Review: Iron Man (2008)

Wow.  One word, and that could be my complete review of this movie.  I've been a comic-book fan since the mid-80s, and aside from the X-Men, Iron Man was always one of my favorite comics.  Partly because it was just an "ordinary" guy (who happened to be a billionaire super-genius) who got his "power" from a suit of armor, but also partly because the character of Tony Stark was perhaps the most "real" of any of the comic book characters of the time.  Long before the 90s trend of "darkness" and "stark reality" in comics, Tony Stark was a philandering, unapologetic alcoholic.  But he got the job done.  And it was in the battles with his personal demons that the character grew the most.
Fortunately, there aren't a lot of personal demons explored in this first outing, but a lot of the foreshadowing is there (how many scenes did you see where there wasn't a bottle or glass of whisky within arm's reach?).  No, this is an all-out, balls-to-the-wall origin story.  And if nothing else, it shows just how much Jon Favreau loves the characters.
Looking back at the X-Men or Spider-Man movies, you can see the tweaks that were made in order to "market" the characters.  No bright-colored spandex suits for the mutants (black leather only, really?)..."organic" web-shooters for Spidey.  All of these were unnecessary changes that someone in the back room thought would be a good idea, comic-book legacy be damned.  There's none of that here - the suit looks exactly like the suit in the comics in all it's red and gold glory.  And it's a beautiful thing - both in practical effects as well as CG (and the fact that you can't tell where the practicals stop and the CG starts makes it all that much better!).
Everything else falls in line from there - this is 100% an Iron Man story.  And the writing, direction, and acting all draw from that.  I defy anyone to come up with a better person to play Tony Stark than Robert Downey, Jr.  The man, for all intents and purposes, is Tony Stark.  The same demons, the same personality...just no red and gold flying suit.  RDJ takes this role and runs with it - you can tell from the performance on-screen that this is a character he understands and embraces.  There's a perfect balance of humor, commitment, and uncertainty in the character, all of which captrues the spirit of Tony Stark without being ham-handed over any of it.
The supporting cast is just as good. Gwyneth makes Pepper Potts shine more than I recall from the comic books, striking that perfect Moneypenny-esque balance between Stark's right-hand and a romantic interest.  Terrence Howard nails Jim Rhodes perfectly, capturing the commitment to duty and country.  And Jeff Bridges takes a very different version of Obediah Stane and runs with it in a surprisingly un-Jeff Bridges look.
I'm eagerly anticipating the inevitable sequel, hoping to see Jon Favreau's take on War Machine, the Mandarin, or any other the other big bads that Iron Man has taken on in his long and storied history.  And the hints dropped at Marvel's attempt to put together an Avengers movie, as an event culminating from four major-release films, has me drooling at the thought, particularly if they're smart enough to keep Favreau around and not change the tone from an outright embrace of the history and stories to something trying to feed the mass audience (Spider-Man 3, anyone?).  Done right, these movies could set Marvel and Paramount up for a good decade of solid, strong summer blockbusters.  Done wrong, we could see the death of good comic book movies for awhile, which would truly be a shame.