This is the latest installment of Marvel comics to come to the big screen and, I believe, it's the first to carry their production label. Iron Man is also the first of the summer popcorn movies to hit theaters.
And hit it does. The film opens with a tribute to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the genius son of the founder of Stark Industries. The senior Mr. Stark made his fortune during World War II, working on the Manhattan Project. Tony, who showed his engineering genius at a young age, has inherited the company after the death of his father, but has also inherited his father's corporate ethics: Stark Industries supplies weapons only to the U.S.
However, in his personal life, Tony's ethics are more lackadasical. He doesn't appear at the tribute to pick up his award. He seduces a female reporter who wants to interview him. He delays leaving for Afghanistan where he's due to demonstrate the latest Stark Industries weapon to work on his latest classic car. His old friend, Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Terrence Howard) and his assistant, Ms. "Pepper" Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), do their best to keep him focused, with moderate success.
After a successful demonstration of the "Jericho Bomb", the convoy heading back to the airfield is attacked. Tony wakes up with a car battery attached to his chest. He has been captured by terrorists and a fellow captive, Yinsen (Shaun Toub), has rigged a device to keep Tony's heart beating. The terrorists, who come from several countries, including Hungary and Yugoslavia, want Tony to build a version of the Jericho Bomb for them. Tony looks around and realizes that someone within Stark Industries has been selling munitions to these insurgents and Tony isn't happy about it. He's also not happy about being held captive. With Yinsen's assistance, Tony builds a small power source for his heart and then the ultimate in body armor. While building the armor, Tony learns about Yinsen's life--his family, his village--and comes to see how narrow his vision has been.
With the aid of his suit, Tony escapes and returns to New York. He is a changed man and announces that Stark Industries will no longer make weapons. He has a new vision, a vision that not everyone in his company shares. And he has to find out who is selling Stark munitions to the terrorists.
Tony confides his new plans to his assistant, Ms. Potts, and to Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) who was his father's closest confident and right hand man. He also shows Obadiah the power source that is keeping him alive. And then Tony goes into seclusion to work on and refine the design of the armored suit.
Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan, the Head Bad Guy find the pieces of the body armor and vows his revenge.
The special effects in this movie are awesome. There's a great scene where Tony Stark is trying out his new suit and is picked up by Strategic Air Command, who are getting ready to blow him out of the sky. He avoids that not through techno-wizardry, but through his friendship with Rhodey. And, for me, it was the characters that made the movie great, not just the special effects.
Tony and Pepper have a chemistry, but when their relationship threatens to turn personal, she refers to him as "Mr. Stark" and he refers to her as "Ms. Potts." Tony sees Obadiah as a mentor. Tony and Rhodey have been friends since they were kids. Yinsen touched Tony's heart, literally and figuratively. Tony is flawed, but capable of change--although his flaws, and his genius, are what get him into trouble.
The casting is excellent. I didn't recognize Jeff Bridges at first and Robert Downey Jr. shows the talent for characterization evident in Chaplin. Gywneth Paltrow is strong, resourceful, and sexy. The dialogue is witty and snappy without resorting to profanity. There is some innuendo, especially between Tony and Ms. Potts, but it's well done. There is the one sex scene early in the movie and several violent fight scenes. The destruction of the convoy is particularly shocking--I jumped even though I knew it was coming. Iron Man provides lots of topics for later discussion, particularly with high schoolers, including
Oh--stay through the end of the credits.
On the March Hare scale: 5 out of 5 Golden Tickets
crossposted at The Mad Tea Party