Robert Downey, Jr. - Tony Stark/Iron Man
Terrence Howard - Jim Rhodes
Gwyneth Paltrow - Pepper Potts
Jeff Bridges - Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger
Leslie Bibb - Christine Everhart
Paul Bettany - Jarvis (voice)
Shaun Toub - Yinsen
Year - 2008
Score - 4 Howls Outta 4
Let me make something perfectly clear: I'm a huge Marvel comics geek. It's been almost 10 years since I bought a comic, but I still catch up on my favorite characters through graphic novels every time I go to a Barnes and Nobles and take the time to read it through. One of my favorite heroes has always been Shell-Head himself, The Invincible Iron Man. Not only is the armor suit cool and can do really awesome things, but the man underneath that suit [Tony Stark] is very human with his faults and addictions. Though sometimes you would shake your head at the choices Iron Man tended to make, you never stopped rooting for him, hoping he'd find the way to make things right for himself and the world around him.
So upon hearing that an IRON MAN film was being made, I was kind of apprehensive. Can you blame me? Ever since SPIDER-MAN 2, Marvel films have been going down the hill. Remember ELEKTRA? GHOST RIDER? Those silly FANTASTIC FOUR films? What about the disappointing X-MEN: THE LAST STAND and SPIDER-MAN 3? Yeah, it hasn't been a great few years for Marvel comic fans. But hearing that Jon Favreau, a devoted comic book fan, was directing and bringing along Robert Downey, Jr. to play Tony Stark sold me on the get-go. And watching those trailers got me pumped up more, hoping those weren't the best scenes in the film. And to my relief, they aren't and the film is probably the first one to start off the summer movie blockbuster scene right. Make Mine Marvel!
Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), alcoholic and ladies man, is a billionaire from making weapons for other industries and countries. He goes to Afghanistan to showcase his newest weapon that happens to be some massive missile deployment system that he deems Jericho. His travel is cut off by an attack on his convoy, which happens to cause him to be injured by one of his own missiles. He's taken prisoner by an organization called the Ten Rings, who want him to build their own Jericho along with another prisoner named Yinsen (Shaun Toub). Almost fatally wounded and now having to live with a pacemaker for his heart that Yinsen constructed, Stark reflects on his last hours before the trip. We see where his priorities had lied, as he would rather have sex with women and drink than maintain friendly contact with his best friend Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard), his mentor and business partner Obidiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), and long-time assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).
This flashback gives him the motivation to do something right for a change. Instead of making Jericho II, Stark and Yinsen get parts together to create a metal suit. Stark manages to escape captivity and return home, where he sees the error of his ways and decides that his true purpose in life is to protect those he cares about. While trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his friends and the public, Stark decides to improve on the suit to destroy the weapons he's made that have fallen in the wrong hands. However, Stane is totally against that, stealing the original Iron Man prototype to create a Iron Monger of his own...
Summer 2008 at the movies has officially started and IRON MAN was the perfect choice to start the season. This film was so heavily buzzed that I was feeling that I was gonna be disappointed at how Tony Stark and company would be translated onto the big screen. I've never been so glad to be wrong. IRON MAN is an awesome AWESOME film with a terrific cast, excellent direction and CGI, and a fantastic story that will not only please comic book fans, but bring in new fans who have never took an interest in Iron Man before.
What makes IRON MAN work so damn well is how the story is presented. Most superhero films try to force the whole "I got superpowers so now I have to fight crime and be this good guy for society [even though I'm an asshole] while making sure evil people don't succeed in their maniacal schemes". IRON MAN doesn't work that way. Tony Stark is believably transformed from a man who revels in screwing as many women as he can and drinking as much alcohol as possible to a man who really believes in his heart that what he does is the right thing, no matter the consequences. This level of touch and class that allows our hero to become more responsible for his actions and attempt to make up for his past sins while still being an alcoholic and a prick is extremely realistic. He doesn't change personalities at the snap of a finger and become Dudley Do Right. He's always flawed, and that's not a superhero story. That's a human story of a man who wants to be good but is never really sure what that "good" is. Whether he gets there is up to him, but it's great watching him.
I also appreciated the humor in the story, especially by Downey's Stark. As with most comic book films, humor is planted inside the script for fans who know inside jokes and for the children and teenagers need to be entertained when things aren't blowing up. Sometimes this works, like in SPIDER-MAN. But recently, in films like GHOST RIDER and the FANTASTIC FOUR films, the humor has done more harm than good by not adding much to the plot. While the film has large amounts of humor, due to Downey's improvised ad-libs, it never feels forced or cheesy. It's totally natural and we can buy this billionaire to be such a smartass. I thought it gave the character a ton of personality, which makes me care a lot about him and increases my want for him to succeed in his goal.
The CGI was also incredible, to the point where sometimes I would question whether certain effects were natural or not. The suit was made to perfection, as the right kind of light and shadow dawned on it and the way it moved was fantastic. The Iron Monger also looked great for the same reasons. The explosions and the array of weapons from the Iron Man suit were right on. I have no complaints about the CGI. That's a first because I usually have something to complain about these comic book films. But this one pleased me like no other.
I personally hope Jon Favreau directs every other Marvel Studios film from now on. Better known as an actor, Favreau took what he did right with ELF years ago and exceeded everybody's expectations. For a two hour film, the origin story never feels rushed or forced. The pacing is very strong and full of energy from beginning to end. The action was well shot and focused [loved that last scene, though it could have been a bit longer but I'm okay with that]. The film is also very balanced and is visually stunning in its telling. Favreau did a phenomenal job bringing this baby to the big screen. Perfectly directed in my opinion, and since he's doing the sequels, it should only get better.
The acting was great here. Robert Downey, Jr. was born to play Tony Stark. They're pretty much one and the same. He looks like the character. He shares the same demons with the character. He brought humor to the character that was refreshing and real. Even in the suit, Downey gave Iron Man a lot of personality. The man has been through hell and back due to his addictions, but with every fall, he's always stood back up bigger and better each time. He's a fantastic actor and I'm glad he's finally gotten the recognition that he deserves because of this film. The best superhero in a long time, in my opinion. He owns Iron Man from the start and I can't wait to see what else he'll bring to the table in the sequels and spinoff.
The other actors did well with what they were given. Jeff Bridges was delightfully evil as Obidiah Stane a.k.a. the original Iron Monger. With a bald head and that evil goatee, he definitely looked villainous. He could have been more fleshed out, but it didn't really bother me or take away from the film. You knew the moment you saw him that he was bad news and that's enough for me. Terrence Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow were very good as Jim Rhodes and Pepper Potts respectively. I'm sure Howard will get a juicier role in the sequels when the War Machine arc pops up. And Paltrow, who I never found hot in my life, changed my mind as she looked F-I-N-E wearing a red wig and walking in those tight business suits and high heels. Plus she was a feisty little thing and I like that in my women. Growl.
There are also cameos by Favreau himself as Happy Hogan, Stark's driver. We also get another one after the end credits by Samuel L. Jackson. If you went home during the end credits, you really didn't miss much. Just something about the Avenger Initiative and...well, I'll S.H.I.E.L.D. you from the rest. Nothing to see here. Just move along and assemble.
THE FINAL HOWL
IRON MAN is the best film I've seen all year. And it's definitely the best Marvel Comics film since SPIDER-MAN 2 in 2004. It exceeded my expectations and can not wait for the sequel in 2010 and the proposed THE AVENGERS flick that's being worked out with Downey protraying Iron Man in that film as well. Favreau is also attached to that project as well, giving me a lot of hope for Marvel Studios. Rank IRON MAN as one of the greatest comic book films ever made. Who knew? The summer has started with a bang and if you're not one of the $200 million worldwide who hasn't seen this film yet, please do so. Now.