The summer of 2008 (or lack thereof) is gone and with it the blockbuster season, ending what is no doubt one of the most successful and satisfying seasons of comic book movies on record. It began with Iron Man, a huge success commercially, just beating Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull at the US box office and second only to The Dark Knight.

Key to the film's success is the brave casting of Robert Downey Jr’s as Tony Stark, an arms manufacturer, genius engineer and playboy, turned titular superhero lacking the normal po-faced trappings. When questioned about the role, Downey Jr is quoted as saying, simply, "I am Iron Man", due to the parallels between the actor's turbulent past and the characters moral flexibility - at times so naturally does he fit the role that you wonder whether he is acting or not, delivering lines with his trademark deadpan charm.

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After being injured by shrapnel from an explosion of a Stark Industries weapon and captured by Middle East insurgents, Stark is confronted with the truth about his mortality and his life’s work. Ordered by his captors to make a weapon of mass destruction for their conflict, unbeknownst to them (amazingly) he creates the Iron Man Mk1 suit, escaping his kidnappers with a renewed sense of conscience and thus beginning a mission to amend the wrongs his company has created.

In the pre-release coverage surrounding Iron Man (and The Incredible Hulk too) a lot was made of the casting of ‘serious’ actors in a comic book movie and this can be read as an attempt by the newly-formed Marvel Studio at being taken seriously as a major player in Hollywood. Thankfully, the stars don’t disappoint with Gwyneth Paltrow shining in the role of Pepper Potts, Starks long-suffering assistant and love interest, bringing grace and humanity to a character that could have easily been dull eye candy. Jeff Bridges is also suitably sinister as Stark's business partner Obadiah Stone, though his character remains quite under-developed, while Terrence Howard as Col. “Rhodey” Rhodes plays the straight-man to Stark's buffoon with a sense of resignation.

Sadly, the lack of a decent villain is the one real thorn in the side of this movie. Like other comic book film origin stories, the focus of the story is weighted towards the good guys and, thankfully, Tony Stark is an entertaining protagonist, but even with other origin stories there seems to be a little more thought given to the bad guys – Spider-man's Green Goblin is the result of an experiment gone wrong or X-Men’s Magneto, scarred from witnessing the wrongs of humanity. In Iron Man the characterisation of the villain is limited to a vague insurgents wanting more powerful weapons for a Middle-Eastern-type conflict and Obadiah’s desire for more power over a company he is already in charge of; consequently, the second act development of Tony Stark drags a little without a sufficient force of antagonism.

That said, Iron Man is a very strong debut for Marvel Studios, introducing the fabled Marvel Universe into the super-hero genre with a neat pre-credits coda featuring Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) of the Avengers. Iron Man is also a decent introduction to the character and, arguably, is the most enjoyable of the origin story sub-genre, thanks to the assured and confident performance of Downey Jr. director Jon Favreau should also be commended for matching slick tone of the film to the character. The Dark Knight and Hellboy 2 may have been more stunning and thrilling comic book movies, but Iron Man remains big, dumb, explosive and, most importantly, fun cinematic entertainment, illustrating the great promise of this new superhero.

Reviewed on: 24 Oct 2008
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Iron Man packshot
A wealthy industrialist fights evil with a newly invented super-suit.
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Read more Iron Man reviews:

Stephen Carty ****
Chris ***1/2

Director: Jon Favreau

Writer: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leslie Bibb, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Sayed Badreya, Bill Smitrovich, Clark Gregg, Tim Guinee

Year: 2008

Runtime: 126 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

Festivals:

Glasgow 2013

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