computer system, helping him and allowing him to run with ideas and to continue to develop them. This system allows him to view 3-D holographic depictions of his ideas, removing and adding pieces at will.
As we get to know Tony, we realize he lives a secluded life. Allowed to work and play, as he wants, he knows little of the effects of his work on the real world, and leaves the running of his business to Obadiah. When he travels to Afghanistan, his eyes begin to open as he witnesses firsthand what his work actually does, the consequences of his life, and sees a little window through which he can move to start making a positive impact on the world. But this change in his life doesn’t please everyone and provides Iron Man with a formidable foe, the Iron Monger.
When Stark is taken prisoner in Afghanistan, he uses all of his previous research and designs to build a new and improved power supply to help keep him alive. And he also creates a prototype of Iron Man, allowing his escape from the men who so desperately want him to create a new weapon for them. This is a great illustration of the character’s intelligence and cunning, making all of the previous information about him we have been bombarded with seem very real.
Downey, Jr. uses his well-known sarcastic attitude and delivery to bring life to Stark’s sheltered persona. Because he lives in a cocoon, and has a lot of money, he doesn’t realize how the real world works where he lives and plays as he pleases. This same persona also helps the character bring humor to the proceedings and make the story all the more memorable. He proves to be an excellent choice for the role and his career will definitely benefit from the success of this film and it’s inevitable sequels.
Favreau and his team have created a rich, decadent playground for Stark to live in. His computer system uses advanced holographs and voice commands, he drives the best, fastest cars and his house is run by a computer system that recognizes Tony and Pepper, and addresses them by name. But more importantly, Favreau has assembled a cast that can act, a group of actors more commonly associated with Academy Award nominated and critically praised films. These actors make their characters richer, more interesting, more watchable and more memorable.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays Pepper Pots and she is, by far, the weakest of the supporting characters. There is a brief hint of an unrequited love between employee and employer, made more overt during a very good scene set at Walt Disney Concert Hall. But Paltrow is wasted in the role. While she does bring a memorable respectability to the role, making it better, her skills weren’t needed for Pepper Pots. When she becomes endangered (which is inevitable, face it), she doesn’t stand around shrieking, but she doesn’t prove to be extremely strong either. And the flirtatious relationship between Tony and Pepper is generally ignored with the exception of the one scene mentioned earlier and a few passing references. Hopefully, this area will be expanded and improved upon in the next installment.
Jeff Bridges plays Obadiah Stane, Stark’s father’s business partner who helps run the company until Tony becomes old enough to take the reins. Tony continues to work with Obadiah, leaving the day to day operations in his hands, freeing him up to work on his creations. Obadiah is a very smart man and makes the company very profitable. Naturally, he feels threatened by Tony’s change in attitude and works behind the scenes to ensure the company will remain as profitable as ever. He also steals Tony’s plans and begins work on his own version of Iron Man, seeing the potential in such a lethal weapon. Obadiah has spent his adult life selling weapons, becoming rich as a result. So in his mind, lethal is good.
Obadiah is a lot more twisted and crooked than I am letting on, but discovering the extent of this is half the fun.
Terrence Howard plays Colonel Jim Rhodes, a longtime associate of Tony, who acts as a liaison between Stark and his government contacts. When Stark is taken hostage, Rhodes leads the rescue mission. When Stark becomes Iron Man, Rhodes helps him out in various ways.
As you watch the story unfold, you get the sense Howard, like everyone else in the film, is having a fun time. He plays the role with a certain sense of tongue-in-cheek but this quality is played subtlety, which makes the role all the more appealing and real.
“Iron Man” is a very good, very enjoyable, fun summer film. The actors have a lot of fun and it translates to the screen. The performances, in combination with a well-written screenplay, great special effects and a believable universe help to make “Iron Man” one of the more memorable summer films in many years. I can easily see this character becoming a franchise to challenge “Spiderman” in popularity.