Iron Man was probably the biggest surprise of this summer. Most of the other films of this year including WALL-E, The Dark Knight, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had their anticipation built on the high regard for their filmmakers and their previous successes. Iron Man is different because its director Jon Favreau was untested when it came to comic book-based films; let alone action thrillers. Favreau's filmography included Elf (2003), Made (2001), and a couple of made for TV films, but it was probably his previous film, Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005) that led him to the helm of Iron Man. Yet let's not forget the other great surprise of this film.
Seasoned actor Robert Downey Jr. was given the role of the playboy turned 'different kind' of man of action, Tony Stark, much to the surprise of many who were expecting a much younger actor. This has got to go down as probably the best leading man work Downey Jr. has had the great blessing to take part in since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). Also quite surprising to see in this kind of film are Gwyneth Paltrow in probably the most unique project she has done since Se7en (1995), Terrence Howard who is mostly know for gritty dramas, and Jeff Bridges taking a fascinating turn as an unusual Devil's advocate to Downey Jr.'s character. The comic was created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, and Don Heck in 1963 for Marvel Comics, and has had several different contexts for his many battles from Vietnam to the Gulf War. This newest film adaptation takes Iron Man to the fronts of Afghanistan. The film traces the steps of Howard Hughes-inspired Tony Stark who is very obviously taking all his riches, possessions, talents, and lest-he-forgetsâ€¦ life for granted. All of us his friends and cohorts are simply waiters and butlers in his eye including his late father's lifelong friend and partner, Obadiah Stane, currently Stark's partner in his weapons manufacturing company. That is, until his convoy is attacked by the enemy, leaving Stark to run outside an armored vehicle in a desperate attempt to save himself. Unfortunately, a shell from one of his own weapons falls beside him and critically wounds him. Just like the comic, our main character is taken hostage and hidden deep within enemy territory where the U.S. military can not find him. There, Stark meets Afghan scientist Yinsen played by an excellent Shaun Toub of 2007's The Kite Runner (my #1 pick for 2007). Stark and Yinsen quickly start working together at finding a way of escaping the clutches of terrorist leader Raza played by Faran Tahir. It is highly worth nothing that Middle Eastern actors Shaun Toub and Faran Tahir showed no second-guessing in giving outstanding performances to wartorn Arabs. They are incredibly intelligent, multi-dimensional characters. Even though Raza's image is obviously derived from an al-Queda and Taliban influence in that region, he can not be written off as a mere stereotypical terrorist/extremist. He compares his ambitions to Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great (his Ten Rings organization also seems somewhat SPECTRE-influenced [from the Bond series] since it is filled with members from all over the world) while Yinsen is a great figure in the international community of science; with some medical expertise to aid Stark, no doubt.
Upon his escape, Stark makes it his unspoken mission to destroy any and all of the weapons he let fall into the wrong hands by a creating titanium-based, knight's type armor filled with more weapons than James Bond could possibly hold in one car. Things are complicated though by Stane's jealousy of Stark's secrets and his apparent selfishness to not share, which also creates rifts within Stark's friendships with Paltrow's Pepper Potts and Howard's Colonel Jim Rhodes. The most interesting element to look for is Stark's deep hatred for himself. He drinks constantly, keeps his anger to himself, and breaks mirrors carrying his own reflection. In this case, saying more seems to hurt the film's sheer surprise value. Please see it if you have not.