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IRON MAN
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Taub, Gwyneth Paltrow
Director:  Jon Favreau
Audio:  Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  125 Minutes
Release Date:  September 30, 2008

“Yeah…I can fly.”

Film ***1/2

2008 was a particularly good year for comic book heroes…especially for those who don’t have any super powers per se.  And those that are eccentrically rich.  One movie became a record-breaking juggernaut that had such a man finding his crime fighting career faced with a challenge that turned out not to be a joke.

The other was Iron Man, a film I admit at first I didn’t find myself intrigued by.  Not being a comic book collector in my youth, I knew of the metal-clad champion for justice, but never thought much of him.  All that changed the first time I saw the trailer for the movie…suddenly it became one of the year’s must-see pictures for me.

In the first place, casting the oft-troubled but endlessly endearing Robert Downey Jr. in the title role was a stroke of genius.  Despite some bad personal decisions, Mr. Downey has always been a top notch and acclaimed actor who performs with style and integrity when the cameras roll.  Between this movie and Tropic Thunder, his career resurgence has been a treat for fans.

He plays Tony Stark, a billionaire engineering genius and the head of Stark Industries, a corporation that manufactures the latest and greatest in technological advances for the American military.  As the movie opens, we see him in the Middle East with our brave men and women, but something goes wrong, leaving him wounded and in enemy hands.

A quick flashback shows what led to that point:  with military friend Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Howard) and sideman Obadiah Stane (Bridges) at his side, Stark had arrived in the troubled region to demonstrate his company’s latest missile deployment system, the Jericho.  But a terrorist attack on the desert roads puts Tony in enemy hands, where he discovers that his weapons, meant for the American military, are ending up in the arsenal of the bad guys.

Wounded by shrapnel that is moving lethally toward his heart, a fellow prisoner named Yinsen (Taub) rigs up a crude electromagnetic chest plate to keep Tony alive.  But his near-death experience is only the beginning of his worries…a terrorist group leader wants Stark to build a Jericho for their side, using all of his own weapons as source material.

Tony has other plans, and with Yinsen’s help, secretly begins construction on a metallic armor that affords him a chance to escape.  But back stateside, Tony realizes he can no longer continue to make weapons that end up killing American soldiers…and by the way, how DID the terrorists manage to get their hands on Stark Industries products?  Hmm…

With the aid of his stalwart assistant Pepper Potts (Paltrow), Tony begins construction on a new version of his crude armor…one with all the amazing technological advances his mind can muster.  Much of the film involves the joy and process Tony has in inventing, and his genius in mechanical creativity that once led him to his fame and fortunes.  Now, he’s using both for a different cause.

While the world and the stockholders wonder what will become of the company thanks to Tony’s newfound conscience, Tony labors away at creating the one weapon for good that cannot end up in enemy hands…namely, turning himself into the ultimate weapon.  With his creation, he can have super strength.  He can stop bullets.  He can target the bad guys while saving the good ones.  And yeah…he can fly.

Tony’s first foray into battling the villains is a crowd-pleaser, but it isn’t just the enemies abroad he has to worry about.  Someone close to him is making some dangerous deals, and threatens to destroy what Tony intends to build before he’s even achieved it.

In the original Iron Man stories, Tony was a Vietnam era hero, but recent graphic novels and this movie have successfully updated him to modern times.  And thanks to CGI and other modern improvements, Iron Man can take us to places and visions not even dreamed of a decade ago.  It’s the perfect mix of motion picture technology and subject matter.

For me, the two joys of the movie are first, the incredible Iron Man himself…director Jon Favreau has finally and smartly solved the difficulty in how actors can express themselves behind masks, a problem that has plagued the likes of The Green Goblin and Dr. Doom.  We can see shots of Tony inside his suit, as he pilots it almost like an aircraft, with the flashes of computer screens going on all around him.  Amusingly enough, he even has cell phone capabilities.  The building and inventing of Iron Man, I think, naturally appeals to the kid inside us all, the one who loved to play with Legos and Erector Sets and designing whatever our fertile young imaginations and limited amount of toys could construct.

The other is the extreme pleasure of seeing the 40 plus Robert Downey Jr. successfully embodying both Tony Stark and Iron Man.  His performance is filled with humor and wit, but also with the joy of discovery and the emotional burden of conscience.  Having a top-caliber star in the role, and one that was a little more seasoned than your average twenty-something, was a brilliant move, and elevated the project to better heights with more emotional investment and stability.

Iron Man is one of the best comic book movies ever made, in my opinion, and promises to be the start of an exciting and no doubt lucrative new franchise for the good folks at Marvel.

BONUS TRIVIA I:  As always, keep an eye out for creator Stan Lee, who has his funniest cameo to date in this movie.

BONUS TRIVIA II:  Make SURE you watch the movie all the way to the end of the credits…’nuff said.

Video ****

A movie with this much color and intensely fast action sequences screams out for what 1080p can do, and this Blu-ray offering from Paramount capitalizes on the technology in a way that would make Tony Stark proud.  There is so much intricate detail at play here, I’d have to think not seeing the movie in high definition would be to see only half of the movie.  The CGI and live action blend seamlessly into a visual banquet that’s stylish, vivid and crisp, with excellent contrast, superb coloring and solid integrity in every shot, be it light or dark.

Audio ****

With the constant use of machinery and technology, the high level of action and the incredible rock music scoring, Iron Man will blow you away in TrueHD sound.  The subwoofer almost never goes away, and the surround signals remain constantly employed throughout with a soundtrack that is dynamic and strong, but well-balanced in terms of dialogue, music and effects.  Machinery never sounded so good!

Features ***1/2

All of the extras are mastered for high definition, which is a huge plus.  The first disc contains a lengthy documentary “The Invincible Iron Man”, subdivided into chapters for easy navigation, that chronicles the history of the hero and the recent updates (making his story oriented toward the war on terror rather than Vietnam, etc.), and a Blu-ray exclusive armor gallery, which takes you up close and personal to all the suits featured in the movie.

The second disc has a seven part making-of documentary, a featurette on the special effects, Robert Downey Jr.’s screen test, “The Actor’s Process”, and a stills gallery.  I would have liked a commentary from Favreau, but still a good package.

Summary:

Call me a believer…if you were like me and thought the best of the comic book heroes had already come and gone across the screen, you’re in for a treat.  Iron Man ups the ante with its technological achievements, superb star, and one computerized eye already squarely on the future of the franchise.

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