After Spider-Man, X-Men, the Fantastic Four and others, a less-popular Marvel superhero gives birth to a superior film in Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, which is greatly aided by a stellar Robert Downey Jr. performance in the title role.
A few faults aside – which include an unfortunate air, plotwise, of been-there, done-that – Favreau hits all marks in a film that should be greatly appreciated by (but not limited to) fans of the comics. After affectionate but cartoonish missteps (Daredevil, Hulk, Ghost Rider) and outright failures (The Punisher), Iron Man is second only to Spider-Man 2 as the best translation of a Marvel character to the big screen yet.
Downey Jr. stars as billionaire inventor and businessman Tony Stark, who begins the film by giving the US military a demonstration of his latest product, a weapon of mass destruction “that you only need to fire once”.
If you’ve read the comics or seen the trailers, you know what happens next: the military transport carrying Stark is ambushed, and he wakes up in a cave with a car battery attached to his heart keeping shrapnel from penetrating it.
He’s ordered by his captors to build weapons for them, but with the help of fellow prisoner Yinsen (Shaun Toub), he designs something else: a suit made of metal that he’ll use to escape. And thus, we have Iron Man.
Of course, the suit isn’t perfect, and barely allows Stark to get out; but with the aid of military friend Jim Rhoades (Terrence Howard), he makes it back to his Malibu estate and faithful assistant/secretary Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Here he begins work on a more advanced suit, while publicly announcing that Stark Industries will discontinue weapons manufacturing, much to the chagrin of corporate honcho Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges).
Origin story, which takes up much of the film, is perfect; climatic matchup against supervillain Iron Monger, despite some impressive CGI, is rather redundant.
Downey Jr. embodies Tony Stark in what is one of the best lead performances ever in a comic book adaptation; it’s smart casting (even the actor’s personal life mimics that of Stark in the comics) but also note-perfect acting as Downey reels off sarcastic, deadpan one-liners as few others can.
Supporting cast helps as well, featuring a higher caliber of actors than one might expect in a superhero movie; Bridges, in particular, is an inspired choice, albeit one that I’m not quite sure pays off.
Director Favreau shows up as Happy Hogan, a core character in the comics.
One true disappointment: the original score, which is workable but leaves our hero without much of a distinguishable theme (one that should have been generated by the classic riff in Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, heavily featured in the trailers but mostly absent in the film).
Note: stick around after the credits for an extra scene and a nice little cameo, especially relevant for fans of the Marvel universe.