Director John Favreau commits a fantastic feat with “Iron Man”: He makes the character interesting. Iron Man has always been a second tier character of the Marvel Comic Universe who was never taken too seriously by avid comic fans. He was boring, and more often than not, lame. Stark was always a very unsympathetic figure of the Marvel mythos, and his ability to be taken down by almost anyone who ripped through his armor to get to the man, rendered him rather forgettable and often satirized. So what does Favreau do? He takes the character and turns him into a hero we want to see. Every adaptation of the character has been bland. Until now that is, where with pitch perfect casting and sharp writing, the character of Iron Man becomes an amazing presence on screen, and even better, Tony Stark becomes an alter ego we can care about, laugh with, and root for.
Almost never seen in comic book movies, Tony Stark becomes as desirable to follow as Iron Man. More so, director Favreau lays to rest any and all theories about comic book movies and keeps true to the Iron Man mythos by ninety-nine percent with the exact emphasis on the Stark character as we’ve seen many times before. He’s a man with a deep respect and reverence for his father’s legacy, and seeks to do nothing more than improve his fortune. Not only does the cover of Iron Man provide a sense of purpose, but also a perspective on war machines, which he decides must be used to help. “Iron Man” is everything its promises and more, there’s not a single moment where Favreau lets up. And it’s not at the cost of the story, either. “Iron Man” achieves what most superhero movies don’t: It makes us want to see just as much of the man as it does the avenger. And that’s thanks to Robert Downey Jr. only one in a slew of pitch perfect masterful casting. Everyone has said it before, but I’ll say it one more time. Downey was born for Tony Stark, and his performance as this arrogant prickish aristocrat is marvelous with some truly great barbs fed to the skilled actor that are humorous enough to revel in, but never too self-aware. Unlike other movies, there’s a certain humanity behind Iron Man that helps us keep Stark and the alter-ego connected.
Whenever he suits up we’re still aware that Stark is only a man, and that his suit is his life support, so his battles become much more harrowing. As opposed to the “Spider Man” movies where there’s never a true close call because, we know Peter will endure due to his powers. Even when Stark is in suit, he’s still vulnerable, and relies on his wits and technology to save him. There’s also the elegant Paltrow who is wonderful as the female equivalent to Tony, Pepper Potts, the loyal aide to Stark who keeps the man on his feet and provides companionship for the man. Unlike the “Spider-Man” movies, the romance/friendship between the two is light and sweet, while Favreau aims more for a comedic “His Girl Friday” relationship instead of a soap opera. Yet, the chemistry between Downey and Paltrow (as well as the sharp interplay) is white hot, and makes for some of the most memorable moments, which speaks well of the cast’s talents when they occasionally outshine an iron clad super soldier. Speaking of perfect relationships, the friendship and camaraderie between Rhodes and Stark is fantastic as they work side by side, but also against one another when Iron Man steps in to do the work for the government, but they have a subconscious symbiosis that makes for some of the most subtle but interesting moments between them.
Howard is excellent as Rhodes and perfectly compliments Stark’s inner circle. Slickly sardonic is Bridges as the low key, and often charming nemesis Obadiah Stane who happens upon Iron Man, and decides that he can use the tech to his own advantage. Favreau wastes nothing in “Iron Man,” and gives us the pay off we want. The special effects for the invincible war machine is amazing with some truly excellent CGI that’s seamless, paired with awfully dynamic mid-air battles. Even for a starting point, Favreau gives us what we came to see and this is a true accomplishment for general movie goers and most importantly: We comic book geeks. The chink in “Iron Man” is very much the most predictable plot element of the story; the involvement of Obadiah Stane and his relationship with Tony Stark is that of the nemesis persuasion that leads into a twist sadly telegraphed hours in advance. From the opening montage of Stark in the foreground of a brooding Stane, it’s quite clear where the writers are going with his character, and clearer so as to how and why Stark was attacked in the middle of a weapons test, and by his own weapons to which he had no idea of the origin.
The big reveal in the second half leads to a rather yawn inducing plot element that while not unbearable, was still a creaky turn in Bridge’s character. Every superhero movie has to have a villain, so I don’t begrudge Favreau too much, I just wish we’d seen a more unique direction taken with Stane. As for Tony’s motives as Iron Man, it never becomes clear. Does he become Iron Man because he’s tired of making weapons or war, or because his weapons are in the hands he never intended? If the latter, is that really a motivation for a hero we’re supposed to deem as a crusader? The hints at the sequel, the potential spin off to this franchise after the credits, the incredibly accurate origin, the adult tone that declares its strict appeal to the more mature audience, let’s face it folks, this is one of the best comic book movies ever made. The fact that Iron Man is, for once, an incredible character is enough to skyrocket it into my top ten of 2008.