Spider-Man was beautifully shot. Batman Begins had texture and depth. This joint has those qualities, too, but its shining feature lies in its wit. While some of that credit should go the way of writers who’ve added a quip here and there over the Marvel Comic-based flick’s decade-long development, most of it needs to be handed to the man behind the mask, Robert Downey Jr. For the talented actor to pull off Tony Stark, zillionaire weapons designer and head of Stark Industries, Downey Jr. had to embody everything about the man- his vices, his eccentricities, his controversial headlines, his… Wait, that is Robert Downey Jr.
From the opening scene, he’s in full garb. Three American soldiers and Stark are riding in a humvee in the bowels of an Afghani desert. The trooper driving the vehicle starts talking. Stark nearly drops his drink –Yep, he’s drinking! In a humvee! In an Afghanistan war zone!- because he never realizes the heavily-draped soldier is actually a woman. The laugh only lasts a split second because the convoy is ambushed.
When Stark wakes from his near-death experience, he’s in a cave with an Afghani doctor who’s built some sort of contraption in Tony’s chest to keep all the shrapnel from the attack from getting into his bloodstream. The thing doesn’t really make sense, but it does look kinda cool protruding from his breastplate. Oh, and one other thing: There’s this menacing terrorist leader with a Stark Industries-issued gun to Tony’s head, demanding the engineering genius build him one of Stark’s prized Jericho missiles in a week. From a cave! With scrap parts! Stark builds something alright; unfortunately, for the rogue outfit, the something resembles Voltron more than a scud. Needless to say, the man of iron escapes evil’s clasp and returns a changed man to a feverish American press, a caring secretary (Gwyneth Paltrow), a crazy, gadget-filled house and a discontent business partner, Obadiah (Jeff Bridges).
Marvel fanatics won’t be the only ones to tell that something about Obadiah isn’t right. But director Jon Favreau (Elf) doesn’t try to make the whole hero/villain thing terribly complex. He’d much rather spend the allotted budget showing off new Audis and Verizon phones and hilariously chronicle the trials of building a sleeker Iron Man. And trust, you’d much rather watch Stark soar 60,000 feet up or fight a bizzaro iron thingie in the L.A. streets that Obie’s henchmen have assembled.
Terrence Howard plays a decorated military friend of Stark’s. Early on, he’s more of a father-like chaperon than anything else. By film’s end, Tony needs no guidance. He’s dumped the guns-for-economic-gain approach and the Maxim girls. He’s a compassionate superhero. With flaws! And the summer movie season is all the safer because of it.