- Robert Downey Jr. ... Tony Stark/Iron Man
- Terrence Howard ... Jim Rhodes
- Jeff Bridges ... Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger
- Gwyneth Paltrow ... Pepper Potts
- Shaun Toub ... Yinsen
- Clark Gregg ... Agent Phil Coulson
Directed by Jon Favreau (Made). Screenplay by Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby (Children of Men) and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway. Based on characters created by Stan Lee & Don Heck & Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby. Released by Marvel Studios and Paramount Pictures. Opened May 2, 2008.
Worse, during his kidnapping Stark was infused with many pieces of tiny shrapnel: only a magnetic device implanted in his chest by Yinsen, a doctor forced to work for the terrorists (Shaun Toub), is keeping him alive, by pulling the shrapnel away from his heart.
Stark, however, is hit by a sudden inspiration. Using the resources and weapons parts provided him to build the missile system, with Yinsen's help he builds a iron suit that allows him to escape his captivity. The suit, however, is destroyed in his escape.
On his return to America, having seen American soldiers killed by his own weapons, Stark realizes he no longer wants his company to be a merchant of death. Frozen out by his Board of Directors and opposed by his mentor, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), Stark becomes increasingly devoted to building a new suit -- one that will help him combat the very cycle of violence he helped create.
He Ain't Heavy, He's Iron Man
Superhero movies have been getting really ponderous lately. In the Spider-Man franchise, Peter Parker is more and more morose about what a pain it is to balance superheroing and having a life. Over in Superman world, the Man of Steel's godlike powers are making him more and more earnest about Helping Mankind, with the resulting film losing any lightness of touch as it drifts into hagiography. Ang Lee's Hulk was so overwrought that it's been set aside in favor of a new version (though from the trailers, The Incredible Hulk looks just as grim). And Batman Begins created a welcome new look at the Dark Knight, but the bleak horrorscape of Gotham is part of a relentless blackness of tone only occasionally relieved by a half-smile or the odd ironic twist.
Don't get me wrong -- I enjoyed all of these movies immensely and haven't forgotten that there are laughs in all of them. But the heaviness of tone surrounding major superhero movies of late prompts me to ask, Do they need to take themselves this seriously? Aren't superhero comics supposed to be fun?
Iron Man, on the other hand, shows us how to approach serious superhero issues (I know that sounds like an odd phrase) without making a ten-ton movie. Tony Stark is confronted with a life-changing event: his kidnapping and ordeal explodes him out of his complacent worldview and forces him to take responsibility for his role in the way things are. But the movie isn't bogged down by that issue, it's informed by it, driven by it.
Meanwhile, from start to finish Iron Man successfully balances comedy -- Robert Downey Jr. once again displays his brilliant comic timing and effortless ability to command a scene -- and action, with battle sequences that are extremely effective without seeming so slick that you're constantly reminded of the unreality of CGI. The action proceeds from the plot, not the other way around: for example, at the point in the film where other stories might have had a lyrical "Whee! I'm flying!" sequence, Stark has a relevant adventure: he tests his suit by flying as high as he can, only to discover an icing problem he hadn't anticipated.
Beyond the excellent and unintrusive effects, the success of Iron Man derives in equal parts from the sharpness of the writing and Robert Downey Jr.'s delivery of it. The writers and director Favreau (who also has a distracting cameo as Stark's driver) know who Tony Stark is: brilliant, self-absorbed, and alone: a wunderkind who lives as a playboy because it gets him attention, but who relates better to the intelligent robots who help him in his workshop than to the human beings on the margins of his life. And it's obvious that Robert Downey Jr., no stranger to the perils of success, totally gets this character. He is Iron Man.
Potts and Pans
Iron Man is weaker in other areas: the amount of development given to his assistant, Pepper Potts (an underused Gwyneth Paltrow), is scrupulously limited (held in reserve, no doubt, for future films); and the heartless Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) gets none at all, coming off as a pure villain representing the death-merchant aspect of Stark's work. On the other hand, both get some great lines, and Potts in particular is not a two-dimensional character so much as someone we haven’t gotten to know well yet. And Iron Man has the first Stan Lee cameo that's actually funny, appropriate in the best and most enjoyable Marvel film in a long time.