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Iron Man

May 2, 2008  |  10:10am
Iron Man

Release Date: May 2
Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Cinematographer: Matthew Libatique
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges
Studio/Run Time: Marvel Studios, 126 mins

There was never any question whether Iron Man would look great. The film boasts special effects from Industrial Light & Magic and a storyboard lifted from the pages of the titular comic book. Director Jon Favreau wisely recruited artist Adi Granov, a longtime Iron Man illustrator, to fine-tune the iconic armor suit. The result is a deeply satisfying design that nails the visual feel of the character; for this, Granov earned a "Suit Consultant" nod during the credits.

No, the real question for Iron Man, Marvel's first production since relaunching its filmmaking efforts under one brand, involves acting. With marginal flicks like Ghost Rider and Fantastic Four still fresh in fans' minds, Favreau and the production team had a responsibility to up the ante and deliver a fresh cast of actors—not to mention a robust, pulpy script.

Iron Man tells the story of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), a second-generation weapons maker who made his fortunes selling high-tech missiles to the U.S. government. Stark's origin story gets a modern update in the film, which sees him captured by Middle Eastern terrorists and forced to build weapons in an Afghanistan cave. Instead, he builds a suit of powered armor, blasts his way to freedom, and begins his transformation from tycoon to superhero.

The end product exceeded all expectations. Downey Jr.'s portrayal of billionaire engineer/playboy Stark is focused like a laser on the character's essential parts—namely, Stark's rather self-destructive habits. But simply playing a character with vices (alcohol and girls, in Stark's case) wouldn't be as effective without a moral compass, and this is where Gwyneth Paltrow comes in. As Pepper Potts (surely one of the best comic book names ever), Paltrow keeps Stark firmly grounded in reality as his personal assistant. She's plucky and intelligent, and the two characters enjoy some of their finest lines while bickering in Stark's Malibu beach house.

Indeed, the entire script is a thing of beauty. Stark possesses a bone-dry sense of humor that reveals itself throughout the film. Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), a fellow industrialist who quickly becomes Iron Man's enemy, is similarly inspired. Bridges gives a remarkably gratifying performance as the antagonist, including a bout of trash-talking near the end of the film that could have been lifted directly from the pages of the original comic book.

The film drips with sequel hooks, and fans would do well to stick around after the credits for one last tantalizing scene—a precursor of things to come, if Marvel's moviemaking aspirations continue. In interviews, Favreau has expressed interest in an Iron Man trilogy, and the second film may well focus on Stark's battle with alcoholism. This movie, however, features only external demons—the kind that can be dispatched with a solid left hook and a catchy one-liner. Especially when viewed within that context, it's Marvel's best feature to date.

Watch the trailer for Iron Man:

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