One of the most unlikely action stars since Matt Damon's venture into the "Bourne" series, Robert Downey, Jr. stars in "Iron Man" (an adaptation of the Marvel Comics series) as Tony Stark, billionaire weapons designer and head of Stark Industries, which he took over from his late father. As the film opens, Stark is traveling through Afghanistan with a convoy of US troopers. While he's initially cracking wise and taking pictures, things turn tragic when the convoy is attacked and Stark is captured - although, before his capture, he's confronted with a disturbing sight - a weapon that hits and explodes nearby right before he's captured has his company's logo on it.
The movie cuts to Stark's life before the incident, painting a picture of an egotistical playboy billionaire who has everything and wouldn't mind a few more toys. He's accompanied by his friend, Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) and assisted by Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). After some partying and a demonstration of the latest Stark Industries product, the movie comes back to the present, where Stark is being tortured by his captors and has been treated for shrapnel injuries with an electromagnet by Yinsen (Shaun Toub), a doctor/translator.
Given all the materials, Stark instead decides to build himself a tank-like suit, which is enough to let him escape, although he doesn't get too terribly far. Luckily, he's picked up by a rescue team lead by Rhodes. When he returns to the US, Stark has been greatly changed by his experiences over the prior three months. His first decision is to shut down the weapons division of the company until he can decide on how to use the company's resources for the greater good. This doesn't exactly go over well with the shareholders, nor Stark's business partner, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). The decision even winds up on Jim Cramer's "Mad Money" show, where he rates Stark Industries a "triple sell".
However, Stark's mind will not be changed, and he begins to become more and more confident in the suit. While the action sequences are done quite well, the movie is actually as strong as it is thanks to Downey, Jr.'s fantastic performance. While the performance initially has the actor playing up his wise-cracking, sarcastic side to great effect, when the character changes, his portrayal of a man devastated by his work and desperate to make a positive change is convincing.
As convincing as Downey, Jr.'s portrayal is, Bridges is equally impressive in a performance that gradually goes from light to an intimidating villain. Paltrow, while not having all that much of a character here, at least does offer a memorable performance and has very good chemistry with Downey, Jr. Howard is also good in a supporting performance, but again, the character really isn't given all that much to do. The supporting performances are fine and Jeff Bridges makes a great villain, but this is generally Downey, Jr.'s show and he carries a big Summer movie superbly.
The film's effects work is excellent and, although his resume wouldn't indicate great skill with action sequences, director Jon Favreau ("Swingers", "Zathura") offers up a few tense action moments (and does show up in a very brief supporting role.) While most of the action sequences are above-average, the big finale doesn't have the epic feel that one might have hoped for or expected - but it's still fairly entertaining. Despite clocking in at a little over two hours, the movie also maintains a brisk pace throughout.
Overall, "Iron Man" isn't without a few issues, but it is one of the more entertaining Summer blockbusters in recent memory, lead by a terrific performance from Downey, Jr and very good direction from Favreau. Note: wait until after the credits for a special additional scene.
VIDEO: "Iron Man" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) and the results are stellar. Sharpness and detail are not only impressive, but consistently so throughout the great majority of the proceedings. The picture appeared smooth, sleek and finely detailed at best and still quite crisp at worst. During many of the scenes, small object details (hairs, signs, etc.) were rendered with pleasing clarity. Many scenes also offered a very nice level of depth to the image, as well. A couple of minor instances of edge enhancement were spotted, but the presentation otherwise appeared clean - no print marks, pixelation or other faults. Colors looked a tad subdued by intent, but certainly did appear accurately presented here.
SOUND: The film is offered with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack on the Blu-Ray edition. The sound mix is phenomenally entertaining, with plenty of surround use throughout the feature. The rear speakers kick in during the action sequences, with gunfire, flybys and other elements swirling around the listening space. While audio quality was quite good on the DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, the Dolby TrueHD presentation stood out as a solid improvement, remaining dynamic and exciting throughout the show. Extremely deep bass is both heard and felt at times and sound effects panned smoothly around the listening space. Sound effects offered startling clarity and punch, while dialogue remained natural and clear. Overall, this audio presentation was certainly a treat.
EXTRAS: The featurettes included on the Blu-Ray edition are presented in HD.
While I would have loved to have heard a commentary from Downey, Jr., we do get a feature-length documentary as a replacement for a commentary. "I Am Iron Man" is a 7-part documentary that runs nearly two hours and covers all aspects of the production. The documentary starts with a brief look into the history of the character, as well as the development of the concept art towards the eventual look of the character that was decided upon by Favreau. From there, the documentary heads into other aspects of pre-production, such as location scouting, pre-vis, discussions about the story with Marvel execs, building the suit and production of the sets.
From there, we head into production of the flick, touring the sets and watching as some of the larger sequences in the picture are filmed. Finally, the last third or so of the picture follows Favreau and the crew into post-production as editing and sound design as well as other elements are worked on. It all ends with the Hollywood premiere and release. Overall, this is an excellent and quite in-depth documentary that, thankfully, takes a rather "fly on the wall" approach. Although a tad dry at times, it was nice to see that there was little fluff here, as well as a good deal of access to meetings and other behind-the-scenes elements.
"The Incredible Iron Man" is a 45-minute documentary that looks further into "Iron Man"'s past, with interviews with Stan Lee and others. We hear a great deal about the inspiration for the character, as well as how the character has evolved over the years and both the initial response and legacy of the character. "Wired" is a 26-minute documentary that looks into the film's visual effects work. While the documentary is largely a technical exploration of how the effects sequences were achieved, we also hear about how the look of the effects was decided upon and how the filmmakers wanted to approach the use of effects.
The second disc also offers screen tests for Downey, Jr, as well as "The Actor's Process", which has Favreau, Downey and Bridges working out a scene. We also get a goof report from the Onion, as well as galleries. Additionally, the title also offers 11 deleted scenes, previews for other titles from the studio.
The Blu-Ray offers up a couple of exclusives - we get an "Iron Man" quiz (BD-Live) and interactive gallery.
Final Thoughts: Overall, "Iron Man" isn't without a few concerns, but it is one of the more entertaining Summer blockbusters in recent memory, lead by a terrific performance from Downey, Jr and very good direction from Favreau. The Blu-Ray offers fantastic audio/video quality, as well as all the bonus features from the DVD and a couple of minor Blu-Ray exclusive ones. Recommended.
The Film B+