No matter how old a man grows he will always be a boy.
And if there's one thing that boys love it's their toys. We just cannot give them up no matter how "mature" we might become. So when we get older we just get bigger toys. We move on from action figures to cars, golf clubs, gadgets, expensive electronics, etc.
I think that's a fundamental element in why "Iron Man" is so attractive and ultimately such a successful film, possibly even the best of the Marvel comics adaptations. (Its only serious competition is "Spider-Man 2.")
Iron Man's power armor is the ultimate toy. It's everything a man or a boy could want - flight, invulnerability, super strength, missiles, lasers, and more. By tapping into this fantasy, "Iron Man," while being based on a less high profile character than Spider-Man, can be equally, if not more, exciting.
The film begins with wealthy playboy industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr. in his best role in years) in Afghanistan to show off some of his new weapons programs. Stark Industries is one of the biggest arms manufacturers in the world and its impossibly brilliant, flamboyant CEO runs it with the assistance of Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges,) a friend of his father Howard Stark, the company's founder. Tony also relies heavily on Lt. Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Terrence Howard,) the military liaison to Stark Industries. (Expect for Rhodes to show up as War Machine in the sequel.)
While in Afghanistan Tony's military convoy is attacked and he is captured. An injured Tony awakens to find himself in an unimaginable situation. Not only is he terribly injured, with a metal magnet installed in his chest to prevent shrapnel from killing him, but a terrorist group is forcing him to build weapons for them or die.
The intensely patriotic Tony initially refuses until he conceives a plan. Instead of building the missile the terrorists want he constructs an armored exoskeleton which he uses to escape.
Back in the United States a traumatized Tony gives a startling press conference in which he promises to lead his company in a dramatic new direction away from deadly weapons. This infuriates an already troubled Stane who pressures Tony to take a little time off and stay out of the spotlight. Tony complies, retreating to his luxurious, high tech Malibu mansion where he develops his Iron Man armor.
The film is so much fun, continually exhilarating and entertaining. Downey's Stark is a seductive, likable character, despite his flaws. He's almost reminiscent of Aldous Snow, the wild rocker from "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." Both characters are arrogant womanizers who frequently say objectionable things yet both are good people deep down. (It should be noted that Tony Stark is nowhere near as promiscuous as Snow.)
One other aspect of the film that needs considerable praise is the special effects. The Iron Man armor is depicted with both computer animation and actual props. And the effects are very effective. It's not apparent just where the traditional effects stop and when the computer takes over.
The film is also uniquely, effectively balanced politically. By their nature superheroes tend to have a conservative quality to them. (I plan to explore this point and the politics of "Iron Man" specifically in an upcoming blog post.) In the original comics Iron Man was a particularly anti-communist hero with Tony Stark being representative of America and capitalism and his chief adversary, the Mandarin, clearly standing in for our country's enemies at the time. The film maintains Tony as emblematic of America - both its highs and lows. Not to be too much of a right-wing film, though, also incorporated into "Iron Man" is a thoughtful critique of the excesses of capitalism. (I won't give away just how, though. That would reveal plot details and can be saved for the blog post which will be written more specifically for readers who have already seen the film.)
"Iron Man" represents an important turning point in comic book films, specifically those of Marvel comics. It's now that they're starting to do what they should have done from the beginning when they first started adapting X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four. See, these characters do not exist within vacuums. It's foolish to make just a "Spider-Man" movie as though he's the only superhero in that fictional universe's world. "Iron Man" is the first Marvel film made explicitly with the intent that its actor and character would appear in other films within that universe. Downey will show up in a cameo as Stark in "The Incredible Hulk," opening June 13. Samuel L. Jackson even appears as Nick Fury after the credits of "Iron Man" to hint at an upcoming "The Avengers" movie.
It looks like Marvel is all set to give its legions of fans - boys both young and old - plenty of toys with which to play.