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An early entry into the summer movie blockbuster race, Iron Man () holds its own as a big-budget action film, but would probably lose in a battle against most of the other movie superheroes. It would definitely be defeated by the first two Spider-Man movies, but could trounce Spidey 3. The Fantastic Four wouldn’t stand a chance, but going one-on-one against the newest Batman might prove a disaster.
Adapted from the Marvel comic of the same name, Iron Man‘s human persona is weapons manufacturer Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), a man who has it all: lots of money, lots of brains, lots of girlfriends, lots of attitude. It’s his brains and attitude that really save him when he’s kidnapped by terrorists who demand he create a new missile for them. Iron Man has been updated to place Tony in Afghanistan, where he’s held by a terrorist cell in a cave. Since we know how well the U.S. can find someone in this region, it’s naturally up to Stark to save himself.
The weapon that Stark builds is not a missile, but rather an armored suit that he uses to blast his way to freedom. Once home, Tony has a change of heart: both literally and figuratively. First, to prevent shrapnel from entering his heart, he creates an electromagnet in his chest that keeps him alive. Second, he vows to stop creating weapons until he can ensure they are used for protecting Americans, not attacking them. In order to correct his wrongs and destroy the weapons already out there, he creates a new version of his suit to help him fight for good.
Iron Man is split into three distinct parts: the escape from Afghanistan, the creation of the Iron Man suit 2.0, and the destruction of the ultimate bad guys. Though the middle drags as Stark discovers what it’s like to be a superhero, it’s such a joy to watch Downey, it’s a minor complaint at best.
Downey’s portrayal of Stark is so spot-on that it makes you doubt anyone else could have played the part. He owns the role, bringing bravado and vulnerability to the screen. Even when encased in the suit, shots of Downey’s face help remind us of the powerful man inside the armor.
It’s always tough to be the sidekick to a superhero, and it’s tough on the supporting actors to outshine Downey. Aiding Tony in his newfound mission are his trusty friends, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard).
Potts is the executive assistant extraordinaire, but Paltrow is only a wisp of a being in the role. Her performance is about as flat as Potts would be on the page of a comic book. Howard, though minimally better, never commands the attention that you would expect from a military bigwig. It’s one thing to talk softly and carry a big stick, but he talks softly and seems to be carrying a toothpick.
Only Jeff Bridges, in a semi-paternal role, gives a performance worthy of note and even then it might just be because his character, Obadiah Stane, stands up to Stark. Really, though, it doesn’t matter. We’re here to see Downey.
For the fanboys, Iron Man creator Stan Lee continues to make his now traditional cameo appearance in one of the most amusing set-ups so far. It’s worth keeping an eye out for the chuckle.
Director Jon Favreau, who also brought us Elf, shows he can thrill us over and over again in Iron Man. Even though the final fight scene seems a little truncated, there are enough adrenaline-surging moments throughout that you don’t feel too cheated.
Favreau’s greatest achievement might be that Iron Man manages to avoid much of the cheesiness that bogged down other recent comic book movies (Fantastic Four comes to mind). It remains smart, funny, and visually stimulating throughout. And the toys and gadgets that Tony uses to create Iron Man are just plain cool.
Iron Man was never as popular as Superman or Batman or even Spider-Man. Likewise, it’s doubtful that the Iron Man movie will be hailed in the same category the films featuring these other heroes. However, for new and old fans of Iron Man, the film embodies the essence of the hero and doesn’t disappoint. Iron Man deserves better than iron, but not quite solid gold. Silver would be the most appropriate.