Iron Man (PG-13)
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Okay, first I want to talk a bit about my previous exposure to the character of Iron Man, which seems fairly minimal to me, mainly because I've simply never read many comics in which he's appeared. But I suppose my exposure may sound not so minimal, to some people. I mean, I've heard, when this movie came out, the character referred to as... I dunno, not exactly iconic, or whatever. But even if I never felt that I knew Iron Man that well, I always thought he was fairly well-known, at least by anyone who knows anything about comics. So, whatever. Um... I suppose the first I ever heard of the character, when I was a kid in the 80s, was in reruns of a cartoon from the 60s, called The Marvel Super Heroes. Since then, I can't really think of anything specific until quite recently, though of course I was always vaguely aware of the character. But the next thing I actually remember is a couple of animated Ultimate Avengers movies (2006), as well as another animated movie, The Invincible Iron Man (2007). (Sometime after watching the "Ultimate Avengers" movies, I read volume 1 of the comic book "The Ultimates," upon which the movies were vaguely based. I look forward to reading more of that, sometime.) Then, this movie came out in 2008, but I didn't actually get to see it until 2010. In the interim, I saw another animated series, Iron Man: Armored Adventures (2009), which gave rather a different take on the character (with Tony Stark, Rhodey, and Pepper Potts as teenagers). So, there you have it. It sounds like a lot, and I suppose there are similarities in the various incarnations, as well as differences. The upshot is, going into this movie, there were elements of the origin story that were familiar to me, but enough differences to keep it interesting. (I feel like I would have enjoyed it more if the character had been totally new to me, but even so, it was still wicked cool.)
So, enough preamble. Um... the movie starts with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), riding along with some soldiers in Afghanistan, when suddenly they're attacked by terrorists, and Tony is captured. The story then flashes back 36 hours, and we get to known what Tony, the head of Stark Industries, is like in his normal life (which of course isn't that normal). He's rich, he's brilliant, he drinks a lot, he gambles, he womanizes, he doesn't take much of anything seriously. We also meet his loyal assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow); his best friend, James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Terrence Howard), a Lt. Col. in the Air Force, and liaison with Stark Industries, which provides them with lots of weapons; and Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), who ran the company for a few years after Tony's father died, until Tony turned 21 and took over; though clearly Stane still wields a lot of power in the company. Soon, the story moves along to Tony demonstrating his latest weapon, the Jericho missile, in Afghanistan, and then the movie catches up to the present.
The terrorist organization (the Ten Rings) wants Tony to build them one of his Jericho missiles. Of course he refuses at first, but eventually they... persuade him (or so they think). He's assisted by another captive, Dr. Yinsen, who had implanted a device in Tony's chest that saved his life, by keeping shrapnel from the earlier attack from reaching critical areas of his heart. The device is hooked up to a car battery, but Tony designs a new power source, a miniaturized version of the giant "arc reactor" that powers his company, back home. He and Yinsen also work on building a suit of armor Tony has designed, using the supplies provided by the Ten Rings to build the missile. They have a camera constantly trained on him, monitoring his activities, so it requires a suspension of disbelief that they don't figure out what the two of them are actually up to. In fact, the terrorists' leader, Raza, does seem suspicious, at one point, and gives them just one more day to complete the missile (I guess Tony had been there for 3 months, at that point). I still had a hard time believing Raza didn't uncover the truth, but... you just gotta let it go, otherwise there's no movie.
So, whatever. They complete the armor, and Tony escapes their lair, after taking out a bunch of terrorists, and badly scarring Raza's face. He wanders in the desert for awhile, after his suit had been destroyed in a crash landing (it had a propulsion system rather like a missile, good for just one shot). He's soon rescued by Rhodey and the Air Force. When he gets back home, he holds a press conference, saying that after learning that his own weapons were being used by terrorists, Stark Industries would be getting out of the arms business. This does not make Stane happy, though he seems cautiously supportive, while the board of directors wants to get rid of Tony. Meanwhile, Tony seals himself away in his home lab, working on designing a much more advanced suit of armor, as well as an upgraded version of his mini arc reactor to power it. (The armor is made out of a gold-titanium alloy, but the press later dubs the mysterious new super-hero "Iron Man.")
But I get ahead of myself. Once he's perfected his armor, he flies in it to Afghanistan, to take out the terrorists, who have been provided with Jericho missiles by Stark Industries, without his knowledge. From this point on, I don't really want to reveal any more of what happens specifically, but Tony does receive help from both Pepper and Rhodey, and eventually they learn who the real bad guy is. The movie also establishes a possible romance between Tony and Pepper, though it doesn't really go anywhere. Yet. Meanwhile, several times throughout the film, after Tony returns from his captivity, we see Agent Coulson, of some government agency called Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. He wants to meet with Tony, to debrief him, but never really gets a chance. However, people constantly mention that the name of the agency should be shorter. I feel kind of stupid for not giving it much thought, myself, because later he says to just call them "S.H.I.E.L.D.," which is something I should have picked up on sooner. Like, before anyone actually said that name. Even if my knowledge of the Iron Man character has been limited, and my knowledge of S.H.I.E.L.D. feels almost as limited, it's still something I've become well aware of in recent years, often with Iron Man in connection. (Though I never knew what the acronym stood for, and apparently, it's been changed a few times over the years; I think this movie is the first time it stood for... what Coulson said.)
So, yeah. The movie ends pretty well. And Tony does something at another press conference that kind of surprised me, the very last thing you would ever expect any super hero to do. But I won't say what that was. Immediately afterward, the credits roll, and at the end of those, we see a bonus scene with a surprise character approaching Tony for a reason I won't reveal at this time, except to say it sets up a movie that comes out in 2012. Anyway... as to my impressions of "Iron Man" as a whole, it was pretty entertaining. Good origins story, not an unbearable amount of exposition or setting up of things... I mean, yeah, it was pretty much establishing the character, more than actually seeing him in action as a super hero, per se. But there was also a fair amount of that. Some cool scenes with lots of great special effects. Also, a fair amount of humor, mostly from Tony. As well as some decent drama, and good characters. And, well, I look forward to the sequel (from 2010, not the 2012 movie I mentioned). And that's all I can think to say, I guess....