May tends to be a very busy month for me - it's the middle of rehearsal and running around and mailings and a gazillion other things for the annual James Tolin Memorial Fundraiser event. Consequently, for the last six years, I have not seen a single summer tentpole movie that opened in theatres before July 4th. By the time I do have the time to go to the movies, those early starters have been down-sized to the 100-seat auditoriums, and something else is in the big houses with the great big screens and ear-piercing sound-systems. Such was the case with brand new Marvel Studio's first ever movie, Iron Man. Most critics loved it, and I am happy to say that I agree and and hate that I missed it on the giant screen.
For the seven people out there who still haven't seen Iron Man, the story revolves around billionaire genius playboy Tony Stark, who runs his family's weapons company, designing super-high-tech killing machines. While in the middle-east, demonstrating his company's latest mega-weapon "Jericho," Stark is captured by a band of multi-ethnic guerrillas, who hand him over to another prisoner who devises an electromagnet that keeps the shrapnel in Tony's chest from piercing his heart. When the guerrillas demand that Tony build them their own Jericho bomb, he agrees. But what he does is build a super armored exoskeletal robotic suit, powered by Stark's own "impossible" reactor (leaving him with a glowing blue implant in the middle of his chest). The devise also keeps him alive. Escaping his captors using the suit, Tony gets home and realizes the error of his ways (in classic comic-book mythology, such epiphanies are common-place). He announces the closing of the company's weapons division and vows to destroy all the weapons his company ever made. In his lab at home, Tony perfects the suit and by the end of the movie, the press has dubbed him Iron Man and he... well - wouldn't want to spoil.
As played by former tortured bad boy Robert Downey, Jr., Stark makes quite a believable transition to hero. Downey has always been insanely talented, and like many great artists, suffered along the way. I am so happy to see him clean and fit (wow is he fit!) and just having a great time. Stark's Gal Friday (and possible true love), personal assistant Pepper Potts is amiably played by the often ephemeral Gwyneth Paltrow. Paltrow plays Pepper (I'm on an alliteration roll, it seems) as smart, capable and vulnerable - everything a superhero's girlfriend should be. Jeff Bridges is on hand as the improbably named Obadiah "Obi" Stane who, after Stark's father's death, ran the company until Tony turned 21 and is now number two. Stane vehemently opposes the closing of Stark Weapons, and... well, no spoilers. Terrence Howard plays Stark's military liaison. Personally, I don't get Terrence Howard. I have never thought he was particularly great in anything (don't dump the hate - I just don't get it, okay?) and he's weirdly wrong. It has been announced that he has been replaced by Don Cheadle in the sequel, who probably should have had the role in the first place. There are a host of terrific character actors - Clark Greg; Tim Guinee; Paul Bettany and a surprisingly "wow-he-grew-up-hot!" Peter Billingsly and a terrific script by Marc Fergus and Hawk Ostby. Director Jon Favreau keeps the pace running along nicely with some very funny physical and verbal comedy (and even finds time to give himself a small role). Early on, Paltrow has one of the funniest and bitchiest lines ever about "taking out the trash" and Tony's flying experiments are hilarious. And Marvel Papa Stan Lee's obligatory cameo is one of his funniest, ever, with Tony confusing Stan with the elderly founder of a well-known girly magazine. The CGI is terrific and Favreau certainly has an eye for action.
I loved Iron Man. Unlike the summer's megasmash other superhero, Iron Man isn't grim and brooding at all. It has a dark moment or two, but it's so damned fun the rest of the time and is exactly what an early summer superhero movie should be. I can't wait to see what Favreau and company come up for the sequel. Iron Man is now third on my list of the summer's best movies. **** (Four out of Four Stars)
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