It's good to be the king.
Or rather, it's good to be Tony Stark. He's got a hot car, a cool house, the best scotch, and he always gets the girl. If he can't buy it, he'll engineer it.
'Iron Man' features Robert Downey Jr. as Stark, a media darling and bazillionaire mogul in the weapons industry. On a trip to the Middle East to demonstrate his company's latest weapon of mass profit and destruction, Stark is captured by insurgent fighters. In the process he's stunned to learn that the bad guys are buying his weapons and using them to hurt innocents. Stark engineers his escape in the form of his first Iron Man battle suit, and begins his mission to set right the horrors he's manufactured in the world.
And if all that sounds like fodder for heady, socio-political commentary jammed into a superhero package…don't you believe it. 'Iron Man' is the suped-up Ford Mustang version of a comic film, meant to be driven with the top down and way past the speed limit. Iron Man is the cool-cat, swinging superhero and the subject the latest wham-bam knockout punch from Marvel.
'Iron Man' may lack the mythic, epic weight of a 'Batman Begins', or the heartfelt nostalgia of a 'Spider-Man'. What it has in spades is a clear sense of purpose and a pitch-perfect tone.
Downey, like Stark, charms his audience from frame one, riding along the hostile desert in a military transport, scotch-filled tumbler in hand, making breezy conversation until his stone-faced escorts let down their stoic guard and start joining in the fun.
"Fun" is probably the best word to describe this movie which coasts along nicely, bopping back and forth between Downey's engaging performance and then revving up the heavy metal score and eye-popping special effects when Iron Man takes the screen.
That the Iron Man armor, visually, should work on screen is really no surprise. The depiction of the armor has a wonderfully realistic feel, bolstered by director Jon Favreau's use of practical suits mixed with CGI, framed in realistic camera movements. Every whirring, sliding, expanding and contracting bit of armor feels like it has some practical engineering behind it, as fantastic as the overall suit may be.
There's nothing in this movie that would require a cast as pedigreed as it has. There are no emotional train wrecks, physical handicaps or any of the other outrageous defects that are usually attached to "Oscar worthy" performances. Yet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges bring what any fantasy movie sorely needs: a sense of grounding. While the villain name "Iron Monger" may rank among the corniest, it sounds absolutely natural spoken with the gravitas that Bridges gives it.
For the true fan, the movie is to be enjoyed on a whole other level. Much in the same way 'X2' was laden with Easter eggs, 'Iron Man' lays the seeds that only Marvel fans will understand, and which will likely be played out in future movies. They government agency that pursues Tony and Pepper throughout the movie will be easy for fans to recognize (but keep your eyes open in the parking garage scene). And what of Stark's captor, Raza? What is that on his hand and what was the name of his militia again? Terrence Howard has a throwaway line as the third kicks into gear that elicits cheers from the audience, and fanboy glee in those of us who know about War Machine.
'Iron Man' is a well-balanced, finely crafted machine of a movie that deserves to be counted among the best superhero movies, distinguished from the others by its swaggering, playboy vibe and pervasive sense of cool. It's certain to find a willing audience at the box office, even among those uninitiated in Marvel's Armored Avenger.