I have to admit that I enjoyed this movie far more than I had expected. After the flood of superhero films over the past few years I thought I was tired of the genre, but found Jon Favreau’s direction and Robert Downey Jr.’s take on the lead character to be refreshing.

Iron Man is another comic-book-to-movie franchise following in the footsteps of Raimi’s Spiderman, Nolan’s Batman Begins, and the more recent X-Men and Superman movies. It provides a bit of interesting political commentary as well, which seems all the more salient when viewed in light of the current situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Iron Man is the story of an arrogant and self-centered arms developer, Tony Stark, (Robert Downey Jr.) who spends much of his time womanizing, repairing hot rods and developing new and more destructive weapons.

After a flawless and dramatic demonstration of Stark’s new and highly destructive “Jericho” missile system to troops in Afghanistan, his convoy is attacked and he is taken prisoner by a group of Afghani rebels. During the attack, his chest is perforated with pieces of metallic shrapnel from one of the weapons that Stark Industries had created. The pieces of shrapnel, the audience is told, are working their way toward his heart. As a result, a large electromagnet is placed into the center of his chest to prevent migration of this shrapnel. This magnet is connected to a large car battery for power.

Stark decides to develop a new form of portable nuclear reactor as a power source for his electromagnet. This results in an invention that is the technological key to the entire movie; a small glowing disc that produces vast amounts of power.

The invention allows Stark to continue to live, but also allows him to build a small, lithe suit out of “gold and titanium.” This eliminates the car battery, but also allows him to have enough power to fly faster than a fighter jet and lift a car without having to carry a school bus full of deep cycle batteries to do so (a good thing, too, since school buses are not very aerodynamic).

But I am getting ahead of myself. While in the Afghani dungeon building his “Jericho” missile, he secretly builds an iron suit armed with two flamethrowers which he utilizes to make his escape.

Stark returns to the United States a changed man, regretting the trauma and loss of life that his military inventions have wrought. He attempts to turn around his company to manufacture non-military goods, but is rebuffed by Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), his father’s second-in-command and head of the board of directors for Stark Industries.

Stark returns to his opulent modern home to recuperate, but decides instead to build another suit to enable him to help destroy the terrible weapons that his company had created.

And Iron Man is born. . . .

Downey’s Stark is almost believable as a techno-nerd, albeit one with pretty decent luck with women (a relatively rare trait amongst normal nerd mortals). He absent-mindedly talks techie jargon to himself while making adjustments to his titanium exoskeleton and flight control system, lending a veneer of believability to his mechanical genius.

Downey is also funny in both a slapstick and witty fashion. His character has a sardonic sense of humor which is used very effectively throughout the film. There is also a large amount of physical humor as well, particularly during a scene where Stark is testing the suit’s propulsion system and inadvertently flips himself up against a concrete ceiling. Although he lacks much of the boy-next-door charm of Peter Parker, he makes up for it with a quick wit and easy smile.

Stark is assisted by the ever-enduring and ever-faithful Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Pepper is modest and supportive, providing a counterpoint to Stark’s womanizing flirtatiousness. As a fixture in all movies of this genre, she plays his romantic interest, a fact which Stark even jokes about at one point. Although the relationship is never consummated with an upside-down kiss in the rain, it is hinted that the two of them secretly love one another.

The film is peppered with a huge quantity of very good visual effects. Jon Favreau, who both directs the film and stars as one of Stark’s bodyguards, shows remarkable restraint by using special effects that are necessary and add to the plot, rather than simply thrown in because they are “cool.” The effects that are utilized appear very well done, as befits the continued maturation of Lucas’ powerhouse, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM).

There is little to criticize in this film. It is fun, interesting and an enjoyable evening at the movies. I give it three (***) Jessicas out of a possible four.

EK

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