Just when you think we’ve seen it all when it comes to comics and movies, a new leader emerges from the pack. Marvel has been absolutely killing the competition for the better part of the past 10 years and it doesn’t seem they will step off the gas any time soon. Fans of Marvel and the comics know what to expect, but I doubt many of us that didn’t grow reading Spider-Man or X-Men would have predicted just how big this production company has gotten. In fact, if you go back to their first project, in Blade, many would never believe that was 1998. It’s true, 10 years and whole lot of money for Marvel and co., who continues to be the frontrunner for this genre. Sure DC Comics can handle their own and should come out the winner this summer with the anticipated release of The Dark Knight, but Marvel still holds all the cards in my book. Especially now that their new soon-to-be hit franchise Iron Man begins its trek into box office history after a huge opening weekend.
The story in Iron Man is unlike other superhero flicks as it actually doesn’t start with an accident. Instead M.I.T. graduate and borderline scientific genius, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) builds his own “suit,” to go fly around in. It was supposed to be a simple meet and greet trip for Stark, owner of Stark Industries, a multi-billion dollar company that focuses on building weapons. Fly over to Afghanistan, teach the U.S. soldiers about a new weapon and get back to his famed life, but as the convoy was leaving town a local terrorist group targets and captures Stark. After sustaining life-altering injuries, Stark is kept alive to help build some extreme weapons for the terrorists. But, keeping alive this creative genius would be the wrong move, as Stark instead built his own personal weapon, one made of iron that would not only save his life, but would enable him to escape the wrath of the terrorists. After returning to U.S., Stark was a changed man; no more the cocky billionaire and industrialist. Instead Stark turned the tables on his own company, pledging to revamp the business plan by no longer selling weapons, causing the stock prices to plummet and send the media into a frenzy. After seeing what his company was helping destroy oversees, Stark continued to work on his own invention that saved his life and that would now give him powers he would have never dreamed of. Such a change was not welcomed, however, by Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), Stark’s No. 2 and former confidante of his father, who was involved in a little more than first realized, once Stark started to dig and see what his company was really doing behind the scenes. Next thing you know, all hell breaks loose and the very company Stark was trying to change became his enemy forcing Stark to use his revamped creation to save the world from a greater power, which to this point had been unknown.
I’ll be honest, when I first heard about Iron Man and the fact Robert Downey Jr. would be the lead role, I laughed, thinking there would be no possible way he could pull this off. Not to say it’s impossible to play a superhero, but I would bet money I wasn’t alone with those thoughts. Let’s face it, up until this point, Downey Jr. is more known about his off-screen antics than his on screen and although he’s never really been terrible in anything, he hasn’t really shined either. Sure, he’s had some great roles and performances for films many have never even heard of, so for him to sort of step out and do something like this was surprising to me. I have come to expect Downey Jr. (U.S. Marshals, A Scanner Darkly, Zodiac) to lay low in films and be that guy you may or may not remember when it’s all over. And the truth is, He’s good at that and I enjoy some of his darker roles typically. And who knows, maybe that’s exactly why he was chosen here, because after watching him in this film, I couldn’t imagine anyone else.
Backing up Downey Jr. was quite the trio of Oscar nominees and winners. And possibly leading the pack was Jeff Bridges, who changed his entire look for this film. There’s just something about Jeff Bridges and his demeanor that makes you like him no matter what role he is in. He has a way of stealing scenes before you even know it and it was no different here. Following Bridges with ease was Gwyneth Paltrow, who I didn’t realize was even a part of the film until she showed up in her first scene. What a sweet surprise that was and a certain balance was kept when Paltrow entered the picture, which was nice. And then there was the very young and talented Terrance Howard, who can’t seem to do any wrong with the roles he chooses. Clearly Howard (Crash, Hustle & Flow) knows what’s going on, as each and every time I see him, he seems to be a bit more polished, even with a somewhat smaller role like this. And that’s impressive for any film of this genre.
It’s been awhile since I walked into a film as unprepared as I was for Iron Man. I guess not ever really seeing a whole lot on it benefited me, as I completely forgot Jon Favreau directed it. Having only directed two previous films (Elf, Zathura: A Space Adventure), the expectations could only be so high. But, just like Downey Jr., Favreau quickly showed he has what it takes as a director too, as he “did this film a solid” by sitting behind the camera. And I could feel Favreau’s touch all over it, which is what you want for a good director, so that only benefited the story if you ask me. Using skills he has picked up over the years through acting, Favreau was able to keep the action almost “low key” and manageable, which was real nice for a change. Typically, we’ll see one special effect after another, but for the most part here, it was real simple and easy. And I think that was the one thing I took away from this, was just how easy it was to watch and enjoy. Maybe there was a lot more special effects and it just didn’t seem like it, given how great he dialogue written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby was throughout. And it seemed work so well with the characters at all the right times, never once being dwarfed by the action taking place, much to the credit of Favreau. Even the suit drummed up by Downey Jr’s character was terrific and never overdone, making it the right fit as the core of the story. And although the cat is out of the bag on a sequel, let’s just hope it’s just as ingenious as this was and if we’re lucky, all parties will still be involved in some way or fashion.
Iron Man may not have the look of a Spider-Man or Superman, but it sure packs a punch when it’s all said and done. With a cast and story better than you think, all at the will of director Jon Favreau, this one went from a “could be winner” to a “sure thing” overnight quite possibly becoming the sleeper blockbuster of the summer. So, forget all those notions you might have and go see this film, as it is about as smart as it is fun all the way through.
Rating: A – An Ironclad Winner!