Entry for May 04, 2008: Iron Man

Fellow genre film fans, I'm pleased to report that Iron Man gave a strong start to the summer movie season and is one of the more faithful live-action adaptations of a comic book superhero that I've seen.

On Saturday, 3 May 2008, Janice and I drove out to near where I work in Framingham, Massachusetts. We had lunch at Joan & Ed's Deli, stopped by Barnes & Noble in Shopper's World, and briefly walked through the Natick Collection. We also took advantage of "Free Comic Book Day" at Bedrock Comics and Newbury Comics.

Janice and I then met gamers Beruk A., Sara F. & Josh C., and Thomas K.Y., as well as my co-worker (and fellow blogger) Ken G. and four of his friends at the AMC Framingham multiplex. Most of us later had dinner at Curry Leaf, an Indian restaurant.

Iron Man features the origin story of the armored Avenger, combining pop-culture sensibilities, a dash of science fiction, and superheroic fisticuffs for an entertaining two hours. Like Nicholas Cage in Ghost Rider, Robert Downey Jr. brings his own quirky personality to the role of troubled inventor Tony Stark, whose experiences on the battlefield change him from a weapons merchant to a one-man army defending the innocent.

Stark is aided by Gwyneth Paltrow as the comely and smart Pepper Potts, Terrence Howard as long-suffering Air Force Col. James 'Rhodey' Rhodes, and even director Jon Favreau as chauffer Happy Hogan. Iron Man's eventual adversaries include terrorists and Jeff Bridges (Tron, Starman) as sometime mentor Obadiah Stane. Of course, Stan "the man" Lee makes a cameo.

Much of Iron Man is setup, showing the man inside the powered suit of armor, but there was enough humor and action to keep the movie from dragging. As a reader of Marvel Comics, I was pleased to see the shout-outs to that publisher's fictional universe, including references to SHIELD, War Machine, Stark's later problems, and the Avengers (stay after the credits).

As co-worker Lucas M. and other reviewers have noted, Iron Man only whets our appetite for more. The technology and special effects were also excellent, especially as Stark tests the flight capabilities of his suit. (Robert A. Heinlein depicted similar armor decades ago in his classic military SF novel Starship Troopers.) The heavy metal soundtrack, from AC-DC's "Back in Black" in the opening to Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" at the end, is appropriate.

I also thought that the movie did a decent job of showing the real selflessness of U.S. soldiers and airmen as well as the moral quagmire of providing weapons to groups that often turn on their patrons. Stan Lee and company created Iron Man during the long Viet Nam conflict, but the story is unfortunately still relevant during our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although Stark must overcome his own inner demons before he can fight evil as Iron Man, the movie is mercifully free of the adolescent angst that weighed down the Spider-Man or X-Men trilogies and isn't as fantastical as Superman Returns or even Batman Begins (although I am looking forward to the animated Gotham Knight and cinematic Dark Knight). On the other hand, this movie also inspired me to return to my D20 Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Ed. superhero scenarios and the City of Heroes online game!

This movie was rated PG-13 for violence, and I'd give about an 8.5 out of 10 or an A-. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes action movies, comic books, or the actors involved. I'm pleased that Iron Man has done well at the box office so far, because I think it deserves to be successful.

We also saw several previews, including some promising ones for Speed Racer, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, and Indiana Jones [4] and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, all of which open this month! We also have Hellboy II, Mummy [3], Incredible Hulk, and another Harry Potter to look forward to!