Robert Downey Jr turns what could be a womanising, middle-aged loner into the coolest superhero in the Marvel universe, Iron Man.
The very reason 'Iron Man' never topped Marvel Comics' superheroes hit-list could be the reason for his impending big screen popularity. Iron Man is a man of the people, albeit a very wealthy version. Originally based on Howard Hughes, he's a flawed, aging hedonist who changes women, drinks and cars as often as his clients change their weapons.
In this first film to be produced by the comic book giants, the story follows engineer Tony Stark (Downey). He has inherited his father's business, specialising in "changing the face of the weapons industry", which he runs with Obadiah Stane (Bridges). His best pal is military whiz-kid Jim Rhodes (Howard) and PA Pepper Potts (Paltrow) is his right hand.
The film opens with a panoramic view of the fast-living Stark, before he's whisked away to demonstrate how he earned the nickname 'Merchant of Death'. 'Back in Black' blaring out of any stereo is a sure sign that something big is about to happen and boy does it. Stark is taken into captivity and emerges three months later thanks to a prototype of his Iron Man suit, which we see painstakingly created in an underground cave.
Speaking of caves, Downey's Iron Man mirrors Christian Bale's Batman cave with a few minor adjustments. Bale's is dark, drippy and bat-filled while Downey's is modern, bright and warm. But they both have the desired effect - a space to create and play with their toys.
Here, some of the best and worst scenes take place. The best involve Stark developing the suit and experimenting with his jet powered flight. However after seeing the creation of the prototype, there's too much focus on making his outfit and not enough on what it can do. He spends half the movie learning how to use it and yet Bridges' Stane is flying around in his version within minutes - an annoying inconsistency. The robot showdown between the two is top class, rivalling the best superhero action to date, however it's cut too short. Next time around, less time on the suit and more on the suit action, please.
The pace is fast, leaving little room to zoom in on the finer detail which was a wise move. The terrorists alone are cartoon stereotypes that could have been taken straight from 'Team America: World Police'. At times the CGI also reverts to cartoon-style, stealing from the relevant scenes.
For fans of this 1960s Marvel anti-hero the film adaptation has resulted in another hero, director Jon Favreau. He follows the respected footprints of 'Batman Begins' director Christopher Nolan and bases the film on a believable premise, relatively speaking. He uses the current wars in the Middle East as a backdrop but also stays loyal to the original source material.
Quick witted Downey is the initially unusual but ultimately perfect choice to play the Iron, or more correctly titanium-suited one. Charismatic, cool and cute, he's a family favourite, appealing to guys, girls and grannies alike. He has that rare spark the high-waisted-trosured-one calls "X-Factor" and the rest of us call star quality.
Iron Man amalgamates the best bits of numerous comic and TV superheroes. He has Superman's flight, an extreme version of Spidey's flawed hero, Batman's alter ego as spoilt millionaire-come-secret-do-gooder and the robot-kicking-action of the Transformers. Favreau and co also tip their hats to comic book originals 'SHIELD' and 'War Machine', the alias of Howard's character whom we should be seeing much more of if a sequel does transpire. Some of the funniest scenes feature improvised dialogue between Howard and Downey, something Favreau can expand on for the future.
Paltrow is the Katie Holmes of 'Iron Man', dull, awkward and instantly forgettable. Not great when you consider how much screen time she has and, despite his best attempts, it appears as if Downey hits a blank wall on the chemistry front.
Favreau and co did give her a couple of great lines though, which helps redress the balance. Responding to a snide comment from one of Stark's one-night-stands, who is reluctant to leave the building, she says: "I do everything Mr Stark needs me to do, including taking out the trash." MEow.
Aside from a paltry Paltrow, there's a very strong supporting cast including the 'Big Lebowski's Dude, Howard, Favreau himself, Paul Bettany as the voice of computer-mainframe 'Jarvis' and a cool cameo by 85-year-old comic book legend Stan Lee. Two 'Lost' characters manage to find their way into 'Iron Man' too, namely Shaun Toub, ('Lost's Sami) and Faran Tahir ('Lost's Ishmael). (To read our 'Lost' blog click here).
'Iron Man' is along the lines of 'Batman Begins' in terms of style, humour and production quality but it lacks the depth and character development that '…Begins and hopefully 'The Dark Knight' have. The highlights are Downey, his humour, special effects and the robot action. Aside from those mentioned, the biggest lowlight is waiting for the sequel.