Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Iron Man

I read a few Iron Man comic books back in my college days. In truth, I didn’t care for them too much. I much preferred the teenage angst that Spider-Man offered. Truth be told, it was probably too adult for me. Tony Stark, after all, was a middle-aged man with medical problems. He was also not very nice.

Forty years later, they make a movie out of it. Tony Stark is a billionaire. He’s still not very nice. But with one major difference: he’s played by Robert Downey, Jr. That made all the difference in the world.

Instead of a one-dimensional stick figure, we get a man with a past set by his father, a formidable figure. And along with the ghost of his father, who set up his very successful arms corporation, he also gets his father’s best friend and business partner, Stane, played by Jeff Bridges. And we also get a raconteur, a man who doesn’t treat himself seriously, except in the laboratory, and has trouble remembering the names of the women he beds.

All of this is set up in minutes. Downey’s Stark, however, is taken captive in Afghanistan and fights his way out by using his genius. He learns a lot about where his company’s arms are going. But he still has a lot to learn about betrayal, not to mention how the stock market will react to a change in business philosophy.

I really enjoyed this movie from beginning to end (and don’t leave before the credits play out). I heard one criticism that the movie doesn’t offer a lot of action until the end, and I find that ludicrous. The whole movie is fraught with action, except for the parts where we’re finding out more and more about Stark’s character. These are important moments, funny moments, and each one plays a role in setting up the impact of the film.

One character that didn’t really play an important part was the one played by Terrence Howard, as Stark’s best friend, Rhodes, a military weapons expert who apparently has a less-than-ethical (in my opinion) relationship with Stark. He supposedly evaluates Stark’s company’s weapons for the military, but he’s his best friend? Better played was Stark’s secretary, Pepper Potts, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Potts and Stark go through a wonderful little sexual-tension dance, played mostly for laughs. Still, the dance explains more about Stark.

Downey’s past missteps make it hard to distinguish the character he’s set up from the real actor. But therein lies his genius: it’s seamless characterization. Take away the science and you have the quirky, funny, brilliant man we’ve come to believe is Robert Downey, Jr.

Judging by the last scene, the one after the credits, we’re headed for Iron Man II. Bring it on.

Thumb’s up.


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