Iron Man

Bottom Line: Marvel-ous.

By Kirk Honeycutt

Iron Man may not make the A-list of Marvel Comics' stable, but he may be the cinema superhero for the rest of us.

You gotta love a middle-aged wreck as a superhero. Iron Man may not make the A-list of Marvel Comics' stable -- home to Spider-Man, X-Men and the Hulk -- but he may be the cinema superhero for the rest of us. No spider bite or genetic mutation produces him. Rather he springs from good old American ingenuity, the brainchild of his creator and impersonator, Tony Stark, a character modeled in part on genius-playboy Howard Hughes. Tony wears his character flaws like badges of honor yet Iron Man represents a midlife correction.

"Iron Man," the first self-financed production from Marvel Studios, should catch boxoffice lightning in a bottle, thanks to hiring longtime Marvel Comics reader Jon Favreau as director and the supersmart casting of Robert Downey Jr. as the conflicted protagonist. The betting line about opening weekend grosses really pales in significance to the real question: Will the film imitate its hero's ability to blast into the stratosphere for many weeks? The guess here is a big yes.

The entire film, written by Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway, is devoted to how Tony Stark, the top U.S. weapons manufacturer and all-around playboy, becomes Iron Man. A kidnapping by insurgents in Afghanistan forces Tony to invent a crude prototype to escape captivity. (His captors are a little too dumb for belief to think he is actually assembling a weapon for them.)

Back in his Malibu home, having witnessed U.S. soldiers slaughtered with his weaponry, he declares himself out of that business for good. While his partner Obadiah Stane (a marvelously malevolent Jeff Bridges) seizes control of the company, Tony perfects his red-and-gold weapons suit with a somewhat ill-defined plan to use it for good.

The film neatly borrows from a raft of both real and science-fiction technologies as well as previous sci-fi movies to propel the fast-paced two-hour film. In his home basement (think Bat Cave), Tony can talk to his computers and robotics (think R2-D2) while his suit starts to resemble RoboCop on human growth hormones. The space flights and acrobatics over Los Angeles evoke Spider-Man. Yet the whole package is distinctly its own, a tale originated in the '60s cleverly and logically transposed into today's world.

Downey plays off his own bad-boy image wonderfully. The writers give him great lines to work with and ditto that for his Girl Friday, Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts, whose own svelte lines cannot be improved on.

Key disappointment is a climatic battle between different Iron Man prototypes, which is both illogical -- how did Tony's nemesis learn how to use the suit? -- and derivative of many other superhero climaxes. Never mind. Marvel has several more sequels to upgrade "Iron Man."

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures/Marvel Entertainment
Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
Based on the comic by: Marvel Comics
Producers: Avi Arad, Kevin Feige
Executive producers: Louis D'Esposito, Peter Billingsley, Stan Lee, David Maisel, Jon Favreau
Director of photography: Matthew Libatique
Production designer: J. Michael Riva
Music: Ramin Djawadi
Costume designer: Laura Jean Shannon
Editor: Dan Lebental
Tony Stark/Iron Man: Robert Downey Jr.
Jim Rhodes: Terrence Howard
Pepper Potts: Gwyneth Paltrow
Obadiah Stane: Jeff Bridges
Yinsen: Shaun Toub
Raza: Faran Tahir
Running time 126 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13