Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
What’s the first sign that it’s actually summer? No, it’s not when school is out, or when everyone starts going on vacation, or even when our weather has that hot river town sticky-humid feel. The true sign that it’s actually summer is with the release of the first superhero movie. And if this year’s offering sets the standard for the 2008 summer movie season, it’s going to be a doozy.
Iron Man is based on the Marvel comic book in which a richer-than-Bill Gates arms manufacturer realizes the error of his ways and adapts his technology to do good for mankind. As with many superhero sagas, the familiar elements are in place: our protagonist has lost his parents, is extremely intelligent and talented in his chosen field, has an underlying dark side to his personality, devises a costume to cloak his real identity, and has a personal assistant who is trusted above and beyond all others.
Robert Downey Jr., one of the best actors in movies today, plays Tony Stark, who makes his fortune by selling weapons of mass destruction to anyone with the money to buy them. While on a business trip to the Middle East, he is kidnapped by terrorists and nearly killed. Through the aid of a captured doctor, Tony survives, and is able to design and construct a crude, but effective, Iron Man suit. Once home, he perfects his prototype with the assistance of his whiz-bang talking computer, with an eye toward helping those who are defenseless against oppressive power.
Downey, who was Oscar nominated for his title role in Chaplin, is just terrific as the playboy rich guy whose life is turned upside down. His trusted assistant is not an aging butler, but the perky Pepper Potts, as played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Terrence Howard is Stark’s oldest friend, who is now serving in the military. And the always-dependable Jeff Bridges essays the snarky Obadiah Stane. You know he’s the bad guy because his head is shaved…just like Lex Luthor.
Despite the familiar elements present in most of these films, Iron Man pulls off the nearly-impossible by presenting its story with humor, heart, and special effects in a package that’s palatable for just about everyone. The CGI effects are amazing, and look genuine. The script by four writers is witty, funny, and thrilling. Director Jon Favreau, a sometimes actor, comedian, and TV host, has only directed a couple of other features, the most successful being the Will Ferrell vehicle Elf. Iron Man elevates him to A-list status among directors. He keeps the pacing tight, the characters interesting, and shows moments of obviously thinking “how would Chuck Jones have directed Wile E. Coyote in this scene.”
In a summer that will see the big-screen return of Batman, The Incredible Hulk and Hellboy, Iron Man has already raised the bar of quality for comic book based superhero movies. It’s rare that a film running 127 minutes feels too short, and leaves you wanting more, but never fear… after an opening weekend of more than 100 million dollars, Iron Man 2 has already been announced for June 2010.
Rated PG-13, Iron Man is showing pretty much everywhere there’s a movie screen.