Downey Jr. is perfect, the effects are top-of-the-line and Favreau delivers a fun comic flick.
The build up for Iron Man has been almost unprecedented. For almost a year now, Paramount has known they had a hit on their hands. At last summer's Comic-Con in San Diego, the studio unveiled a nice size chunk of footage that had movie geeks and critics alike salivating for the May 2, 2008 release date. Although some initially questioned the choices of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Jon Favreau as director, the footage and early trailers quieted those doubts pretty quickly. Now everyone just wanted to see it.
For the comic-uninitiated, Downey Jr. plays weapon designer mogul of Stark Industries, Tony Stark, who is taken hostage during a routine military exercise to show off the latest and greatest weapons. The terrorists want Stark to build them a bomb, but instead the tech wizard builds himself a crude robotic suit to use for a daring escape. Now back from captivity, the formerly ego-driven Stark has a change of heart about his life's work. Much to the chagrin of Stark Industries' CEO Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) and confusion of Stark's longtime assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Stark is now more interested in peace than war. He's also hard at work on a new secret, highly advanced version of the Iron Man suit. As stockholders in Stark Industries lose trust in Tony Stark, Obadiah Stane leads a coup to take control of the company. Terrence Howard co-stars as Jim Rhodes, whom fans know eventually becomes Iron Man ally War Machine. Jon Favreau directs and also plays a small part as Stark's driver, Hogan.
Any doubts fans might have had about Downey Jr. as Stark are washed away mere minutes into Iron Man. He takes complete command of the role and never lets up. His take on Stark is brash, funny, smart, spirited and, although I'm not a follower of the comics, pretty in line with the character from the pages from what I've gathered. Downey Jr.'s lightening-fast dialogue and bad boy rock star attitude are fun to watch and it's easy to imagine him playing this part in endless sequels with little fatigue from fans or Downey Jr. himself.
Jon Favreau has really come into his own as a director in recent years. Comedies were one thing with Made and Elf, but it was Zathura that, despite slow box office, proved a blockbuster of the magnitude of Iron Man was within the former Swinger's range. And although he'd still had very limited experience working on a project of this massive scope, it rarely shows in Iron Man. Towards the film's end he does stray a bit too much into Michael Bay territory for my tastes, but he still succeeds throughout in delivering a very entertaining, fun comic movie that appeals equally to comic laymen and hard-core fans.
Jeff Bridges sheds his legendary "Dude" persona completely as Obadiah Stane. The bald look with the burly beard works perfectly to convey just the right level of evil supervillain. Bridges is a talented actor who's good at most everything he does and this is no exception. As his true evil nature shines through there are a few scenes that border on mustache twirling but, for the most part, Bridges is great in the role. Like Downey Jr., he looks like he had a blast making the movie.
Paltrow offers her best work in years and looks great in the part of the ridiculously named Pepper Potts. Terrence Howard's role is small, but fans are already clamoring to see him become War Machine in the guaranteed sequels.
Visually, Iron Man is stunning. The CG (computer generated) work is absolutely seamless. Unlike the occasional moments in the Spider-Man franchise, for example, where a character moves in a way the human body simply cannot move, it appears that painstaking efforts were taken on Iron Man to assure that even the smallest details can be analyzed in a crazed fan's Blu-Ray machine without revealing a single flaw. The tech gadgets are awesome and the suit itself is terrific, revealed and examined in detail time and again.
Iron Man's primary flaw is that it sets the bar so high in the first two acts that the highly predictable third act feels a little like a letdown in terms of originality. It's standard stuff and not bad by any means, but it just isn't up to the high bar set by the rest of the movie beforehand. Either way, now that all the origin stuff is out of the way the sequels should allow more time for bigger action and bigger villains. For Marvel, whose recent string of missteps have left fans doubting the comic giant, Iron Man is an excellent return to form and the likely start of another successful franchise.