IRON MAN (2008) ***** movie review by COOP

Posted on May 28th, 2008
Posted on May 28th, 2008

I have been waiting for this movie for over twenty years. That’s not an exaggeration. “Iron Man” was my favorite comic book growing up. Heck, it was the only comic book I ever had a subscription to. Why? I’ve been trying to lock down the appeal. Could be Tony Stark had neater gadgets than other tech-based super heroes, like say, Batman (who needs “bat-a-rangs” when you’ve got lasers?). In fact, the Iron Man suit could do almost anything short of Superman’s powers with ONE specific advantage over the man in the red cape… Superman can’t upgrade.
When I learned of the movie, directed by actor Jon Favreau (“Swingers”) and starring Robert Downey Jr., I hoped they wouldn’t foul it up like so many of my favorite comic book characters in films. Ahem… “Ghost Rider”… *cough.* This time, my hopes were rewarded.

Downey Jr. blazes his way through the role of genius inventor and wealthy arms-dealer-socialite Tony Stark. His witty one-liners, mixed with serious dramatic moments made me love the character in a new way. I never imagined Tony Stark could be heroic and funny. From the first scene, Stark jokes with soldiers in Afghanistan after showing off his new WMD dubbed the “Jericho” which can level a chain of mountains. Explosions abruptly cut off the laughter as Stark’s escorts are killed and he is taken hostage by the terrorist organization “The Ten Rings” (fans of the comic know this is a sly reference to a yet unseen villain known as The Mandarin who will probably show up in a sequel). The terrorists want him to build WMDs for them. Instead he builds a bionic suit of armor and escapes. He returns to the USA, hungry for cheeseburgers and haunted by the fact the terrorists who captured him used Stark Industry weapons to destroy his convoy and cripple him permanently. You see, he has shrapnel surrounding his heart and only a powerful electromagnetic battery can keep the metal from piercing his vital organs, killing him. Fortunately the battery also makes an excellent power source for… you guessed it, a bionic suit of armor.

Stark spends the next third of the film building and perfecting a new suit of armor with the intention of protecting the people he once put in harms way, much to the chagrin of his devious business partner, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). Bridges does his best Lex Luthor impression as Stane who, near the end, dons his own bionic suit, called the “Iron Monger” to stop Stark from ruining all of the shady dealings he’s made with renegade world powers and terrorists over the decades. I’m not spoiling anything here. It is obvious from the posters and his bald head that Stane is the villain and Bridges plays the part with backstabbing malice. Equally good is Stark’s personal assistant, Pepper Potts, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Although a potential love interest, Potts tries to keep things platonic with her boss who, after his brush with death, quickly begins to see her as more than a caddy for his glass of scotch. Their near-miss romantic moments always end humorously even though their chemistry is electric.

The character who excited me the most was Stark’s best friend and military liaison, Air Force officer James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard). Fans of the comic know Rhodes will eventually become Iron Man. More likely, they will go straight to Rhodes getting his own suit of armor to become the hero known as “War Machine.” The film alludes to this in a scene where Rhodes passes by the silver Mark II armor, looks at it and says, “Next time, baby.”

Yeah, so I loved it. Hold this up as a shining example of a comic book film done right. Any disappointments? A few, but I was so jazzed from all the neat stuff I hardly noticed until the buzz of excitement had worn off an hour or two later. The score was fine, but when are we going to get another memorable superhero theme like “Superman” or “Batman” (1990) or “Batman Begins?” Even the first “X-Men” film had a tune I could recall and whistle. Plus, I wanted Iron Man to have more smackdown time with the main villain. Seeing the giant robots in “Transformers” go at it for a full, forty-five minutes was only slightly more satisfying than seeing Iron Man blast Iron Monger with his chest uni-beam. Also, I found Pepper Potts running around in high heels in an attempt to help Iron Man defeat the villain an annoying plot device. At least she wasn’t the typical damsel-in-distress, but Stark relies on her too much.

I also would’ve preferred the more shocking ending in the comic where Stane commits suicide, by laser blast, rather than face defeat. I suspect that was a ratings issue since there is no way “Iron Man” should ever be rated R. Make no mistake, the tone of the story is lighter than Batman, yet Iron Man usually kills his enemies. His suit is capable of great destruction and he uses it in a military strike to wipe out the terrorists who imprisoned him. Will critics of war (and films) see this as a contradiction of the term “super hero?” Time will tell.

All comic fans eagerly anticipated “Iron Man” as Marvel Comics first attempt as a motion picture entity. Before, all Marvel characters were owned by various studios. By providence and some fancy dealing, Marvel has regained the rights to its characters and plans big things for the future, such as character tie-ins to other franchises. Fans will note the super-secretive government agents helping Pepper Potts at the end were from S.H.I.E.L.D., an agency in the comics that deals directly with super heroes. One that I missed was a fragment of Captain America’s red, white and blue shield somewhere in the background of Stark’s workshop. Also, stay until the end of the credits. A Marvel hero played by a famous actor makes a brief cameo to offer Stark a position in something called “The Avenger Initiative.” These subtle tie-ins will no doubt become more obvious when Tony Stark makes a cameo appearance in the new “Incredible Hulk” movie this summer. Be prepared for an “Iron Man” sequel as well as these future Marvel properties: Thor, Ant Man and The Avengers appearing within the next few years.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Iron Man trailer: If you haven’t seen this yet, you’ve been living under a rock, but I’m posting it anyway because it’s neat…

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