Iron Man

You've seen the trailers (probably). You've read the comic books (maybe). Now Iron Man hits the big screen!

To me, Robert Downey Jr. is kind of like Jude Law. They both act so pompous and self-important that I always think actually talking to them would make me feel hopelessly un-famous. But sometimes, like Jude in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, or Robert here, that attitude really works. Tony Stark is supposed to be pompous and self-important -- heck, he is important, like any billionaire. He's smart and not entirely a bad sort, but spoiled (unsurprisingly) and with the attitude of the very early James Bond towards women.

In the comics (yes, I read them as a kid) he was originally wounded in Vietnam, but of course he can't be that old anymore, so here it's Afghanistan, where Tony has gone to demonstrate a really huge and scary missile called the Jericho for the military. The convoy he's riding in is attacked (but since it's PG-13, there's remarkably little blood), he scrambles for cover, and gets blown up by a Stark Industries bomb. Yes, they do kind of beat you over the head with the irony, but that's okay.

He wakes in a cave (of course) filled with terrorists (naturally), who want him to build their very own Jericho. But he's been all shrapneled up by the little bomb, and is in real danger of dying. A fellow prisoner (his story is a mystery -- all you find out about him is that he's a doctor from a place called Gulmira) named Yinsen has rigged up an electromagnet to keep the shrapnel from moving, so for a while, Tony's literally carrying a car battery around with him everywhere. I'm not sure that would really work, but like most things in the movie, it seems just plausible enough to make you believe it.

Pretending to build the missile, Tony actually puts together the first Iron Man suit, though of course he doesn't call it that, and makes a nifty escape, in true dramatic comic book style. Again, there's not much blood, and for a genius, it's really pretty stupid of him not to make sure the big bad guys are dead, but nearly every character has their truly stupid moments here (except Yinsen, who has appeared in nearly every Iron Man variation, in one form or another).

Anyway, he escapes, and his first stop once he gets home to Malibu is Burger King. No, really. His next order of business is to announce that Stark Industries isn't going to make weapons anymore. The stock plummets fifty-some points, and that's when we know that Obadiah Stane (a bald Jeff Bridges), the anti-Stark, is going to cause problems. Not that anyone who's read the comic didn't know that already...

All the supporting cast is there, even the driver, Happy Hogan, though if you blink you'll miss him--he's played by the director, Jon Favreau. Besides Stane, there's Air Force pilot Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) and the perfect personal assistant, Pepper Potts (a redheaded Gwyneth Paltrow). Yep, they left her with that very unfortunate name, poor girl; and Gwyneth often seems to end up playing sidekick to the pompous heroes. There's hints of romance between her and Tony, and the cast is already signed on for two sequels, so expect the announcement of Iron Man 2: Return to Afghanistan to Make Sure the Big Bad Guys Are Dead This Time any day now. There's even S.H.I.E.L.D., though minus Nick Fury, sort of. These days it stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Engagement and Logistics Division, which sounds like something that might actually exist.

The effects are fantastic. In spite of his 1950's attitude towards women, which seriously embarrassed me once or twice, the whole look of the film is beyond cutting-edge. Tony shows exactly what you can do with enough billions, like manipulating holograms with his hands, building voice-controlled robots with personalities, and breaking things indiscriminately without worrying about who's going to replace them. And of course, building self-contained, red and gold suits of power armor with repulsor rays and near-space capability.

So three and three-quarter idols. I had to dock a quarter idol for the bit where they turn Tony's private plane into a 1960's go-go club. But otherwise, it's fun, tongue-in-cheek entertainment, with a dash of moral dilemma thrown in, and the effects alone make it worth the price of admission. The fact that Robert is so good at making us root for his character in spite of ourselves is just an added bonus. Now let's all prepare for the coming of Nick Fury (aka Samuel L. Jackson) and hope that he's scarier than he was in that Jumper thing.

Note: Okay, so I was wrong on the title for the sequel. Still, this was very definitely the start of something big, and we're still rolling forward towards the Avengers flick. Can't wait!

Image: 
The first repulsor ray. Where does he get such wonderful toys...?

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