60s, the song went "Tony Stark makes you feel / he's a cool
exec with a heart of steel…" (Okay, so it's not exactly
Noel Coward.) The average moviegoer now, though, wouldn't
even know that theme song, let alone that Tony Stark dons
the armor of Iron Man.
for filmmaker Jon Favreau and Marvel Studios, both the blessing
and the challenge of Iron Man the movie is starting
from scratch, convincing an audience they want to know this
mythos. Working from a screenplay credited to two different
teams and clearly augmented by Robert Downey, Jr., this
debut from the independent Marvel Studios accomplishes everything
it needs to - and thanks to Downey, a little bit more.
the years, a lot of actors circled around the project, but
Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. Throwing off one-liners
as casually as he clinks the ice in his glass, he fully
inhabits the diffident playboy genius that, let's face it,
is absolutely one of the biggest jerks in the Marvel Universe.
Rather than cover Stark's flaws, Downey shows why those
things also drive him to unexpected acts of heroism.
this wunderkind can cruelly but charmingly manipulate
young women, inveigle his friends into going against their
better natures and generally look like a guy getting away
with it all, whatever it is. But it's also clear from both
script and performances that nobody has ever really called
him to task for it.
Stark gets a slap in the face (almost immediately, as Favreau
plays a little bit with chronology in the first act of the
film), it's not just practicality that puts him on the road
to being Iron Man. It is a visible realization that he's
a badder boy than he ever wanted to be.
say that superheroes all have similar origins, and though
the beats of the story may resemble others superficially,
Iron Man makes this story all its own. Yes, there
are lost parents, but they are deep in the past and no more
of a molding force than they would be for any normal man.
If anything, Stark uses misplaced hero worship to excuse
his behavior until a tragedy in Afghanistan.
original comic stories - and the film does credit Larry
Lieber and Don Heck in addition to the expected Lee and
Kirby - appeared steeped in the Viet Nam conflict, and that
may be another strong reason that the time is right for
Iron Man, and why it works so well. Stark Industries
has made it too easy to fight in extremely destructive ways,
and Tony Stark must atone, pain written all over the face
underneath the helmet.
a couple of shots, it's a credit to Downey's physical control
that even in the armor, which isn't always CG, that sad
anger reads in Iron Man's stance and gestures.
herself a movie star again, Gwyneth Paltrow holds her own
in the shadow of Downey. As Pepper Potts, she too has an
unexpected depth, capturing the flirtatious rhythms of the
devoted woman who still refuses to play second fiddle to
the bevy of women in Stark's life. In ways neither character
can articulate, Potts has Stark's heart. Neither knows what
to do about that situation, setting the stage for the franchise
to continue an emotional throughline.
and offhandedly, director Jon Favreau has put himself in
a position to see that to fruition. Not only does he steer
the film, he cast himself as Happy Hogan, the limousine
driver/bodyguard who will one day become part of a triangle.
In a larger role as James Rhodes, you can see Terrence Howard
aching to get into that armor himself. Certainly he reflects
Stark's friendship, and comes across as the only guy that
Tony would one day trust with his toys.
one of the great charms of this film for fans and non-fans.
If you know how this all adds up, Favreau and his writing
team have laid out plenty of clues for where future films
can go. Yet it's done so subtly that someone unfamiliar
with Iron Man will just accept things as neat dressing.
While the main villain of the film may be Obadiah Stane
(Jeff Bridges), Stark's tormentor in Afghanistan has a connection
to a much larger piece of the story. Or you could just walk
out content that he's one more effective evil figure.
Man also stands as Marvel's first attempt at weaving
the larger tapestry of their universe. A few verbal cues
hint that they'd like their flagship characters back in
the fold, but they do also concretely establish SHIELD,
represented by the deceptively calm Agent Phil Coulson (Clark
Gregg). His more mercurial boss Nick Fury was rumored to
have a cameo, but sorry, was not in the print screened for
you wish theatrical releases came with DVD extras?
of what fans thought they wanted, Iron Man makes
a solid entry. Maybe it will turn non-fans into fans. It's
not only that good, it may be the best movie adapted from
Marvel's characters. While not quite providing that uplift
that made me want to watch it again immediately, Iron
Man will still be getting my money again.
note: Blink and you'll miss executive producer Peter
Billingsley with a horrific shaved head as a scientist trying
to duplicate Tony Stark's efforts. Yes, little Ralphie from
A Christmas Story has grown up and boy, did I want Jeff
Bridges to shake him and threaten to shoot his eye out.