An entirely different man of steel.
Okay, quick show of hands. How many of you are sick of comic book superhero movies? Hmmm, no, that's not nearly enough of you. Don't you remember Spiderman 3? X-Men 3? Ghost Rider? Fantastic Four? Or its sequel? Heavens to murgatroid, Catwoman? Point being, it's been a long time since the phrase 'From a Marvel comic' has been any guarantee of quality. I'm not sure if this first firing from the freshly minted Marvel Studios cannon heralds a sustained rise in standards, but at least it's a damn strong introductory handshake.
Iron Man sees Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), genius weapons designer, debonair playboy and head of Stark Industries, the world's biggest arms supplier, take an unscheduled detour after he's captured by the EvilDoers, or whatever this movie called its Al Quida stand-in, after a weapons demonstration. Seriously wounded, he's saved by a fellow prisoner who happens to be a doctor with enough 'mad skillz' to jury rig a chest-implanted electromagnet to stop shrapnel in Stark's bloodstream entering his heart and making it go all dead and stuff.
While his captors would have Stark build them one of his shiny new Jericho explod-o-death 'delivery vectors', our Tone decides instead to go for the 'stompy powered exoskeleton' option instead and busts his way out, noticing a good number of crates with the Stark logo along the way. Gasp! The kit he designs to protect Americans is being pointed at them as well! Oh Noes!
His baffling naivety aside, he sets out to do something about it on his return to the US. Announcing a halt to all weapons production until he can get a handle on what's gone wrong, much to his second-in-command Obadiah Stane (a barely recognisable Jeff Bridges)'s dismay, Stark secludes himself to building a shiny new red and gold suit with which to go around stomping on the bad people who've bought his weapons through unofficial channels. Suddenly Sony's stance on grey imports seems comparatively reasonable.
Of course, it wouldn't be massively dramatic without some backstabbing going on, and despite Stark's womanising there's also some romantic tension between Stark and his P.A. Virginia 'Pepper' Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). In short, much of what you'd expect from an origin story, but what's setting this apart is not so much any new narrative slants but a strong execution of a familiar formula, topped off with a blistering turn from Robert Downey Jr.
I'm going to compare it to Daniel Day Lewis' performance in There Will Be Blood. There. I said it. And now you have to deal with it. The best way to deal with it, I'd imagine, is to say that obviously it's nothing like as jaw-droppingly awe-inspiring, but then what is, however it's no real stretch to say that this film would look very ordinary indeed were Downey Jr. not present. His delivery is pitch perfect and provides such a likeable human presence that he can, largely, carry through his characterisation even after he dons a big metal helmet and turns into a hot-rod Robocop.
Downey's given more than adequate support from the rest of the cast, but for the most part it's The Robert Downey Jr. show and none the worse for it. Continuing the streak of awesome performances from such delights as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Zodiac and A Scanner Darkly (for those keeping track, three of the best films of the decade), Iron Man hitches itself firmly to Rob's Charisma Wagon and steams off in the general direction of Success, when many of the similar CG-loaded action vehicles take wild detours into Disinterestville, Nantucket.
If we're going to nitpick, the final reel is a little disappointing, reducing itself to a well realised but largely soulless rendering demonstration with little scope for the protagonists to show what's under the metal shells, which jars a little with how human the characters have been previously. Given that the other ninety five percent of the film time bounces between 'pretty good' and 'excellent', I think we can forgive them this minor transgression.
There isn't, I suppose, any startlingly emergent paradigms of filmmaking innovation or anything in the way of pretentious reasons to hold this film above its crowded comicbook brethren. Indeed, it swings dangerously close to formula, but formulas persist for a reason; they work. So therefore Iron Man works, to the extent that if Batman Reboot Two: The Rebootening does turn out to better this then we'll have had a significantly more successful and enjoyable summer silly season than we have for the last few years.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.
Terrence Howard (Jim Rhodes)
Jeff Bridges (Obadiah Stane)
Gwyneth Paltrow (Virginia 'Pepper' Potts)