What Christian Bale did for the Caped Crusader, Downey does for Tony Stark/Iron Man. There’s a real gravitas to both performances and neither actor ever plays a single scene as if he’s a comic book character. Bale stepped into the role of Bruce Wayne packing a resume loaded with passionate performances, and for a period prior to Batman Begins Bale was one of the most popular actors on the Internet despite never having scored a major box office hit. The years before Iron Man weren’t always so kind to Downey, but his real life trials and tribulations, and his reemergence as a damn fine actor, now serve as the perfect foundation from which to build an Iron Man franchise.
Tony Stark has the world on a string - gorgeous women, a Malibu mansion to die for, and more money than any one man should ever be allowed to accumulate. Oh yeah, life’s sunny on Stark’s side of the street. But karma is a bitch and Tony’s ticket is almost punched when he visits the US troops in Afghanistan and his convoy comes under enemy fire. Pulled barely alive from the wreckage, Stark is taken to a hillside hideaway and tortured into building his most powerful weapon – the Jericho missile - for a brutal batch of terrorists.
After destroying the terrorists’ supply of Stark Industry manufactured weapons, Tony’s new suit shoots him skyward, safely out of the camp and into the inhospitable desert. With his suit destroyed on impact, Tony gets a lift home to America courtesy of his close friend and military liaison Jim ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes (Terrence Howard) who never stopped searching for Tony during all the time he was held hostage.
Once back in the States, Tony holds a press conference to announce he’s done with providing the means for men to blow up cities and kill innocent people. This new direction for the company doesn’t sit well with Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), Stark Industries second-in-command and a guy who values money over innocent lives. While Tony shifts direction and works on upgrading his specially designed red and gold Iron Man suit of armor, the company he believes he’s in charge of continues about the business of arming terrorists. But when he gets wind of these backdoor deals, Tony vows to reverse the damage done by the company his father founded decades before.
Robert Downey Jr was not the obvious choice but definitely is the perfect guy to bring Tony Stark to life on film. He’s terrific at delivering wisecracks, snide remarks, and clever one-liners. Physically, Downey looks incredibly fit and, to put it bluntly, hot (and at least a decade younger than his real age). Plus there’s a real sense of glee about him when he goes in for the kill (via dialogue, not by actual weapons). When Downey transforms from a swaggering LA playboy into a man whose eyes have been opened for the very first time, it’s a completely believable transition. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a career-defining role, but Iron Man will rank right up there with Downey’s best performances.
Jeff Bridges, sporting a shaved head and tidy beard, looks the part of a money-driven businessman evil enough to hand guns over to the terrorists without flinching. Terrence Howard does the military proud, even in the scene in which he and Downey watch flight attendants work their way around a stripper pole in Stark’s private jet. Howard’s the perfect sidekick for Downey, and the friendship between their two characters feels right. Gwyneth Paltrow’s back after taking a while off to be a mom and plays Tony Stark’s Girl Friday, Pepper Potts (where do comic book writers come up with these names?). Paltrow’s fine in the part, although there’s really not much to the role. Pepper is there whenever Stark needs her, but the robotic droids in Stark’s workshop are more entertaining than the part Pepper Potts plays in this Iron Man.
Director Favreau keeps the film flying along at a swift pace while at the same time serving up all the backstory we’ll ever need on Iron Man. There’s plenty of explosions and spectacular action scenes to keep fans satisfied, and more than enough humor to lighten the mood when events turn dark. This film may not dig deep into the Iron Man mythology, but expanding on the story can take place over the next few movies. The origin story had to be laid out in detail, or else the idea of a billionaire weapons manufacturer transforming into a man willing to go to extreme measures wouldn’t have made one bit of sense to anyone except for Iron Man followers. The fact the film does its job and is highly entertaining just goes to show what the right leading man, the right director, and a lot of care can do for a comic book-inspired film.
Iron Man didn’t completely live up to my expectations which, I admit, were unrealistically high. The film clips and trailers had me anxiously awaiting the film’s release, and I was expecting something a little bolder and a slight bit funnier than the finished film. And the film’s final fight sequence between…nope, won’t spoil that for those of you who are going into this totally unaware of the story….isn’t nearly as incredible as you’d expect given the build up to the sequence. But having Transformers still relatively fresh in my mind could have dampened my enthusiasm for Iron Man’s ending. Despite its few flaws, Iron Man’s a terrific way to kick off the summer of 2008 movie season.
Theatrical Release Date: May 2, 2008