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With: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Leslie Bibb, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Sayed Badreya, Bill Smitrovich, Clark Gregg, Tim Guinee, Kevin Foster, Eileen Weisinger, Ahmed Ahmed, Jon Favreau, Fahim Fazli, Stan Lee
Written by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, based on characters created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Larry Lieber
Directed by: Jon Favreau
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content
Language: English
Running Time: 126
Date: 04/14/2008

Iron Man (2008)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Alloy Cat

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Actor/director Jon Favreau co-starred in the awful comic book adaptation Daredevil (2003), and even had a small part in Batman Forever (1995). You can almost picture him watching quietly, taking notes and learning from all those mistakes. He has applied his knowledge to his new film Iron Man, and has unexpectedly turned a minor superhero into one of the most enjoyable of Marvel Comics adaptations, ranking just behind the first two Spider-Man films and the first two X-Men films.

This is Favreau's fourth film as director, not counting his stint as screenwriter and producer on Swingers (1996), and he seems to have developed a specialty in making good, sturdy films about juvenile men. (He hasn't made a bad one yet!)

Enter Robert Downey Jr. who takes his shot at a leading role and devours it; he's one of the three or four greatest actors in America today, and he brings a level of excitement and playfulness to his Iron Man, when most heroes today are based on inner torment.

Downey's Tony Stark is only happy when seducing women (the seduction is more fun than the actual conquest) or fiddling with some technological gizmo. When we first meet him, he's a wealthy weapons manufacturer riding in a Humvee, dressed in a million-dollar suit and drinking Scotch on the rocks. The uniformed, armored soldiers don't quite know what to make of him, so he begins joking and kidding with them; he wins them over in mere moments.

Unfortunately, terrorists attack and Stark is taken prisoner. He wakes up in a cave, where his "cellmate," a man called Yinsen (Shaun Toub), has saved his life by attaching an electromagnet to his chest to keep shrapnel from entering his heart. Forced to build a deadly missile, Stark instead embarks upon building a suit of armor to escape. He also notices that the terrorists have somehow obtained Stark weapons. Back home, he decides to stop making weapons and concentrates instead on improving his armor. But the bad guys have a plan, too.

Favreau trumps last year's clunky Transformers with his smooth, almost musical footage of Iron Man's armor and its thousands of pieces clicking into place. His action sequences are slick and clean, with a strong sense of speed, gravity and movement. (No jerky, hand-held stuff.) And he keeps the tone fairly light throughout with his comedian's touch. (He also appears in one or two scenes as one of Stark's lackeys.)

But whereas Daredevil was a terrible film with a good villain (Colin Farrell's Bullseye), Iron Man is a good film with disappointing villains. We have a couple of sneering, interchangeable Afghani terrorists (one of whom has a good speech about Genghis Khan) and we have an American traitor -- not too difficult to pinpoint -- who likewise gets flat, threatening dialogue to read.

Because of these dull villains, the 126-minute film begins to drag during its final conflict, also due to the fact that Downey, inside his armor, no longer gets much time to yap. The climactic battle, with a small, David-sized mechanical man battling a larger, Goliath-sized mechanical man also recalls Robocop (1987), which managed to add a wry commentary on the match-up. Here, Favreau plays it straight, and the two special effects bashing into one another begins to lose its appeal (though, to his credit, Favreau seems to avoid CGI in favor of real combatants whenever he can).

But this failure comes only in the last 15 minutes or so, and until then, Iron Man delivers all that a good summer movie should deliver. Let's hope that the year's other superhero movies know how to have this much fun. Terrence Howard co-stars as Jim Rhodes, Stark's military pal, and Gwyneth Paltrow is just perfect as Stark's long-suffering assistant Pepper Potts. Jeff Bridges plays Stark's business partner Obadiah Stane. And of course, Stan Lee has his usual cameo.

Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise.

DVD Details: Paramount has released a two-disc DVD set, and a two-disc Blu-Ray, but I got the cheaper, single-disc edition. Upon a second viewing, I enjoyed it a great deal more; perhaps the small screen helps contain the outsized visual FX. It comes with trailers (Paramount's big year: Star Trek, Indiana Jones, etc.), an ad for a new Iron Man cartoon and extended/deleted scenes (24 minutes). The second disc comes with a whole bunch of featurettes.

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