Iron Man *** (out of ****)

Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway based on characters created by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Faran Tahir
Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content)
Running Time: 126 min
Release Date: 5/2/08

Iron Man is a genuinely enjoyable adaptation of the Marvel Comic series. First, I must confess that I’m not a big fan of comic book “heroes” since they represent the softer fantasy side of science fiction. Also, what is heroic about a larger than life character vanquishing mere mortal villains? At least Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is just a mere mortal. Granted he is a super genius who graduated from MIT by the age of 19 and inherited a controlling interest in one of America’s larges defense contractors. But, ultimately he is just a man who could be killed just as easily as one of us could.

In a way the Tony Stark is seems like a contemporary Howard Hughes without the madness. He is introduced as a brash patriot who dismisses any criticism of Stark Industries weapons production as naïve thinking in a work at risk. When he isn’t personally designing some new weapon, he is gambling in Vegas, or bedding a spunky female reporter who had the audacity to challenge him. While demonstrating his new Jericho missile system to troops in Afghanistan, he remarks that he doesn’t see why one must choose between being feared or respected. With Jericho you can be both!

However, on the way back form his field demonstration, his convoy is ambushed by terrorists armed with his own company’s weapons. Tony is wounded and captured. The terrorist leader (Faran Tahir) demands that Tony produce a Jericho system from him on the spot. While Tony pretends to given in to the demands, he instead invents the Iron Man suit as a means of escape with the assistance of a fellow captured engineer (Shaun Toub). He also manages to develop a miniaturized “arc reactor” to power his new invention. The “arc reactor” which will also play an important role in the climax seems to be basically a controlled fusion device. This film clearly has a very unrealistic view of what one genius can actually accomplish working by himself. Hey, it’s based on a comic book!

After successfully escaping from the terrorists, Tony returns to the U.S. determined to get his company out of the weapons business. Shares in its stock plunge on this news and we are treated a segment with CNBC’s Jim Cramer doing his sell, sell, sell routine. Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) sees the folly in this new non-business plan and works behind the scenes to frustrate it. He might have been a real voice of common sense if he wasn’t the villain, who among other things was responsible for selling the Stark weapons to the terrorists. Tony decides to secretly design and build an improved version of the Iron Man suit to that he can fight for justice.

“Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is Tony’s personal assistant, comes to his aid on several occasions and uncovers Stane’s insidious plot. Downey and Paltrow manage to portray their comic book characters with an amazing degree of believability. Paltrow has had some experience with this type of role in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The character of Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard), the Air Force liaison officer, isn't treated as well. Of the various comic adaptations of recent years Iron Man is one of the best. Viewers will of course be on the lookout for the cameo appearance of Stan Lee and will be rewarded with a little surprise if they set through the credits.


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