IRON MAN (***1/2) - Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Leslie Bibb, Shaun Toub and Jon Favreau.
Directed by Jon Favreau.
I don't know much about Iron Man beyond he's a Marvel character, he was in the Avengers, and he's billionaire Tony Stark. I don't have this mental image of what I want Iron Man to be based on my reading of the comics in my youth. I think this is a kick-butt movie whether you're a fan of the comics or not.
There's something enjoyable about having adult superheroes. Robert Downey Jr. is past 40; no growing-pains angst / puberty metaphors for him to go through. No, he gets a moment of clarity / mid-life crisis supplied courtesy of Afghan kidnappers. Stark is an agent of death, a weapons manufacturer that reminded me of the Lord of War, that Nicolas Cage movie about an unrepentant arms dealer. Well, Stark gets a Road to Jericho moment when terrorists force him to recreate his latest weapon from spare parts.
Instead of building the missiles he wants, he puts together an Iron Man suit. After he escapes, he perfects his design and becomes a one-man combat machine against those very terrorists who are buying his weapons on the black market.
From the second I heard about it, I thought Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man was a stroke of genius, comparable to Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. Downey's rapid-fire delivery is a joy to listen to, and he's ideal as Stark. We buy him as a playboy billionaire who dips too much into women and booze, because darnit, that's what he did in the 1990's. We buy his redemption and change-of-heart because that's what he's displayed ever since he got out of jail for drug use five years ago.
One sign of a good superhero movie is that I'm not anxious for the red-and-gold suit to show up when it does. I contrast that with the Hulk, the Ang Lee fizzler where it felt like it took forever to get to the Big Green Guy. In Iron Man, the characters are fun enough to watch, particularly Stark, that I had no problem in the movie taking its time to get there.
P.S. Stay until the end of the credits.