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Iron Man (9/10)

by Tony Medley

I’m not a fan of comic book translations to the silver screen. The Spider-Man movies make me gag. “X-Men” and “The Fantastic Four” have been worse, despite the fact that they have grossed over $4 billion at the box office. So I wasn’t expecting much when I attended the screening of yet another Marvel Comics invention.

There are lots of screenplay credits on this (Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby & Art Marcum, Matt Holloway), and that generally spells disaster. But, surprisingly, this starts with a bang and keeps going, albeit somewhat slower, thanks to expert direction by Jon Favreau. Favreau directed “Elf,” the only Will Ferrell comedy I have found watchable (not only watchable; I liked it). That alone qualifies him as a genius.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a multibillionaire owner of a munitions conglomerate when he’s captured in Afghanistan and builds an amazing iron suit to escape. The suit makes him virtually invulnerable. This adventure gives him a “Road to Damascus” awakening and he decides to stop making munitions, which he finds have been sold to the bad guys, and, instead, build a better suit to use for him to rid the world of bad guys. His improved suit allows him to fly as well.

One note of interest is that Tony Stark was modeled after Howard Hughes by creator Stan Lee. Much of the film was shot at Playa Vista, which is where Hughes Aircraft was located.

A lot went into authenticity. Tony Stark spends the first part of the film as a captive in a cave. Production designer J. Michael Riva reveals, “One of the things I discovered in my research of truly remote caves is how cold they really are. I saw some footage of a cave interior in Tora Bora, Afghanistan. In it, a Taliban fighter is being interviewed and you can see his breath. So I convinced Jon Favreau we should ‘freeze’ the set. We built an air conditioning system into the cave and had cold air coming out of the actors’ mouths for days – something everybody hates me for to this day – but it was very effective…Robert Downey and the rest of the cast loved it. And so did Jon.”

Tony lives in a spectacular Malibu estate. Although there was an advertisement focusing on it in the Real Estate section of the Los Angeles Times, I am reliably informed that it is solely a creation of CGI. And, speaking of CGI, the special effects in this movie are spectacular and worth the price of admission. The iron suit, the way Tony gets into it, the way it flies, all are realistic. Tony has robots to make the suit and dress him. He speaks to them, or it, and it exhibits an unusual terse sense of humor, not unlike Kubrick’s “2001.” In fact, the charm of the movie is its sense of humor.

Tony’s partner is Obadiah Stane (a bald Jeff Bridges) and his assistant is Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, looking more beautiful than ever). His interface with the air force is Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard). What sets this movie apart from all its predecessors mentioned above are the expert direction of Favreau, the interesting, witty script, and the first rate acting of the entire cast, but especially Downey, whose devil-may-care attitude as Stark molds the film. They give performances far beyond what one would expect from a comic book.

This is lotsa fun!

May 1, 2008