He just stares at the world
Planning his vengeance
that he will soon unfurl
- Iron Man, Black Sabbath
Like the Tin Man, Tony Stark needs a heart - both figuratively and literally. The genius son of a billionaire, who made his money creating weapons of mass destruction, Tony (Robert Downey, Jr., ) possesses a beating heart that pumps real blood - yet he lusts only for women, booze and more money. Only when he loses the function of his anatomical heart, requiring a battery-operated model, does he begin to feel love and loss. This double "change of heart," together with a James Bond-meets-Batman characterization of its superhero, makes Ironman the most stylish, entertaining and imagination-fueling film of the year so far.
Writer/director, Jon Favreau (Elf, Swingers) uses the emotionally flawed Tony, a spoiled rich kid who has never needed to grow up, as the catalyst for this action/sci-fi thriller. Plucked from his cushy drinking and gambling milieu, Tony is soon plunged into Aghanistan's political hotbed. There, he finds himself surrounded by weapons created by Stark Industries, the company Tony inherited from his father. The company's state-of-the-art weaponry is employed in more nefarious ways than he realizes. Tony (who of necessity becomes the Marvel Comics' superhero, Ironman) is in for a few major life-lessons here. But as the full power of Tony's brilliant mind unfolds, the audience is indulged in a futuristic bonanza of gadgetry and special effects. Meanwhile, we get to ride along on this James Bond-esque fantasy, visiting Tony's cliff-hugging architectural masterpiece on the Malibu coastline, as he sips single malts and drives Lamborghinis, in between creating his latest inventions in an on-premises lab.
In saunters Gwenyth Paltrow (who never looked better), in the form of "Pepper" Pots, Tony's glowingly lovely, and loyal, assistant, bearing a tray of drinks. Throughout the film, Pepper and Tony address each other formally, when they remember to, trying to keep any prospect of romance from creeping into their tidy businesslike rapport. The repartee between them is snappy and sharp, allowing just a few tendrils of temptation to wind into their relationship. The chemistry between them remains taught throughout as they unintentionally tantalize each other, skillfully teasing the audience with the possibility of a deeper affection. Favreau's choice of Downey for the role Tony seems fitting, since Downey recently underwent a transformation of his own in the form of rehab. Downy's real life experiences seem to enhance his character, which he plays convincingly, allowing sarcasm and cockiness to soften into wonder and vulnerability.
Jeff Bridges easily adopts a grinningly evil demeanor for his role as Obadiah Stane, Tony's business partner. His counterpart, Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) is the only person willing to be brutally honest with Tony. Recent Brown grad and journalist, Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb) flirts with Tony while probing his conscience for acknowledgment of the destruction his company wreaks. Although intelligent and persistent, she becomes the subject of some ultra witty one-liners.
The film has something for nearly all ages. Although the action scenes between the superhero and his nemesis dragged on a little too long for me, they'll keep kids wrapped. The political timeliness, adventure, fast-paced dialogue, hip setting, and quick-witted humor all go into this cocktail of a fantasy film, seducing the audience and coaxing us into hoping for the two planned sequels. If you go, stay through the credits; there's a teaser scene at the very end.
IRON MAN ★★★★✩
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard. Directed by Jon Favreau. Rated PG-13.