In the annals of comic-book superhero movies, Iron Man falls squarely between pantheon adaptations like Spider-Man and X-Men, and forgettable ones like -- oh, what was that called, where Ben Affleck was the blind guy?
It's the closest thing director Jon Favreau has made to a sequel to Swingers, and it may yet represent the greatest screen comeback since -- gosh, I don't know if there is a precedent for casting an ex-con drug addict in a movie that cost several arms and half a dozen legs. The charming Robert Downey Jr. delivers the script's copious quips with all the punch they require, and his watery eyes ably make us feel his pain. (That is, the actor's pain: His character should have a lot more broken bones.)
Iron Man looks and feels less like a comic book than do the other Man movies, in part because the actors play it so soberly. Still, some of the names in Iron Man are a little silly, and there's no way Gwyneth Paltrow is a "Pepper Potts." (Nicole Kidman, maybe.) I suspect the character was much airier in Stan Lee's original 1963 comic book, and only once or twice is Pepper's dialogue as dumb as her name -- although to her credit, Paltrow says those lines better than her straight ones.
Where Spider-Man was all about self-esteem and unconcerned with politics, Iron Man is pretty much the opposite. Downey's character, Tony Stark, is an ingenious playboy weapons inventor who has a MacGyver moment while being held captive in the good war in Afghanistan (updated from the original, obviously), and then an epiphany about his role as a man of peace after he breaks free.
This is where his titular alter ego comes in: His escape device is an impact-proof metal suit that lets him fly and fire bullets with no collateral damage, unlike Stark Industries' latest missile. His rival turns out to be his partner at the company, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges, bald and silver-bearded). His sidekick is a committed Air Force officer (Terrence Howard) who hates killing civilians as much as the next -- uh, wait. Let's just say he really does hate killing civilians.
This close tie between a weapons manufacturer and a military man is one of the things that Iron Man toys with saying. Each side in the war has a well-rehearsed line, each feeds the other, and we won't stop this cycle by putting flowers in the rifles of the police. When does Iron Man take place? It's clearly futuristic. We're still in Afghanistan, so it must be some time within the next 100 years.
This is all a fanboy's wet dream: making war, like a video game, but with a conscience. The action effects are fantastic (literally and figuratively), although for my money, I'll never figure out how Pepper reaches into Tony's chest like that. Talk about a girl who touches your heart! By the time it's over, Tony Stark is definitely king of the world.
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