Finally found a break in the busy month of May to see Iron Man; the first super hero tale you tell theatrically is always the hardest. You need to appeal to the hardcore fans of the character but tell a story that creates new fans. It must delicately balance the origin of the hero with plenty of action. Most importantly, it must make a film that has everyone clamoring for a sequel. Director Jon Favreau took a well written script and has hit all the marks to do just that.
I’ve never been much of an Iron Man devotee; my childhood interest in armored characters from the Marvel universe was consumed with Dr. Doom and his battles against the Fantastic Four. Walking into this film, I was familiar enough to know the spirit of the origin story they needed to achieve. Every superhero story starts with a life changing event; in this case, Tony Stark finds himself a prisoner in Afghanistan, severely injured by the weapons his company has manufactured. His epiphany in captivity is how empty his life is; his life’s work has done nothing but harm the world and now him.
The next step in a superhero story is building his identity; the bulk of this film dedicates time to Tony Stark building the famous suit. However, it is so tightly wound into the plot and action that it does not provide a single dull moment. From the Mark I helping Stark escape to the final suit in the film, Favreau keeps the energy high but ensures that the necessary character moments and humor are there to make Stark a hero you want to cheer.
Just as Toby Maguire and Christian Bale have stepped into and owned the roles of Spider-man and Batman, Robert Downey, Jr. has made the role of Tony Stark his; he isn’t an actor on the screen playing the part. You genuinely feel that he is Tony Stark, a man with everything at his fingertips but with nothing other than emptiness that alcohol and women can never fill. One might surmise that this tale hit bit close to home for Mr. Downey, but he has proven in this film and others that he is a genuinely gifted actor. I’ve never cared much for Gwyneth Paltrow’s performances, but her appearance in the film is brief and tolerable.
If there is more than one sequel, I certainly hope they bring Jeff Bridges back for an encore. He played the perfect villain for this film; his subtle portrayal of Obadiah Stane showed Tony Stark just how evil the world can be and that evil is not just found in the mountain lairs of terrorists. Overall, this was an entertaining two hours, but I disagree with those that feel it is better than the first two Spider-man films. I came out of those excited by the thoughts of the next sequel. I didn’t come out of Iron Man with the same level of excitement for a sequel. Perhaps this is due to my fondness for the Spider-man stories though. Would I see Iron Man 2? Yes, Favreau and Downey have proved that they can create an entertaining film around this hero. If you haven’t caught it yet, find a way to see it; this is likely the best action hero film you’ll see this year outside of The Dark Knight.