Iron Man is good but not great. Some inspired casting and snappy dialogue help enliven what is otherwise a run-of-the-mill superhero movie.
Weapons manufacturer/genius inventor/playboy billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) gets captured by a terrorist group whilst on a business trip in Afghanistan (modernised from the comic’s Vietnam). They want him to build them missiles, but instead he constructs a metal robotic suit in which he escapes. Once back home, with a fresh anti-war perspective (a theme that could have been expanded further), he announces his desire to cease weapons manufacturing and instead begins construction on a brand new suit with which he wants to bring peace to the world. His greedy board of directors, led by Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), have other ideas…
Robert Downey Jr. is a brilliant choice for Tony Stark. His deadpan humour and cocky sarcasm make him an interesting addition to the existing canon of superheroes, and he makes a welcome change from all those earnest emotional dweebs. The difference between him and that other rich dude, Batman, is that Stark is more interested in ceasing war than foiling bank robbers.
Downey Jr. is not the only good performer here. The ensemble acting is top-notch. Jeff Bridges plays a smarmy uber-businessman, a bald-headed beardy called Obadiah Stane, who moves not-so-subtly from Stark’s mentor to rival. Gwyneth Paltrow is the real surprise. She is absolutely charming as PA Pepper Potts and her unrequited love for Stark feels fresh and real. Her banter and easy chemistry with him is a real highlight.
But in between all the witty one-liners and fun visual gags, something about Iron Man feels a little too straightforward. An exciting beginning soon gives way to an episodic plot, which never quite lifts off. It takes Stark ages to make the final red and gold suit (a tech-nerd’s wet dream with all that cool gadgetry), but we all know what it will look like, and we all know what it will do – because we’ve all seen the trailer. Suddenly Steven Spielberg’s guarded reluctance to show much from the upcoming Indiana Jones sounds like a great idea. When all the film’s best moments (including the aerial dogfight) have already been revealed in the marketing campaign, it leaves little room for surprises.
And once Stark has created the iconic suit, the story flatlines into a small scale battle between Stane and Stark. Both in metal suits; their animated forms zip around the screen faster than we care to keep up with. It’s just computer-generated action which a) isn’t very exciting, b) copies a scene from Ang Lee’s Hulk and c) finishes with some explosion which seems to wrap everything up in a way that this reviewer didn’t really understand.
Ultimately the inspired casting, snappy humour and whizz-bang technology are the equivalent of giving your old car a new coat of paint. Iron Man is entertaining, but it still runs on the same old superhero formula.