The massive success of The Dark Knight during the latter half of this past summer caused some earlier releases to be quickly forgotten. Though it is possible that no other film in theaters equaled the brilliance of The Dark Knight, several were still very good, and one of those, Iron Man, has just made its way into a two-disc Blu-ray release.
The film, directed by Jon Favreau, follows the exploits of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the super-genius head of Stark Industries and a multi-millionaire playboy. Stark's company, founded by his father, has a number of areas, but none so important, or money-making, as its weapons division. Stark Industries makes the latest and greatest things in military technology, including their recently developed Jericho missile.
Following a demonstration of the Jericho in Afghanistan, Stark himself is taken hostage after an attack in which he is gravely injured. Though another captive manages to save Stark's life, the fix requires an electromagnet in Stark's chest that stops the shrapnel inside him from penetrating his heart. Even though he is lugging around a car battery to power the electromagnet, his captors force him to build a Jericho missile -- using Stark Industries weapons they have procured -- for themselves.
After the maverick industrialist double-crosses them, building himself a better device to keep the shrapnel out of his heart that also functions as a fantastic battery and a metal suit of armor with some weaponry and the ability to fly, things really get going. Stark escapes and returns to the States a changed man. No longer does he want to build weapons of war that can fall into the wrong hands; instead, he wants to build a new version of his destroyed metal suit and save the world.
Sure, it's all over the top and moderately foolish, but whatever else Iron Man may be, it is first and foremost a comic book movie. If it weren't, Tony Stark's logic in building the ultimate weapon in order to help save the world from weapons is laughable. Here it can simply be dismissed with the brush of a hand and the assumption that Tony will never, ever let his new suit fall into the wrong hands. Though, even that premise proves faulty when, in the climax of the movie, Tony has to face a different, upgraded version of his old suit.
In the end, what keeps the whole movie together is not its own logic or lack thereof, but the performances of the cast, which includes not only Robert Downey Jr., but Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, and Gwyneth Paltrow as well. Downey's performance is what the movie is built on, and his ability to portray the hard-working, hard-living, idealistic Stark in a manner that conveys not just the seriousness of the work but the humor of the film is amazing. One can easily imagine that without Downey in the lead role this otherwise wonderful film would have fizzled.
Howard is Colonel James Rhodes, Stark's military liaison, sometimes friend, and minder. It falls to Rhodes to try to keep Stark in line and where he's supposed to be when he's supposed to be there. Howard manages to walk the fine line between Rhodes being completely exasperated and angry with Stark and still not wanting to give up on the man as either a friend or colleague.
It is a line that Paltrow, as Pepper Potts, never quite has to walk. Potts is Stark's long-time assistant and, even if the two would never admit it, friend. Her blind devotion to her boss gets her in deep trouble, and while one would imagine that it might make Potts reconsider her life choices, Paltrow's portrayal brushes aside any such thoughts from the viewer's mind.
As one of the corporate leaders of Stark Industries, and friend to both Tony and his father, Jeff Bridges' Obadiah Stane marks another good performance in the actor's long list of good performances. Despite always taking a back seat to Stark publicly, Stane is, from the outset, clearly a megalomaniac, bent on money and power. However driven he may be though, as shown by Bridges, Stane is almost always in control of his temper and ready to stroke the egos of those around him if it serves his purpose. In a film which has corporate strife as a large component, Stane represents both the perfect steward of a company and a wonderful villain.
The two-disc Blu-ray release of Iron Man features a beautiful picture and sound design that truly makes the audience feel as though they are in the midst of a battle during any action sequence. The various behind-the-scenes featurettes included are in high definition, and the Blu-ray exclusives include several downloadable quizzes to test the viewer's knowledge of both the film and Iron Man comic book universe and a "Hall of Armor" which delves into the various features of the four different suits used in the film. The "Hall of Armor" allows users to select one of the four suits, then go to a single portion of the suit and learn about its features within the film. It's all rather slow-moving and nowhere near as much fun as the quizzes which allow the viewer to select different portions of the film to be quizzed on. The questions are varied, sometimes asking viewers to remember what is about to happen in the film and at other points asking them what they have just witnessed.
Iron Man is a comic book film that delivers not only great action sequences, but solid acting performances as well. It's funny and serious, without being too much of either. And while one may be amazed at what they witness on screen, it is Downey Jr.'s performance that is the most memorable aspect of the film. The sequel, hinted at following the end credits of the film, is already slated for a 2010 release and has a hard road ahead of it if it is to recreate the success of this film.