There are few movies that I actually look forward to and hope they live up to the hype and interest that they spend months building up to their release, then see it and find that it does and then some. “Iron Man” is such a film, not only making it one of the best comic-based movies ever done since “Batman Begins”, it’s also probably one of the best MOVIES to come out. Directed by Jon Favreau, “Iron Man” is the first film produced by Marvel Comics’ new film studio, showing what can happen when you do a comic-based film right.
In one of the most accurate castings ever made, Robert Downey, Jr. plays main character Tony Stark, a man known as the “da Vinci of our times” for his technological genius but also as the “Merchant of Death” for being one of the leading weapons developers in the world. Stark, who loves fast cars and fast women, just shrugs it off and has a good time, much to the dismay of those closest to him, such as assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyenth Paltrow), Air Force colonel James Rhodes (Terrance Howard) and business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges).
But while in Afghanistan demonstrating his new missile system, Stark is attacked and kidnapped by terrorists… using weapons of his design. Critically injured and kept alive by a special pace maker, Stark is told to build weapons for the terrorists, but instead, with the help of fellow captured scientist Dr. Yinsen, he builds a crude but powerful suit of armor that he uses to make his escape. Upon returning home, Stark begins to upgrade his armor and use it to stop the use of his weapons on innocent people. But when the remains of his original armor fall into the wrong hands, Stark realizes his real enemy and faces the fight of his life.
I’ll admit I’m not much of an “Iron Man” fan, but I love comic-based movies and this one is excellent. The film actually manages to faithfully adapt the original story from the comics and, at the same time, update it for modern times and audiences. Even Stark’s armor, both the original prototype he first builds and his later, more familiar red and gold Mark III version, looks like it was lifted right off the comics page, thanks to the special effects genius of Stan Winston. And rather than look silly like some might think it would be, it all looks very believable and realistic, with Stark having to put it on in segments and with help rather than just stepping into it and snapping a few clasps. Much of the film, in fact, is spent showing Stark designing, testing and building the upgraded versions of his armor, with features such as the familiar jet boots and repulsor rays, with his workshop being in his garage with all his cars present (hey, where else would you expect any guy’s workshop to be?). Of course, such testing has some rather comic results, such as Stark crashing into the wall during his first jet test or crashing right through the floors of his mansion the first time he tries to land after a test flight. It’s not only expected, but welcome in the film.
Probably the best about the film, next of course to the action (full of plenty of guns and explosions for all the guys), is the casting. Downey’s casting as Stark has been one of the most surprisingly accepted choices among comic book fans, and he more than pulls it off. Whether he’s the arrogant, devil-may-care playboy at the start of the film, or the eye-opened and guilt-ridden man who sets out to correct the mistakes he inadvertently caused, Downey does it perfectly in a way that’s rarely done. It’s more than likely due to the eerie similarities Downey’s own life battles with drugs and alcohol is like Stark’s, who in the original comics had his own such fight in one of comics’ most memorable storylines, but that just more than proves that the actor was right for the role.
And Downey isn’t the only well-cast member of the movie. As Pepper Potts, Paltrow is a woman who sticks with her boss despite (or because of) his faults with complete professionalism, though the disdain is still there, along with some budding romance. Howard adds his own cool professionalism as Jim Rhodes, Stark’s closest friend and military liaison and another who tries to keep Tony’s on the ground, without much success. And finally there’s Bridges as Stane, the business partner who’s interests in Stark are obviously questionable, despite his friendly and supportive attitude. It’s these casting choices that help lead up to the film’s finale, and of course, the obvious sequels, as those who know the comics know there’s plenty more story to tell.
Naturally there are some changes to film, but these are ones I don’t think fans will mind. For one, Stark’s butler from the comics, the ever reliant Jarvis, is here a computer A.I. program that runs Stark’s Malibu mansion with clever dry wit. This change not only shows Stark’s genius with all things technical, but probably avoids comparisons to Alfred and Batman. The film’s change of location from New York, the usual haunting grounds of Marvel’s superheroes, to sun-and-surf filled Malibu seems rather appropriate and fitting to Stark’s character. Such changes are rarely accepted by die-hard fans, but these more than work and help the film rather than hurt it.
All in all, this is a great movie, one both comics and even non-comics fans can enjoy. And this is also a movie you’ll want to stick around to wait for the end credits to finish, since, like other Marvel movies before it, there’s a surprise addition and cameo that you have to see.
Released by: Paramount Pictures
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Gywenth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Terrance Howard (James Rhodes), Jeff Bridges (Obadian Stane/Iron Monger)
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Score: 10 out of 10