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Iron Man (2008)
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IRON MAN (2008)

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Leslie Bibb, Shaun Toub

Written By: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Mark Holloway Directed By: Jon Favreau

The Short Version

The Marvel hit parade gets a much needed boost.

And interestingly enough, it features a hero that a lot of people had forgotten about.

Given 20/20 hindsight, it’s funny that anyone ever questioned the casting of this movie.

Iron Man proves that you can make a modernized comic book flick without going the angsty route.

Do you love comic book movies?  Then own Iron Man; it’s Top Five.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Tasty, comfortable, fun, and as American as an old fashioned superhero comic book.  (Though really, you should put some Cheddar or some Jack on it, because American cheese really isn’t that good, and this flick deserves better.)

Pairs Well With...


“Give me a Scotch.  I’m starving.”

“Let’s face it: this is not the worst thing you’ve caught me doing.”

I’m sure that this will come as a surprise to no one, but I’ve known a lot of comic book fans in my time, with many of them worthy of being called hardcore fans, at that.  And of them all, I can’t think of a single one who would have called Iron Man his or her favorite character, or even one of their top five…

…until 2008 rolled along.  Funny what a successful movie can do for one’s image, isn’t it?  Especially considering that outside that core comic book following, most people just the year before would have been far more likely to identify “Iron Man” as the title character from a Black Sabbath song and not even realize that there was a comic book hero by that name at all.  (Hold that thought, rockers.)

Now that 2008 has come and gone, of course, the character of Iron Man is front and center in the grand pop culture spotlight, thanks to the fact that his inaugural movie turned out to be one of the best of its type ever made.  Even more amazing for me is the fact that it was made without going the dark and angsty route a-la Batman or the Hulk.  Sure, the guy in the Iron Man suit is thoroughly modern and loaded up with enough skull baggage to keep psychoanalysts busy for years, but he and his movie are both still fun.  Remember fun?  That’s what comic books were always supposed to be about in the first place, weren’t they?

To fit the times, that fun comes in a nontraditional package full of one-liners, sarcasm, and innuendo.  (My personal favorite, in reference to seducing a reporter: “I had to do a piece for Vanity Fair.”)  And let’s face it, when a guy’s first declaration upon returning home after being held captive in  cave halfway around the world for three months is, essentially, “I can has cheezburger,” how can it not be fun?   This is the modernization at work, in the form of what actor Robert Downey, Jr. described as “a challenge of making a wealthy, establishmentarian, weapons-manufacturing, hard-drinking, womanizing prick into a character who is likable and a hero.”

Guess what, folks?  He succeeds.  Bigtime.

Along with the high quality performance of Robert Downey, Jr. (who also improvised a fair amount of dialogue as he went), the likability of Tony Stark / Iron Man is driven by one of the most well-developed origin stories I can think of in a comic book film, standing well with Batman Begins and, later, Captain America: The First Avenger.  Time is taken not only to describe in detail how Stark first comes to develop the Iron Man suit and determine what will become his life’s mission, but also to explore Stark as a human being, giving the audience clues as to why he’s an establishmentarian, hard-drinking, womanizing prick in the first place.  Because of this, Tony Stark isn’t just a costume filler or a cipher never explained; instead, he’s a guy.  A wealthy, weapons-manufacturing guy, to be sure, but still a guy.  He’s someone whom even people that are nothing like him can relate to, and that counts for a lot when it comes to believing in a hero.

And then, of course, there’s the suit.

Like fellow rich boy Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark has no special powers to fall back on other than his intelligence and his physical training.  This brings the gadget nerd factor front and center, and there are three things worth noting here.  First, yes, the suit is totally awesome in every incarnation, from the steampunk-looking Mark I version that he builds in the cave to the later ultramodern version with a paint job based on one of his hot rods.  Obvious though it may be to point out, Iron Man lives or dies by how well the suit plays, and it plays very well indeed, and doesn’t even look unbearably fake at those points when some part of your brain just knows it’s being computer generated.  Second, while the suit can be considered something of a character, there is never any disconnect shown between Tony Stark in a tux and Tony Stark as Iron Man.  The superhero and the alter ego are one in the same, which while not totally unheard of is definitely something of a novelty in the world of comic book heroes.  Third, insofar as turning Tony Stark into a superhero, the suit is really all he’s got.  Yeah, Stark may have some toys at home in the form an AI majordomo and such, but that’s part of his everyday life from the start.  There is no “Iron Man Mobile,” there is no “Iron Cycle,” and there is no “Iron Man-a-Rang.”  It’s the suit and only the suit.  Again, it’s a novelty, but it’s a novelty that works.

And director Jon Favreau (who also appears on camera as Tony Stark’s security guy, Happy Hogan) knows how to capitalize on that, and on everything else, for that matter.  After making sure that every aspect of the character is taken care of, Favreau then goes on to make the adventure ride as thrilling as possible.  The superhero shots are grandiose.  The action is hard hitting.  The gizmos gleam.  Everything that’s supposed to make a heroic action movie fun and entertaining, Favreau gives the audience in spades with a side order of fries.  All of the gloss is there, and thanks to the depth provided by the characters, it’s far shinier than anything you’ll get from the Michael Bay School of Short Attention Spans.  Favreau knows that the audience is in it for the long haul, and while he never wants his ride to be boring – which it never is – he also doesn’t want to it become overwhelming to the point of inducing headaches.  That, my friends, is one of the major stepping stones on the path from “entertaining flick” to “instant classic.”

Iron Man is definitely the latter.

Along with the strong story, strong direction, beautiful production values, and dynamite lead, Iron Man also delivers on the supporting side.  If not for his distinctive voice, you’d never recognize Jeff Bridges (Tron) as Obadiah Stane, and even then, he inspires a whiplash double take with his shaven head (something Bridges actually insisted upon as something he’d always wanted to do) and full patrician beard.  Stane is the antithesis to the standard Jeff Bridges role – there is nothing progressive or laid back or “Dude-like” about this guy – and Bridges obviously enjoys every minute of playing him.  (It really is true that sometimes, the best bad guys are played by those normally cast as good and vice versa.)  For me, though, an even bigger surprise comes in the form of Gwyneth Paltrow (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) as Pepper Potts.  Normally, she does nothing for me, but here, she shines, whether it’s from the challenge of trying to keep up with Robert Downey, Jr. or from something else.  Her portrayal of Pepper Potts provides an excellent foil for Tony Stark, but even more than that, Paltrow draws from the script the fact that the two characters are also very much alike in at least one significant way, and brings that forward to the audience in a manner that goes beyond what was simply written on the page.  She’s not just “the girl” here; she’s intriguing, and that is a definite rarity in this genre.

And hey, the way Paltrow handles the scene wherein Pepper dismisses “the piece for Vanity Fair” (Leslie Bibb, The Skulls) is pricelessly awesome.

Dig even deeper, and the quality just never fades.  Everything about Iron Man is so beautifully thought out and executed that there’s just no way that one couldn’t rank it as one of the all-time Top Five comic book hero movies.  Even up to the very last moment of the film proper – one of the most fantastic lead-ins from last line to end credits that I have ever seen, by the way, and a true geek out moment for all of the rockers in the crowd – it’s just plain excellent. 

And that’s before the extra special fun that is the post-credits tack-on that has since led to so much more.

Bottom line, Iron Man rocks, and easily stands amongst the best flicks of its genre.  If you love comic book movies – or even just like them a little bit – this one is definitely worth owning, and worth watching over and over again.  It’s just that fun.

Remember fun?

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, March, 2012

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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