Iron Man (2008)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 5/2/08
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Shaun Toub, cameos by Stan Lee, Samuel L. Jackson

I had no expectations for this film. The only thing I know about Iron Man comes from his alcoholic representation in "Twisted Toyfare Theatre" and his exploits as a Hostess Fruit Pie defender in the 1970's. That said, I can't say anything regarding how faithful the film adaptation is. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is the super rich, super smart, and super annoying leader of Stark Enterprises, a company responsible for manufacturing the world's finest military weapons. When his convoy is ambushed in Afghanistan, he is taken prisoner and forced to build a missile for his captors. Instead of complying with them, he creates a power suit and blasts his way to freedom. Upon returning home, he decides to change the direction of his company to stop making weapons, making an enemy of his lifelong partner, Obadiah Stane (creepy Jeff Bridges). Stark goes to work on perfecting his power suit while Stane starts building one of his own, which leads to the inevitable showdown at the end of the movie.

It's definitely a crowd pleasing action film and keeps a pleasant pace throughout. Unfortunately, the forced humor falls flat and the films suffers from the standard comic book trappings that Hollywood thinks are "cute." Even so, the writing is thoughtful and never stoops to offending the audience's intelligence. The acting is quite good and Robert Downey Jr. is as detestable as ever. Jeff Bridges makes a supremely creepy villain, although his final descent into madness just makes him look silly. While it's certainly not a stretch for her, Gwyneth Paltrow is utterly delightful and is the only one who can go toe-to-toe with Stark's oppressive personality. But for me, I thought the best performance came from Shaun Toub, the man who saved Stark's life and helped him bust out of his incarceration. The obligatory cameo by Stan Lee is utterly hilarious, but Samuel L. Jackson's brief appearance as Nick Fury is unsettling. I think casting him completely missed the mark.

As you would expect, the visual effects are the real star of the film and they are quite impressive. While seeing Iron Man in flight looks kind of silly, it also looks appropriately believable. For the most part, the power suits seamlessly blend in with the environment, but as is often the case, they appear to lack mass. Still, the action scenes are exciting enough that this doesn't become a serious detractor. The music is good and sets the appropriate tone and pacing. A well made production all around. Unfortunately, the biggest problem with the film is that Tony Stark is a complete asshole and totally unlikable, which makes him hard to sympathize with. The only time he's tolerable is when he's completely immersed in his work and struggling with an engineering problem. What's more annoying is how everyone else bends over backwards for him, giving the unhealthy impression that being a disrespectful prick is a desirable trait to have. In this sense, the film reminded me a lot of "Batman Begins" (2005) in that Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne was also a despicable character. Overall, "Iron Man" is an enjoyable film and another good example that superhero films can be intelligent and not just for undiscerning kids.