Stan Lee's 'Iron Man' leads way for latest Blu-ray titles

Doug Nye
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

Iron Man

Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Leslie Bibb
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Marvel Studios
First date: 2008

Ten years ago, Stan Lee was frustrated about the inability to get impressive versions of Marvel Comics super heroes to the movie screen.

"It seemed as if so many of them were tied up with contracts here and copyrights there," Lee said during a recent phone interview.

Obviously, all the obstacles were eventually worked out, because Lee has seen many of his co-creations become successful films since the 21st century began. None have been better than "Iron Man" (Paramount, 2008, $39.99), which tops the list of Blu-ray releases this week.

Except, perhaps, for the first Spider-Man film, "Iron Man" is arguably the best Marvel super hero movie to date. Its special effects are first rate, its story unfolds crisply and intelligently and its impressive cast is in top form.

Robert Downey Jr. plays multi-millionaire Tony Stark, head of Stark Industries, which manufactures the latest and most advanced products in weapons. Stark, however, is more interested in the party scene and is content to let his second-in-command Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) oversee the day-to-day details.

Assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Partlow) tries to make sure the Stark keeps his social obligations and business appointments. One such appointment involves flying to the Middle East and demonstrating a new weapon to the U.S. Military. His friend, Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Terrence Howard), accompanies Stark on the journey.

Once in Afghanistan, Stark's group is ambushed by terrorists who take the playboy hostage. It is a life-changing experience for Stark to discover the weapons his company makes are being used against the U.S. and are the cause of so much death and destruction in the Middle East. Although seriously injured, Stark secretly uses his technical know-how to tranform himself into an Iron Man, much to the astonishment of his captors.

What follows is a memorable action-adventure tale with a soul that is made even better by the Blu-ray edition's vivid images and stirring soundtrack. Lee is delighted with the results.

"I thought Robert Downey Jr. did a terrific job," Lee said. The two-disc set includes numerous behind-the-scene extras; one of the most enjoyable focuses on the comic-book origin of Iron Man. Lee said Howard Hughes was his inspiration for Stark. He also notes that Iron Man spawned "more letters from girls than any other comic book we did."

Lee, born in New York City in 1922, joined what was then known as Timely Comics in 1941. He served in the Army during World War II, then returned to the comic-book world. During the next 15 years, he wrote hundreds of comic book stories including Westerns, horror, crime and romance.

In the early 1960s, Lee and his cohorts at Marvel pumped new life into the comic-book industry with their many varied superhero creations. Among them were The Fantastic Four and, of course, Iron Man.

Lee, who has formed his own company, POW Productions, no longer is involved with producing Marvel comic books but maintains a relationship with the people there.

"I still help them out when they ask me to do promotions and movie projects such as this one," Lee said. He also admitted that he gets a lump in his throat and tears of joy in his eyes from seeing one his co-creations on the movie screen.

You have to figure he must have gotten a big lump when he saw how great Iron Man turned out.

Other notable Blu-ray titles this week:

"Daredevil: Director's Cut" (20th Century Fox, 2003, $39.98): Here's another adaptation of a Marvel comic book character co-created by Lee. Ben Affleck plays Matt Murdock, who was blinded as a kid by toxic waste but has developed his four other senses into almost supernatural powers. The director's cut adds 30 minutes to the film, and in this case, that makes it much better and more understandable than the theatrical release. Jennifer Garner as Elektra is easy on the eyes. The key villains are Bullseye (Colin Farrell) and The Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan).

"The Thing" (Universal, 1982, $29.98): This is more of a reinterpretation of the 1951 original's theme than it is a remake. Directed by John Carpenter, the story has a research team made up of Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley and 10 others doing their work at a remote outpost in the Antarctic. Things get creepy when they learn an alien from another world is on the loose and has the ability to take on human form. Russell begins to rightly suspect that the alien is gradually taking over the bodies of his co-workers. The film is neither better nor worse than the original; it's just different.

"Dawn of the Dead" (Universal, 2004, $29.98): A virus is infecting hundreds of people and turning them into flesh-eating zombies. A group of "normal" people, fleeing the hideous creatures, seek refuge from in an enclosed mall but the situation seems hopeless. Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames headline the cast.

"Land of the Dead" (Universal, 2005, $29.98)" George Romero, the father of these modren zombie flicks, returns to the director's chair for this one which features a study of two societies. The normal people are now living in a classy high-rise while the zombies, who are beginning to develop personalities, live and wander around the countryside. Simon Baker and Dennis Hopper star.

"The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (Universal, 2005, $29.98): What could have been a crude, tasteless film turns out to be a rather well-done story about a shy fellow who works at an electronics store and has never been with a woman. When his buddies find out, they make it their mission to change that. Excellent performances are turned in by Steve Carell and Catherine Keener.

"Knocked Up" (Universal, 2007, $29.98): Making something funny out of an unfunny situation is difficult to do but director Judd Apatow, who also was responsible for "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," manages to pull it off. Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) and Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) run into each other at an L.A. night spot and spend an evening partying, drinking and doing other things. A few weeks later, Alison discovers she is pregnant.

"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" (Universal, 2008, $39.98): Peter Bretter (Jason Segal) is depressed after his breakup with Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), a TV star. So to forget, he heads to Hawaii on a vacation. But guess who is also there? Sarah and her new boyfriend. Apatow is one of the film's producers.

"Can't Hardly Wait" (Sony, 1998, $28.95): Seniors at Huntington Hills High decide to party in a big way to celebrate their graduation day. Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ethan Embry and Lauren Ambrose headline the cast.

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