If investors still need proof that funding Marvel to turn their own comics into films is a good idea, here’s Exhibit “A.”
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) enjoys playing up to his womanizing millionaire billionaire playboy image every moment he’s not using his genius to create the latest in high-tech weaponry for his company, Stark Industries. During a weapons demonstration in a foreign country, Tony is near-fatally wounded and forced to build a weapon for his captor, a warlord named Raza (Faran Tahir), but he instead devises a daring escape. With a new perspective on how his weapons are being abused in the world, Tony finds himself the outcast as his top company executive Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) argues against shutting down weapons production. With only his personal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and military liaison Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) as confidants, Tony begins to do the one thing he’s best at: building something fantastic to fulfill a specific purpose.
It’s always nice when a film lives up to its promise and premise, and that’s what director Jon Favreau has delivered. Marvel Comics characters have classically built on layered personalities, moral shades of gray, and the continuity of actions having real consequences regardless of their original intent. Iron Man not only presents the story of Tony Stark but tells it with confidence, trusting the audience to suspend disbelief for all of the drama, humor, and intrigue that comes from inventing a modern-day suit of armor by the flawed knight who wears it. This is the kind of quality product that was hoped for when Marvel Entertainment secured the funding to at last take the reigns of their own properties and guide their future film franchise success.
The casting is perfect, from our world’s near Tony Stark in Robert Downey Jr. to Gwyneth Paltrow’s platonic personal assistant. Their relationship is the heart of the film but doesn’t weigh it down, providing a believable emotional core for Tony Stark to operate from. Jeff Bridges makes no apologies for being a cutthroat businessman who gets things done but is hard to stop once he gets going, even when he’s gone too far. Terrence Howard is quietly biding his time, knowing that any sequels mean his own “knighthood” in the continuing storyline. As a central group, these players keep the fantastic rooted in the believable just enough to think, “Yeah, this could happen, and I get to watch!”
From special effects to production design, all of it looks effortless, serving the story instead of being a mere excuse to show large metal things beating down on each other (that would be called Transformers, by the way). Clocking in at just over two-hours, there’s plenty to enjoy without dragging anything out too long, paced to the running time without padding or sacrificing story. Of course, it’s no secret that with The Incredible Hulk on its way later this summer and other key Marvel properties in the pipeline, rumors of bigger plans down the road are already being whispered. For rabid Marvel fans who crave a taste, look no further than the bonus clip shown at the end of the credits (you’re welcome). For everyone else, the benchmark for this summer’s blockbusters has just been set.
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)