For every successful comic book film like Spider-Man and X-2, there are multiple failures such as Daredevil, Elektra and both Hulk attempts. Aside from The Dark Knight, which is really more of a crime thriller, there hasn’t been a truly great comic book adaptation. Couple these facts with the unimpressive and almost silly nature of its first trailer, and I admit that I had Iron Man pegged as a dud. But I was wrong. While it isn’t perfect, and certainly not good enough to usurp Nolan’s film as best in the genre, Iron Man is solid entertainment that packs a surprisingly powerful punch. The film opens with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the world’s leading arms dealer, fresh off his latest missile demonstration somewhere in the Middle East and cracking jokes with U.S. soldiers in the back of a Humvee. About 10 minutes and a few Stark weapons explosions later, Tony finds himself at the mercy of a group of terrorists who threaten to kill him if he doesn’t build them a missile. Naturally, Tony instead uses the materials to build a weapon for himself - you guessed it, the Iron Man suit! The rest of the film chronicles Tony’s inner-struggle with the ethics of his company, his difficulties in designing a new suit, and his confrontation with an unexpected opponent. The plot of Iron Man is the standard expedited vigilante-origin story with a few personal demons and some sexual tension, but it also allows for both character and theme development without hindering the pace. Tony’s sudden switch from amoral gun-runner to anti-war spokesman is very believable, and it’s a good thing too, because the movie hinges upon it.
The first task, and perhaps the most important one for a comic book film especially, is casting the superhero. While Robert Downey Jr. might not initially sound like the man to play Tony Stark – millionaire, irresponsible genius, womanizer – he only needed five minutes onscreen to convince me he was the perfect choice to play Iron Man. Downey Jr. is brilliant in bringing the relatively unbelievable character of Stark to the screen in a formidably realistic fashion. Tony is equal parts technology wizard and courageous adrenaline-seeker, and Downey Jr. flawlessly captures the essence of his complex nature. Stark shifts very quickly from a carefree weapons dealer, to a defiant captive, to a frantic inventor and test pilot, and then finally to a superhero. Downey Jr. expertly uses each phase to further layer his character, which results in a fully developed, likeable, and completely vulnerable Tony Stark. One calls to mind the exploits of Howard Hughes (minus the insanity) while watching Downey Jr. portray Stark, and there’s no greater compliment for an actor than relating the fictional character he’s playing to a real life figure.
The supporting cast of Iron Man is also very good, with the other standout being Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Stark’s all-purpose personal assistant. There have been gripes that Paltrow is miscast as Potts, but her chemistry with Downey Jr. is fantastic, and she injects the film with wit, humor, and sexual anxiety. Most importantly though, Potts functions as an avenue to Tony’s heart, soul, and conscience, and the notion that they both depend on each other more than they realize is a subtly interesting undercurrent that pulses through the film. Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard round out the cast, with Bridges doing great work opposite Downey Jr. as Obadiah Stane, and Howard laying the groundwork of Col. Rhodey for use in the sequels. Iron Man certainly follows the trend of comic book films casting top-notch acting talent and with the strong support around him, this may just be Robert Downey Jr.’s coming(back) out party.
For those who’ve seen Swingers, Jon Favreau has always been Mikey, the love-sick “guy behind the guy behind the guy.” But for those of us who’ve now seenIron Man as well, he may just be remembered as the man who successfully directed Tony Stark’s first foray into film. Favreau seems like an odd choice, especially considering Iron Man is Marvel Studios’ first independent production, but they must have known something we didn’t because now the apparent gamble has paid off to the tune of over $500 million at the Box Office. One of Iron Man’s main strengths is Favreau’s decision to form the character right before the audience’s eyes. As opposed to telling us who Iron Man is, how he came to be, and then thrusting him into meaningless situations, Favreau shows us. We experience Tony Stark’s transformation along with him: the lavish lifestyle, the terrors of captivity, the frustrations of being misunderstood, the exhilaration of flying for the first time, and the satisfaction of finally making a difference. In a bold and noisy film with great special effects and a copious (but competent) amount of CGI, it’s a testament to Favreau’s steady directorial hand that Iron Man’s strengths are its palpable atmosphere, tense emotion, and underlying message.
Iron Man is a film that comic book junkies will no doubt love, but it also appeals to those who generally shy away from the superhero genre because it retains a relevance to the world we live in today. War, weapons and terrorism are all hot-button issues surging through the daily news, and Iron Man definitely has a contribution to make to that discussion. With all the gadgetry, explosions, and action of a summer blockbuster, Iron Man delivers its fast-paced entertainment with a conscience, and along with The Dark Knight, it announces that comic book adaptations are here to stay. The Iron Man Special Edition Blu-ray disc is quite a spectacle and definitely one of the best titles that I own. The video transfer is near-perfect and a feast for the eyes, while the True HD audio track is a symphony of bullets, jets, and pure excitement. If you’ve just bought a new system and are searching for the Blu-ray to best showcase it, look no further than Iron Man.
With over four hours of content, the special features section of Iron Man is one of the most comprehensive and interesting releases I’ve seen. The first feature is a six-part documentary called “The Invincible Iron Man”, which offers an extensive look at the origins and development of the Iron Man character. Everybody at Marvel from Stan Lee on down to the writers and artists is interviewed, and this provides an excellent background for people who may not be familiar with the comics. There are also enough interesting facts and tidbits that even an avid fan may not know (not that diehards would ever skip such a juicy feature). It certainly isn’t required viewing, but if you enjoy the character and the film at all, you’ll surely appreciate the history.
The second of the main features is a seven-part documentary called “I Am Iron Man”, which at almost 2 hours long, is brimming with cool interviews and behind-the-scenes exclusives. My favorite aspects of disc extras are usually the interviews with the cast, and there are plenty of those in this feature. Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau are two extremely interesting guys, and it’s a real treat to listen to them talk. Both seem genuinely excited to be involved with Iron Man, and Favreau especially, is very real and sounds like he really poured his heart and soul into the project. Some of the parts within this doc are more watchable than others, but again, if you enjoyed the film you’ll want to hear from the people who made it happen.
The other worthwhile feature is called “Wired: The Visual Effects of Iron Man”, which delves into the films CGI effects. The CGI in Iron Man is top notch, and it’s definitely interesting to get a better idea of how the magic of CGI works when it’s done correctly. There are also 11 deleted scenes (which are worth watching for more Downey Jr.), a few still galleries, and an interactive quiz feature, but the only must-sees are the two big documentaries (which span three hours combined).
Simply put, if you’re any kind of collector of movie aficionado, you need to have Iron Man on your shelf. It’s blockbuster entertainment in its purest form and it highlights the best features that Blu-ray has to offer. If you’ve been waiting to make the next-gen jump, there’s no better time than now with this Iron Man release and The Dark Knight due in December. You won’t hear this very often, but I can’t wait for the sequel. Need I say more?
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