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Movie Review: Iron Man

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My love affair with the comic book medium began in my toddler years, and has only strengthened as the years progressed. Therefore, I naturally viewed the recent growth of comic-related film as an excellent step for the medium, and in many ways a logical one. In fact, I have always argued that every comic book film should be at least as good as the comic on which it was based; the illustrated panels in a comic are practically an entire storyboard in book format. After all, aren't comics and film essentially achieving the same goal — presenting a story through the use of images?

Sadly, there have been a number of comic book films that have fallen short of their source material: Elektra; Catwoman; Tank Girl; Ghost Rider. The list goes on and on. However, I am glad to announce that one film that will not join the ranks of these celluloid failures is the newest entry into the comic book movie genre, Iron Man. The Jon Favreau-directed film is the first effort from Marvel Studios, a brand new film company that was created by the comic publisher that created and still continues to publish the Iron Man title. While fanboys and film geeks alike have looked to this new business venture with staggering expectations, it seems likely that this first release will win over even the most steadfast skeptics.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Iron Man, it is the story of billionaire genius Tony Stark, a charismatic yet consistently irresponsible man who has built a controversial reputation as a weapons developer and manufacturer. While presenting one of his newest weapons in the deserts of Afghanistan, he is ambushed and captured by a terrorist cell known as the 10 Rings (fans of the comic will recognize this as a modern variation on one of Iron Man's most infamous villians, The Mandarin). Forced to construct the same weaponry for the benefit of the terrorist organization, Stark instead creates a technologically advanced suit of armor that allows him to escape his captors. Realizing his business and lifestyle has caused great harm to his country and those closest in his life, Stark begins a mission to correct his past mistakes in the guise of the robotic superhero Iron Man.

Where do I begin to express my immense joy over this spectacular film? It seems only fair to start with the star of the film, Robert Downey Jr. Without a doubt, Downey Jr. is the heart and soul of this film; I sincerely doubt that the film would have been as effective with anyone else in the role. For those unfamiliar with the comic, Tony Stark is well-known in the realm of comics as a handsome, talented man who is often at odds with his naturally irresponsible nature and his history of substance abuse. If the character had not been created in 1963, by that description one would suspect it had practically been modeled after Downey Jr's life. He portrays the character with a large measure of pomp and bravado, and his dry sense of humor throughout the film provides a number of genuinely funny moments. In fact, the scenes with Stark out of the armor provide just as much sheer entertainment value as the amazing action sequences, which in my opinion is what separates the great comic films from the poor ones. Tony Stark is not a flat, immaculate, consistently heroic character; he is a real guy with a number of flaws, some of which adversely affect his life in and out of the robotic suit.

Thankfully, the rest of the cast also proved to be extremely competent in their respective roles. I don't believe I have ever seen a comic villain portrayed quite the way Jeff Bridges played Obadiah Stane, which is in no way a criticism. Bridges' performances lends a certain level of ambiguity to the character at the start of the film, and had I not been familiar with the comic, I might not have suspected at first that he would be the mastermind behind the sinister plot in the film. Gwyneth Paltrow also performed admirably in her role as Pepper Potts, Stark's assistant. She makes it very clear through her performance that even though Potts is continually exasperated by Tony's juvenile behavior, she also has a deep admiration for him and ultimately needs him as much as Tony needs her. Terrence Howard was also very strong as Stark's best friend, Jim Rhodes; the interactions between him and Downey Jr. provide some of the film's funniest moments.

Though I was very pleased over the immense critical and commercial successes of films like Sin City, Batman Begins, 300, and Spider-Man (my favorite character since the tender age of 2), I have a uniquely different sense of pride over the success of Iron Man. Why? Well for starters, Iron Man has never been in one of the "major league" figures of comics. He has consistently been upheld as a secondary character, and yet director Jon Favreau saw that his story was a truly interesting one, and was willing to take a risk with a character who didn't have the recognition (and therefore, the immediate bankability) of the comic book A-listers.

I also feel the film further verified my theory that the best comic book films that have been produced are the ones that stayed the most faithful to the book they were adapting. Not only were the characters in the film splitting images of their comic counterparts, but the film provided a number of sly references to the comic that rewarded its loyal fan base (one scene in particular can be found after the credits have finished rolling, so stick around fanboys). Hopefully this will endow more filmmakers with a desire to stay true to the comics that are the basis of these films; after all, if the story within the comic is good enough to merit a film treatment, wouldn't it make sense to provide an accurate representation of what can actually be found within those pages?

Along with Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins, I would consider Iron Man one of the best comic book adaptations that has graced the silver screen thus far. I wait with great anticipation to see what other offerings Marvel Studio has to offer, as it appears they are handling the fascinating cast of characters at their disposal with the greatest care. Their first film is not only a great comic film, but thus far it is one of the best films of the year.

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