Suit Up With Robert Downey, Jr.

Main Cast:   Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard
Also Notable: Jeff Bridges, Paul Bettany, Stan Lee
Director: Jon Favreau

I don’t really “do” comic book movies and had no intention of seeing Iron Man in a theater.   So why did I end up in front of the big screen for a movie about a comic book superhero I know next to nothing about?   Two reasons: 1)   Robert Image of Iron Man PosterDowney, Jr. is dreamy and 2) I’m “frugal” and waited for a showing at a budget theater.  I couldn’t resist the opportunity to ogle a big screen Downey for next to nothing. So I’m shallow and cheap – but the movie is awesome!

Iron Man tells the story of Tony Stark (Downey). Stark is the name and the brains behind the world’s leading weapons manufacturer. He’s a computer/engineering/you-name-it-he-can-make-it genius with an adolescent’s sense of responsibility. Tony Stark does not take his life or his job particularly seriously – he enjoys all the perks (women, money, freedom) and certainly his brain is stimulated by his work, but he mouths the rhetoric of his father (founder of Stark Industries) when questioned about the ethics of weapons manufacturing. A violent confrontation in Afghanistan causes Stark to rethink his priorities, leading to the Birth of Iron Man! Iron Man is, of course, really Stark in a super suit.

It’s the getting there that’s all the fun.

Helping Stark handle his work and life is Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, looking completely adorable) – perfect assistant. Tony wouldn’t last a day without Pepper, and she knows it. Of course there’s romantic tension there, but Iron Man very wisely keeps things simmering and makes Pepper (by the way, I also love her retro, comic book name) a real character rather than some silly damsel in distress that enters the story simply to look pretty and get rescued. Also along for the ride are Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges making a fine, fine villain) as co-founder of Stark Industries and James Rhodes (Terrence Howard), a military officer  and longtime friend of Stark who is torn between his devotion to the man and his exasperation with his antics.

Those much more knowledgeable than I about Marvel history and lore might have loads to say about how true Iron Man is to its source material. I have no idea, and I honestly don’t care. Stark is a fantastic character, full of witty banter that perfectly suits Downey and just believable enough – within the context of gross unbelievability that makes up this type of movie – to make us like him. He even banters with the robots that help him in his lab – and it’s really cute. That’s some good writing. Downey nails the performance; he’s absolutely appealing, frustrating and lovable. And for the record, as dreamy as ever.

In case you were wondering.

The special effects involving Stark creating, well, anything, are amazingly well done. Sure, it’s all ridiculous, but dang it’s fun to watch him use a 3-D hologram set-up that he has in his basement to configure an arm for the suit! Also spectacular are the battle sequences (of course there are battle sequences, are you kidding me?). So much stuff blows up so majestically it makes you want to run to George Lucas and beg for a job at Industrial Light and Magic, who provide the special effects for the film.

One major plot device could have brought Iron Man to its knees:  a political soapbox. Oh, it would have been so easy for a filmmaker to turn this story into a fable about either the evils of the weapons industry or the necessity of the weapons industry. In fact, it’s something of a miracle that it didn’t go that way. Writers Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby and director Jon Favreau walked the razor thin line between the two opposing philosophies by keeping the story personal.   Iron Man is not about global policy, it’s about Tony Stark and his company. The villains are not amorphous and everywhere, they are clearly defined and again, strictly confined to the parameters of one company and this story.

It doesn’t matter what you think of weapons manufacturers in the real world – for this clearly is not the real world. In addition to keeping the story on a personal level, the filmmakers also make the extremely wise choice to give the whole thing a slightly retro feel. It’s certainly taking place in the here and now, but scattered throughout are touches of the past. The character of Pepper Potts – down to her wardrobe and hair – and the cliched 1950’s style military “situation room” where everyone watches the whole of the military operate are two examples, but there are many more subtle allusions to an earlier time that keep the story from becoming politicized.

There is so much fun to be had here, from the special effects, to the outstanding performance of Robert Downey, Jr. to the tremendously well conceived plot and clever writing – it’s all just giddy, high energy movie magic. That the filmmakers manage to avoid politicizing, thus ruining, the film shows the respect they have for their craft, their audience and their subject.

Old fashioned Good vs. Evil will never go out of style – certainly not when it’s dished out with such panache.

I may be cheap and shallow, but Iron Man is a better movie in every way than I expected. It is completely worth the price of a ticket even in the non-cheap theaters and fabulous to see on the big screen. If you can still catch it playing near you, I highly recommend seeing it that way. If you have to wait for the DVD, so be it – the movie will hold up to the smaller venue. 4 1/2 stars out of 5.