I'm not as familiar with the Marvel Comics character Iron Man as I am with other superheroes, but I do in general like the big-screen, big-budget treatments of those courageous men and women in tights. Some (Superman, Batman, X-Men, Spider-Man) have fared better than others (Sheena, Brenda Starr, the Punisher, Captain America) to be sure. On paper, Iron Man has great credentials. The first release from Marvel's own production company, it boasts a budget in excess of $100 million, a cast full of Academy Award nominees and even a winner (Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges) and a good director in Jon Favreau (Elf, Zathura).
Unfortunately, a sloppy script and so-so special effects result in a decidedly underwhelming movie. It starts promisingly enough, with a "36 hours earlier" flashback sequence revealing much about morally questionable protagonist Tony Stark (a winning Downey Jr.). Stark is a US weapons manufacturer taken hostage by Afghani terrorists and forced to build a doomsday weapon for them. Despite constant surveillance by his captors, Stark is somehow able to create a weaponry-endowed iron suit that is virtually impenetrable and indestructible. After busting loose and returning to the US, he renounces his company's production of weapons of mass destruction, streamlines the suit, learns how to fly and takes to fighting crime as "Iron Man".
Oddly, it's the crime busting that is largely missing from the film. Too much time is devoted to Stark developing his suit and abilities than taking on the baddies. Only in the film's final twenty minutes, when Iron Man takes on a deranged Bridges (clearly having fun in a rare villainous role) in his own super-powered iron contraption, do the good versus evil dynamics get full play. There's way too much talk until then, and some of the allegedly romantic dialogue between Stark and his devoted assistant, Pepper Potts (a largely wasted Paltrow) is downright laughable.
And then there are the special effects. While there is a lot of build-up to Iron Man's first supersonic flight over the California coastline, the final result bears more similarity to the muses of Xanadu zipping around the world than to anything Christopher Reeve was able to do as Superman with "primitive" non-digital technology. At any rate, Iron Man looks to be a huge hit, and a sequel's release date was announced within days of its premiere. Hopefully, the ensuing franchise and other upcoming Marvel Studio adaptations will correct the deficiencies of this initial effort.
UPDATE: Iron Man is now available on DVDfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.