‘Iron Man’ an iron-clad start to series
Remember the summer of 2008? It was deemed the Summer of the Superhero, when we got Hellboy, the Hulk and Batman. For comic book fans, it didn’t get much better. Most knew what to expect from the first two (solid enough endeavors) and everyone was geared for “The Dark Knight,” a sequel that smashed records and showed us the heights movies can reach with the right combination of director, actors and plot.
There was, however, a movie we didn’t know how to evaluate. Yes, it was part of the Marvel universe, not completely unknown to the greater population. But it was the first live-action version of its kind, and the only one that wasn’t a sequel (that and it premiered earlier than the rest of the super-themed films). So when “Iron Man” hit the screen, most weren’t sure how to react. Let’s just say, we weren’t disappointed.
“Iron Man,” the first of three in its own series (the third one will be released May 3, 2013) with a major connection in “The Avengers,” was surprisingly well done. Directed by Jon Favreau (“Zathura”), it managed to overcome the pitfall of several previous superhero-based movies simply by not adhering to all the norms. Yes, there was the screaming girl/love interest, the skeptical best friend, the towering enemy and the jaded hero. Those are staples of the genre and are to be expected. But “Iron Man” went beyond the superficial (or cleverly delved head first into it when needed), melding catchy dialogue with a talented cast of actors who performed more than just the bare minimum.
And speaking of going beyond the needed, Favreau, a director known for less-than-impressive fare, strikes out in “Iron Man,” showing us he’s more than a studio man. He doesn’t drown us in a Batman-esque story of traumatic childhoods and identity crises. Instead of an origin story worthy of Freud and some stiff drinks, we’re thrown into a world draped in iron — lots of suits, lots of will.
In a world not quite modern day, “Iron Man” introduces to us Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), a genius-with-a-complex playboy. He’s the scion of a family whose company creates weapons of such destruction even mountains fall. You may find him ridiculous at first, but Downey fits the bill so snugly you can’t help but be impressed by the sense of familiarity. You know this guy — you probably were his roommate at one point. Lots of fun; very dangerous to hang out with.
Other stellar characters include Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, Stark’s obviously underpaid and overqualified assistant; Terrence Howard’s Rhodey, an Air Force officer who deal with Stark the way a friend would after knowing him for too many years; and Jeff Bridges’ business partner/mentor Obadiah Stant. They each provide another girder to Iron Man’s story.
The group of actors works well together, feeding off Downey’s energy to create antics of their own. There’s a lot going on at any given time (it is a superhero movie, after all), but you rarely get lost with what’s happening. The interpersonal sequences act as tethers to anchor to the both the main and side story lines. And it’s these moments that stand out. Whether it’s Stark and Potts throwing witty comments at each other or Stark and Obadiah discussing arc reactor technology over pizza, each scene helps to complete the complex puzzle that is Iron Man.
For all the flash and bang and chaotic destruction, and there is plenty to go around, it’s the small things that matter here. But that’s not to say the larger-than-life grandness of it all falls flat, either. It’s an impressive feat watching Iron Man fight F-22s and take out entire villages of ne’er-do-wells. It’s nice to know said arc reactor tech was in working order and the classic gold-titanium alloy suit looked as expensive as ever.
And “Iron Man” works in large part thanks to the synchronization of those light touches and grand actions. After all, Iron Man doesn’t really possess any actual superpowers, so he has to make due with what he has: some elbow grease, human ingenuity and an iron will.
Four iron stars out of five.