Several years ago when rumors really began heating up about the possibility of an actual Iron Man movie coming to the big screen, I thought that there would be no way it would really work. Sure, comic book movies were on the rise, and director Sam Raimi had shown to us that a man really can web-sling and wall-crawl, and Bryan Singer proved that super-powered mutants do exist; however, a man in a metal suit flying around still seemed like an awfully daunting task to make us believe. Now, these weren’t the first rumors of an Iron Man movie coming to the big screen, they were just the most credible. No, rumors of this project have existed since around 1990, when it was being bounced from studio to studio. Even some Hollywood A-listers, such as Nicolas Cage and Tom Cruise, were being tossed around as possible stars for the vehicle, and director Quentin Tarentino was one of the primary contenders for the directing job (who knows what the movie would have ended up like if any of this had actually come true). However, none of that ever came close to fruition, and the project lay dormant for almost 20 years. That was until director Jon Favreau and star Robert Downey, Jr. made the movie into an incredible reality that took the 2008 summer box office by storm.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a rich, powerful, and undeniably brilliant weapons manufacturer, womanizer, and self-centered man who lives the life so many dream of. But that all changes when he finds himself captured by a terrorist organization who want to use him to create weapons solely for their own evil purposes. With his options limited, Stark does the one thing no one ever expected him to do, he becomes a hero. Clad in a metallic suit of his own design, Tony finally knows what his purpose is in life, and as the hero known as “Iron Man” he now has the means by which to protect the people he once put in harm’s way.

Truth be told, the long wait between those first rumors in the 90’s to now, was probably just what the movie needed to become a true success, for several reasons. For starters, the technology necessary to create the obligatory visual effects sequences (of which there are many) involving the metal-clad hero have finally become available, as proven by the smash hit “Transformers”. Prior to that film I don’t believe some of the visuals achieved in this movie would have been nearly as convincing to audiences. Second, the perfect casting choice was made in the form of Robert Downey, Jr., a talented actor who has had his fair share of troubles (many of which are surprisingly similar to Tony Stark’s in the comic books), and one whose star power wasn’t great enough that his private life would outshine anything done on the screen. Lastly, Marvel was finally able to create their own movie studio, allowing them full creative control and ensuring that the character and story were as true to the source material as possible. It’s for all these reasons listed here, and even some that aren’t, that “Iron Man” became such a successful adaptation, and had the film come to fruition sooner, who knows what the outcome would have been.

The story for “Iron Man” is two-fold: on one hand the story is a tale of redemption for a man who has lived a life of self-indulgence and freedom from any sort of consequences to his actions; while on the other, it is a fairly faithful to the source material origin story of a new kind of superhero that was born out of one man’s sheer will-power to live. As a moviegoer and comic book aficionado I love when an adaptation of one of my heroes comes to life on the big screen as both a faithful representation (or as close as one can get to decades of comic history in only a couple of hours), as well as a really strong film that isn’t just a bunch of summer popcorn movie fluff.

The screenplay written by the writing teams of Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby (“Children of Men”) and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway (“Punisher: War Zone”) was surprisingly cohesive given the number of hands stirring the pot, so to speak. Generally, when the number of writers goes beyond two, the chances for the film actually working out all that well dwindle significantly; however, “Iron Man” proved to be one of those rare exceptions to the rule. Filled with plenty of humor, action, drama, and a dash of romance, the story for “Iron Man” is easily one of the best origin adaptations for a superhero that I have ever seen in a movie.

As great as the story was, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few of the minor problems that crept into the film. These problems aren’t in any way overtly distracting from the end result, but they should be addressed all the same. First, from a purely comic geek standpoint the film’s location was completely wrong, Stark is based out of New York City (as are most of Marvel’s heroes), yet the film takes place predominantly in California. Personally, this alteration to the origin didn’t actually bother me, but I know it did some purists, and I can understand why. Second, the attempted twist involving the film’s villain was poorly executed, and was easily seen from the very beginning; however, I don’t believe the intent was to actually make the primary villain’s reveal all that much of a shocker. But there was obviously some attempt made to surprise the audience, and if it actually succeeded it would only be for those not paying close attention. This problem wasn’t like the first, where I didn’t really care either way, because it did kind of frustrate me that more effort wasn’t put into this twist to make it somewhat surprising. Like I said, in the end these problems weren’t anything major, but they still existed nonetheless.

For this film, fledgling Marvel Studios wisely chose to sort of buck the Hollywood system by going with some truly surprising, yet inspired choices for both cast and crew. Choosing Jon Favreau (“Elf”) as the director was a shock to many, and even caused some to wonder just how good this film could actually be. Sure, Favreau proved he could handle family comedy with “Elf”, and some of his early work is fairly dramatic, and as far as visual effects goes, he did a decent enough job on “Zathura”; yet, would he have what it takes to tackle something as big as a comic book icon’s first major film adaptation? Apparently, the answer was yes, and any questioning of the decision was quickly silenced when Favreau debuted some footage during Comic-Con, much to the vast delight of many a comic geek. The other shocking choice, and arguably the most disputed was that of casting troubled actor Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man. Even though he hardly seemed the proper fit for the character, Robert perfectly captured the very nature of Tony Stark right down to his physical appearance, quick-wit, and attitude, for all intents and purposes Downey, Jr. was Tony Stark through and through.

Comprising the supporting cast of characters, were a group of talented actors and actresses whose hiring weren’t nearly as scrutinized. Gwyneth Paltrow (“Shakespeare in Love”), although not my first choice for the role, turned out to be the perfect Pepper Potts, Tony Stark’s personal assistant. It was a decidedly different role for Gwyneth who typically does more dramatic work, and even more surprising, while at the same time a very smart move on her part, was that this was the role she chose as her first project post-pregnancy hiatus. Joining her was Jeff Bridges (“Arlington Road”) as Obadiah Stane, Tony’s mentor and right-hand man in operating the day-to-day activities of Stark Industries. For fans of Jeff’s work, many will be surprised by how different he looks as this character, with his shaved head and full beard, Jeff is almost unrecognizable from his appearances in virtually every other movie he’s ever made. Rounding out the main supporting cast members is Terrence Howard (“Four Brothers”) as James “Rhodey” Rhodes, an Air Force pilot, and close friend to Tony Stark. Terrence was again another terrific choice, and he really played well off of anything Robert Downey, Jr. would throw at him. Their typically light-hearted conversations full of playfully intended put-downs and sarcasm really helped to solidify their close, almost brotherly bond the two men share with one another. All in all, the casting for this film, whether heavily questioned or just unquestionably accepted, couldn’t have been any better as each of the cast members delivered top-notch performances.

“Iron Man” was one of 2008’s biggest blockbusters, second only to “The Dark Knight”, and the film rightfully earns its place amongst the best comic book adaptations ever made. Boasting a strong story, visually stunning special effects, brilliant casting decisions, and just some good old fashioned fun, “Iron Man” is not just a comic book blockbuster, but a great movie that audiences will enjoy over and over again. By the way, be sure to watch after the credits for a bonus scene that offers a hint of things to come.

“Iron Man” is rated PG-13 for violence, brief language, and brief sensuality.