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Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow
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Iron Man (2008) starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges

I pick ‘Iron Man’ as the blockbuster movie of the summer of 2008 — read why I think Robert Downey Jr. will own the role of billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, the ‘Iron Man’ of the title

I’m presently playing a cute little online game called Fantasy Moguls, where you have an imaginary budget, and you have to pick which movies will do the best (in the real world).  My top pick is a movie that opens this weekend, Iron Man, that I think will be the blockbuster hit of the summer.

Here’s why.

The basic plot has multi-billionaire inventor and industrialist Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.), who goes to Afghanistan to demonstrate his latest missile technology to the American military.  Terrorists attack his convoy on the way back to his plane. And they injure Stark. Severely.  The Islamic terrorists in the region take him captive.  They’re trying to force him to build the same missile technology for them to use against the Americans and Afghanis.  Another prisoner saves Stark’s life, Professor Yinsen.  Together they build a different weapon – a21st-centuryy suit of armor, Iron Man that Tony Stark uses to escape his captors and return to the United States of America.

A chance to change for the better

Once there, he re-evaluates his life to this point—he’s been a self-centered, hard-drinking, self-indulgent, arrogant spoiled rich man’s son.  And he decides to upgrade his armor and use it to protect the people that his technology has put in harm’s way.  As if to prove the point, one of the people at his company, Obadiah Stane (played well by Jeff Bridges), steals the prototype plan and makes an enormous version of it—the Iron Monger.  As the character says in the movie trailer, with a dozen of these, a man could rule the world.

The movie ends with the fight between the upgraded Iron Man armor versus the Iron Monger.  With the life of Tony Stark’s personal assistant/girlfriend Pepper Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) in the balance.

All right, that’s the basic premise of the movie, courtesy of the trailers at the official Iron Man movie site.  So, why will it be the blockbuster hit of the summer? 

For a variety of reasons.


The realism of the movie.  That sounds contradictory—after all, Iron Man is based on a comic book.  But the scenes in the desert look like the Afghanistan desert, the soldiers look real (dirty, hot, sweaty, etc.).  It pulls the audience into a very realistic environment. It allows the suspension of belief needed for the concept to work.


The acting is top-notch.  Robert Downey Jr. is one of the great actors of our time—if you don’t believe me, go watch his portrayal of Charlie Chaplin in the movie Chaplin.  Likewise, the rest of the cast are submerged in their roles. Most notably the villain of the picture, who could easily come across as a two-dimensional, mustache-twirling “I’ll ruuuule the world!” stereotype—but he doesn’t.  He comes across as cold, calculating, and dangerous.

Tragically flawed

The basic premise, as with all of Marvel Comics great characters, is that Tony Stark is tragically flawed.  Yes, he has more money than most countries, great creativity, and intelligence, good looks, beautiful women.  But he’s now dependent on his armor to keep his injured heart beating.  In addition, something that’s hinted at, but not obvious: He has a drinking problem.  There are two other Iron Man movies in the works, one of which may deal with his descent into alcoholism.  I remember reading the Iron Man comic books dealing with Stark’s alcoholism many years ago.  The cover of Demon in a Bottle is still burned into my memory.  Done right, this will be a story worth watching.

Jack Factor

I can’t ignore the Jack Factor.  My son, Jack, is an enormous super-hero fan at the age of 8.  And he’s watched the trailer dozens of time, downloaded the wallpaper and screensavers from the original site, and can’t stop talking about it.  Like it or not, action films are aimed at the 8-year-old in adult men (myself included) …. And he’s right.

Military portrayal

Last, but not least, is the way that the war in Afghanistan (and by extension, Iraq) is portrayed.  Unlike the other recent anti-war films from Hollywood, this movie isn’t the knee-jerk anti-war “America is bad” movie that we’ve come to expect from Hollywood.  And that has universally tanked at the box office.  It takes a realistic view of the world, humanizes the soldiers in Tony Stark’s protective convoy and makes us care about them. Shortly before they’re killed.  They’re part of the reason that Stark decides that he needs to be like them.  A protector, willing to put his life on the line.  It’s a very powerful, positive statement—and it will resonate with the American public.

Updated February 10, 20222

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