« Home | "It's Complicated..." » | Five by Five » | The (Hidden) Stones That The Builder Refused... » | Buy Any Jeans Necessary » | When They Reminisce... » | Pornification Globalization » | Kittens on a Hot Tin (Grind) House » | Cowboys To Girls » | The Miseducation of Eva Angelina » | Remember The Time II » 

Monday, May 05, 2008 

Cast-Iron Casting

Any comic book/movie buff worth his or her salt likely got very excited whenever they first heard that Robert Downey, Jr. would be cast as Tony Stark in this summer’s first legitimate blockbuster, IRON MAN. The idea was a perfect one and it made perfect sense but only to those who know the Tony Stark character AND have followed Downey’s tumultuous career (sadly, the movie version of Tony Stark doesn’t battle his demons of alcoholism in this installment). His talent so prodigious and the parallels in his own life so similar to Stark’s, it was a natural match. But if you had no idea about any of this you could only be excited about that metal CGI warrior flying through the clear blue sky in the trailers and Downey, growing a sculpted goatee like Stark’s, cracking wise as his pretty red and gold suit made things go boom.

Finally, this weekend the world got to see what longtime IRON MAN and Robert Downey, Jr. fans alike have known all along. As Tony Stark, Downey couldn’t more closely resemble the fictitious character in appearance and playboy swagger and now given a grand stage on which to perform, everyone can see his considerable talent, not-so-subtle wit and underappreciated comedic timing on full display, as well. As Ben Stiller (who directed Downey in the upcoming TROPIC THUNDER) said recently, “Finally this summer [Robert] gets to have his cake and let us eat him up all the way to the multiplex.”

By now everyone should be familiar with the story: weapons manufacturer and technological genius Tony Stark, while visiting Afghanistan demonstrating new weaponry for the US military, has his convoy ambushed and in the ensuing fracas is wounded and captured. His captors, in particular a menacing bald baddie with Ghengis Khan-like ambitions, demand that Stark duplicate his technology for him or be killed. Instead, Stark fashions a one-man, weapons-laden scrap-metal calamity (a hulking, iron homage to the Golden Age Mark I suit) and escapes, decimating the lion's share of his tormentors and their entire camp in the process. Once back in the US, having seen the effects his death-dealing has had on the rest of the world, Stark immediately halts Stark Industries' production on any and all military weaponry. However, there are still bad guys out there in the world using his weapons to their own evil ends. But with all the right materials at his disposal at home, Tony can easily fashion a better suit and put an end to that...

Director Jon Favreau (who cameos as one of Tony’s handlers/bodyguards, Hogan) surrounds Downey with an impressive supporting cast (maybe not nearly as impressive as Christopher Nolan’s BATMAN franchise but pretty darn close) that includes HUSTLE & FLOW’s Terrance Howard as Stark’s best friend and Air Force pilot, James Rhodes. Howard, as anyone who has seen the aforementioned HUSTLE & FLOW, CRASH or PRIDE knows, can convey intense and real emotion with the best of them and just through the sheer power and wavering tone of his voice, despite his limited screen time, makes you believe that he and Stark have known and genuinely cared for each other for years (in a nod to Marvel comics continuity, Rhodes slyly glances at a single-color Iron Man suit prototype in Stark’s garage for a moment, teasing perhaps putting it on and joining his best friend on his mission. He smirks: “Next time.” For those who haven’t followed the mythos over the years, Rhodes does in fact don an Iron Man suit of his own and dubs himself War Machine when Stark fakes his own death).

Joining Downey and Howard are Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges, Paltrow as Stark’s loyal assistant and sweet near-love interest, Virginia "Pepper" Potts. I’m always impressed when a star as big as Paltrow (her Oscar isn't exactly of the 'Marissa Tomei' variety) is able to put aside whatever reservations they might have to take a smaller role that another actor might consider beneath them (Michael Caine as Alfred, anyone?) and then nail it so pitch-perfectly you can hardly see anyone else in their place. As much as Downey was Stark, Gwyneth was Pepper. People who only know Jeff Bridges as “The Dude” in the Coen’s cult-classic THE BIG LEBOWSKI will hardly recognize him as the bald and bearded Obadiah Stane, the man who ran Stark Industries after Tony’s parents were killed in an automobile accident but had to relinquish control when Tony was old enough to run the business himself. He may smile widely in Tony’s face, dress sharp and accept awards on Tony’s behalf while Tony gambles, drinks and womanizes but beneath all his cigar-chomping “I’m only looking out for your best interest” speeches lies a dangerous nemesis with a whole lot of resentment towards our hero, especially when Tony changes the company’s direction after escaping captivity.

Favreau, shockingly, manages to almost effortlessly put it all together into an immensely entertaining and cohesive package that, while running well over two hours, never feels overly long and certainly never drags. Hell, I felt it ended too soon and I can’t recall the last time I felt that way about a movie of this type with this sort of running time. Thankfully and in a surprise to virtually no one, the door is left wide open for a sequel at the movie’s conclusion, of course. Given this one’s tremendous and various successes, IRON MAN will be hard to top. But in watching the final few minutes I took a long hard look at Paltrow and Downey onscreen together and wondered to myself, “Would I rather see these two again in a few summers or Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst? After suffering through Spider-Man 3?” Please...

Bring on IRON MAN II.