Monday, May 26, 2008

Movie Review: Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr and Jon Favreau create a modern-day marvel that trumps all the other recent comic book heroes

I believe I can fly; whether by car, plane, or space-age superhero suit, Robert Downey Jr does indeed soar as Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man

Iron Man
Robert Downey Jr, Gweneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Rated: PG-13 for violence, adult language and adult themes
Running Time: 2 hours, 6 minutes

What does the war in Iraq, a comic book legend, a former '80s star turned drug-addled has-been and a guy best known for making one of the most hilarious post-date phone calls in cinematic history have in common?

They all combine to form one of the best comic book big screen adaptations ever as Iron Man not only delivers as an action packed summer blockbuster but succeeds in doing something none of its predecessors has done before it - humanizing the main character.

And make no mistake about it the driving force behind this flick, directed by Jon Favreau, the actor (Swingers; Made) turned director (Elf; Zathura), is the main character.

Not Iron Man, but Robert Downey Jr.

Downey rose to fame with his ground breaking performance as a drug addict in Less Than Zero and then fell victim to life imitating art as his own troubles with substance abuse derailed his career and led to stints in jail and rehab.

But he carries this film as Tony Stark, a millionaire arms inventor who undergoes a crisis of conscious after being captured by rebels in Afghanistan.

To say Stark (and Downey) is not your typical action superhero would be akin to saying Paris Hilton likes media attention.

Like Batman's alter ego Bruce Wayne Stark is a rich industrialist, but unlike Wayne Stark lives life to the extreme by bedding various women, blowing off appointments scheduled by his trusty assistant Pepper Potts (Paltrow), driving very fast in his Audi R8, and drinking scotch every chance he gets.

In other words he's just like we would all be if we were millionaires.

While he is drinking and driving (as a passenger in a 'fun-Vee') in the Afghan desert his convoy is attacked by terrorists, using his own weaponry no less, and Stark is taken prisoner by a group demanding that he build a version of his latest super missile system for them.

Every one knows the engineering genius is going to blast his way out of there, but of course there's a catch: Stark has shrapnel embedded in his body that would make a bee line for his heart if not for a magnetic device embedded in his chest, placed there by a friendly fellow captive, Yinsen.

What those of us not addicted to comics don't know is that not only does Stark blast his way out, he uses a crudely constructed metal suit to do his dirty work by blasting through his captors with an array of weapons, including a gnarly flamethrower, before escaping on the propulsion system intended for the rockets.

Thus a superhero is born.

Freed from his near death experience and disgusted by the knowledge that his weapons are not just being used to protect his country (evidently he's a bit naive, too), Tony decides to take Stark Enterprises in kinder, gentler direction, hoping to develop a larger version of the mini-reactor that allows him to live to provide an alternate power source for mass consumption.

Not so fast, metal man.

Stark's business partner and former confidante to his father, Obadiah Stane (a nearly unrecognizable and thoroughly menacing Bridges) doesn't quite agree with Tony's new agenda, especially since he's the one supplying the terrorists with Stark's weaponry, and Stane quickly moves to have Stark removed by the company's board before he ruins all the fun.

For us that's when the fun starts.

Stark sets to work on the technologically advanced version of his metal suit, which is when we get to witness the cool gadgets that line his workshop, not the least of which is his collection of exotic cars, as well as the complex boss-aide relationship he and Potts enjoy.

The rest of the movie is mostly by-the-books superhero stuff: with the iconic suit under his control Stark/Iron Man attempts to avenge his capture and defeat his new arch enemy Stane, who has now transformed into the mega machine Iron Monger, all while providing plenty of laughs with a little romance on the side.

Downey juggles all of these tasks with aplomb, switching from lothario to lovesick with ease while eradicating the bad guys without spilling his beloved scotch. He is at once simple and complex, predictable and erratic, loathsome and lovable.

However the one thing he never is is boring.

Be sure to stick around past the closing credits to get a sneak peak at what the future holds for Mr. Stark and this franchise-in-the making.

What you didn't think there'd be a sequel?

Mr Downey's magnetic performance made sure of that.

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