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IN SHORT: Looks great but no cheers from our audience. [Rated PG-13 for for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence and brief suggestive content. 130 minutes]
Before we begin: Cranky's providing Free Iron Man wallpapers! There's thirty or so 'papers available for a limited time, so get 'em while you can!
Iron Man was created by Marvel Comics' writer/editor Stan Lee with his brother Larry Lieber and artist Don Heck in the pages of Tales of Suspense #39 (with a proper film credit to Jack Kirby as well). We'll let older fanboys scream about who actually "created" the character. We were all of six back in March, 1963 and the twelve cents cost for a comic book was close to three week's allowance. Our fanboy days were a good seven or eight years in the future. This creation grabs bits and pieces of Marvel continuity that should keep heavy duty fanboys smiling. That being said, you shouldn't need to have read a couple of hundred of Iron Man stories to enjoy the movie (the cardinal rule of this site) and we're happy to say you don't have to. So here goes . . .
Stark Enterprises of Los Angeles, California is the premiere developer of weapons for this great land of ours. Run by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), a genius at military design whose inherited millions are now billions; a wee bit of thanks goes to his father's partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) who kept the company afloat while Tony matured and handles the business and the board room. Obadiah is about as close to a father as Tony has. Even closer is Stark's personal assistant, Virginia "Pepper" Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), whose relationship is as intimate as you can get without getting physical. The older you are the better you'll understand this bit.
Tony Stark is rarely seen without a blonde on one arm and a triple scotch on the rocks in his other hand. For purposes of the story, however, his best bud is Air Force Lt. Col. Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) who, as a military liaison, coordinates Stark's demonstrations of whiz bang new technology like the Phoenix missile defense system seen early in the film. It's an impressive demonstration for both the good guys and some bad guys who have managed to sneak into the test site. While we have no idea where that site is -- the screenplay is lax when it comes to details so we'll guess Afghanistan -- Stark is shanghai'd by a terrorist outfit called The Ten Rings, led by a bearded guy named Raza (Faran Tahir) -- and forced to build a working replica of the Jericho missile. Instead, at the prodding of a fellow captive named Yin Sen (Shaun Toub), Stark builds a different sort of missile, one whose payload is a human. Strapped into this "Iron Man" weapon, Stark blows the bad guys to kingdom come.
Thus is born the prototypical "Iron Man," whose true purpose is to keep Stark's heart, riddled with shrapnel from the original terrorist attack, pumping. For reasons we'll let the movie reveal to you, Stark comes out of this experience determined to change the focus of his life from building weapons of mass destruction to building "weapons" for the betterment of mankind. Stark goes into hiding in a private laboratory to refine his armor. Potts runs his errands. Stane holds his company together. And then there's Jarvis and a newbie agent of SHIELD to make fanboys happy. Props to the screenwriters for integrating and updating intrinsic Marvel elements -- the mention of SHIELD got the only reaction from our audience --but they can't overcome the one weakness of the whole Iron Man story. For any kid, or adult with that inner child still functioning, it is much easier to grasp the fantasy of personally having superpowers than just having genius smarts and building something that does all the work. Perhaps Stan Lee understood that all those years ago, which is why he made Stark a womanizer (the alcoholism came decades later, under the guidance of a different writer and editor). In this new, enlightened time, that "friend with benefits" is an antagonistic reporter named Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb). Her presence, strangely enough, adds comedy to this superhero tale, topping off an equally wry performance by Downey Jr.
Yep, director Jon Favreau (who cameos as Happy Hogan... heh heh) has worked a lot of funny stuff into his story, a terrific decision which takes Iron Man out of the classic "18 pages of fighting" format that comics held to for years. There are some clever twists to the film story which include corporate backstabbing and terrorist revenge on top of everything else -- which is more than we should be telling you. The visual effects are beautiful. But the appeal of most super heroes is that, regardless of the ridiculousness of most origin stories, the geek reading/viewing the story has to find something in the character that makes him want to be the character. It's hard to fantasize being so smart (you) can build something to overcome the challenges faced. That doesn't mean that Iron Man isn't fun to watch. It is. It just didn't get our adrenaline pumping.
That being written, Iron Man falls dead center into what we've always called the standard dateflick. It's full of stuff which will make the male end of the dating couple happy. The female part of the equation will sit, contemplating the next Hugh Grant (sic) film. Fan boys waiting for an appearance by War Machine should buy a lot of tickets -- you won't see that character until a sequel materializes.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Iron Man , he would have paid . . .
Ain't it great how a one-bit comic book story cobbled together 45 years ago still works well?
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