Movie review by Greg Carlson
More than 45 years have passed since Iron Man’s initial appearance in the 39th issue of “Tales of Suspense,” and even though the “Golden Avenger” was never as popular as Spider-Man, he receives lavish treatment in the feature film directed by Jon Favreau. Better than the average comic book to film adaptation, “Iron Man” fulfills all the criteria of the genre. From a slightly retooled origin story to a budding romance to a climactic showdown with an enemy who might once have been a friend, “Iron Man” connects all the dots. After the dust settles, a post-credit roll surprise virtually guarantees sequels and spin-offs.
Casting Robert Downey Jr. as cocky billionaire Tony Stark was easily the smartest move made by the producers of the film. Downey, who plays the title character with the biting wit and playful insouciance that has been the actor’s stock in trade for a pair of decades, takes a page from Johnny Depp’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” playbook; essentially isolating himself from everything happening around him on the screen, he shares a wink and a smile with the audience and can scarcely be bothered to relate to the movie’s other characters. It cannot be an accident that the film’s biggest laughs erupt from Stark’s relationship with his fire extinguisher-wielding workshop robot.
The movie’s supporting cast members aren’t given quite enough to do. Jeff Bridges plays the wonderfully-named villain Obadiah Stane, but his storyline occasionally feels clipped and rushed, especially by the time Iron Man faces off against Stane’s Iron Monger. Gwyneth Paltrow is smart and convincing as secretary Pepper Potts, even though she does not seem to mind Stark’s libidinous carousing with other women. Terrence Howard, as pal James Rhodes, fares the worst. With the exception of a nod to future Iron Man/War Machine possibilities, Rhodes is a second banana all the way, and Howard never finds a way to enhance the underwritten role.
Transposing the Marvel Comics genesis from the Vietnam era to present day Afghanistan, “Iron Man” trades in Communist enemies for a group of Taliban-like guerillas known as the Ten Rings. The most salient elements of Iron Man’s birth, including the symbolic shrapnel lodged near his heart, are presented intact. Other details are modified and streamlined. Favreau allows Stark, held captive by the Ten Rings in a mountainous hideout, plenty of time to forge the prototype Iron Man armor. Oddly, even though the bad guys monitor the American’s every move via closed circuit television, they fail to notice that he is not crafting the missile system they have demanded.
Favreau understands that action movies require breathing room in between the razzle dazzle of the CGI-fueled smash-ups. When Stark perfects his ultimate weapon, viewers – especially ones of the teenage male variety – will thrill to images of Iron Man dispatching insurgents with ridiculous accuracy. An extended dogfight between Iron Man and a pair of F-22s offers the special effects wizards an even better opportunity to demonstrate the latest step in the evolution of movie magic. The animators do a fine job, but “Iron Man” is arguably at its best when Stark isn’t hidden behind the helmet of his nearly invincible steel suit.
This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 5/5/08.