Downey Delivers as Cerebral Superhero in “Marvel”-ous Adaptation of Classic Comic Book Series
Created by Stan Lee in April of 1963, Iron Man was first introduced in Marvel Comics’ “Tales of Suspense” (issue #39). By the legendary animator’s own admission, his crime-fighting superhero’s alter ego, wealthy industrialist/ inventor Tony Stark, was partially inspired by eccentric millionaire playboy Howard Hughes.
The character proved popular enough to warrant spin-offs not only into his own comic book series but into a TV cartoon as well. Now, with Iron Man, the movie, the product line benefits from a further extension into the realm of cinema.
This live-action adventure features Robert Downey, Jr. in the title role, with the oft-troubled star exhibiting an impressive range in an endearing performance guaranteed to resuscitate a career once on life support. For Downey manages to humanize Iron Man to a degree rarely, if at all, previously witnessed in such adaptations of macho superheroes to the big screen. Considerable credit in this regard must go to unheralded director Jon Favreau whose kiddie sci-fi, Zathura, was likewise sophisticated enough to engage the imaginations of children and adults.
Iron Man unfolds very much like the first installment in a pre-planned franchise, taking its own sweet time to acquaint us with the protagonist’s background rather than rush headlong into elaborate fight sequences. Along the way, a few subtle hints are also dropped about what might be in store in IM2 and beyond.
It is established at the outset that Tony Stark, the CEO of Stark Industries, is a filthy rich, womanizing genius. For he is conspicuously absent from the festivities at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas where he was supposed to be receiving an award for his company’s service to the Military-Industrial Complex as the country’s leading weapons manufacturer.
But the AWOL bon vivant was more interested in impressing and seducing an attractive reporter (Leslie Bibb) at his sprawling, oceanfront Malibu estate. Fortunately, his faithful, frustrated womanservant and secret admirer, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), is always around to get her boss’ nose back to the grindstone.
The plot thickens soon after he lands in Afghanistan to demonstrate his latest invention, the Jericho Missile, for the benefit of the U.S. military brass. En route, the Humvee in which he’s riding is hit by a roadside bomb, and he ends up in a cave controlled by terrorists. Tony can’t help but notice that his captors are already somehow wielding weaponry produced by his company. And worse, they now want him to put his brain to work on their behalf to build the next generation missile.
What the insurgents don’t know is that Stark’s more worried about the life-threatening shrapnel permanently imbedded in his chest. So, instead of working for them, he secretly uses the next few months to build himself a suit of armor containing a mammoth electromagnet to prevent any metal fragments from reaching his heart. Eventually, he uses this outfit to morph into Iron Man, escape, and return to the States where he makes the shocking announcement that Stark Industries will be shutting down its munitions manufacturing division.
This decision doesn’t sit with his possibly double-dealing, right hand-man, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), and it also strains his longtime liaison with Lieutenant Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) from the Department of Defense. But Stark remains resolute and determined to learn exactly how his guns landed in the hands of the enemy, even if that means he must reluctantly don that Iron Man suit one more time to kill in the name of peace.
A ‘Marvel’-ously cerebral superhero with a functioning conscience.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence and brief suggestive content.
Running time: 126 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures