Robert Downey Jr
You can expect all the usual elements of an action adventure film from Iron Man: a healthy dose of explosions, some kick-ass technology, the usual triumph of good over evil and, needless to say, a touch of romance. And yet, even though the characters and plot are over-familiar and the SFX is underwhelming, the film stays lively and slick: a thoroughly entertaining caper through comic-land with enough slapstick and wit to keep you chuckling throughout.
Unlike many other action heroes, Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr) is a self-made superhero; a goateed billionaire playboy and businessman whose superpowers originate from his genius with gadgets rather than, say, a spider bite. A philanderer, he has it all, except that is, true love. Enter Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), his prim and slightly bumbling personal assistant.
Stark, whose character is based on Howard Hughes, is a weapons mogul who oozes as much charm as he does money. As the president of a weapons manufacturer, he naively believes that bombs are a necessary part of maintaining the peace. But when he is held hostage by insurgent Afghans demanding he build them the mother of all missiles, he realises the destruction his weapons can cause.
However, Stark instead assembles an awe-inspiring suit of armour and blasts his way back to civilisation. On his return, he denounces his companys production of weapons and vows to use his intellect for good rather than evil purposes. A few wisecracks, some clowning around and a handful of skirmishes later, we discover that the treachery lies not with the Afghans but Starks right-hand man, the perfidious, bald-pated Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). This leads to the mandatory finale which sees Iron Man tussle with an even larger duplicate built by Stane.
Iron Man is a fast-paced superhero film which plunges you quickly into the action and maintains momentum with a quip-filled script and plenty of short takes that keep you on your toes, even though you know exactly where the story is headed. The usual hook of guy-meets-girl, girl-gets-into-mortal-danger is enough to see us through emotionally and although the relationship between Stark and Potts would have benefited from a little further development, the fact that there is no concluding screen kiss is a refreshing touch. Romance and existential angst do not weigh this superhero down.
Interestingly, when Iron Man first made his comic book debut he was an anti-communist hero. In this film, the baddies have been updated to cave-dwelling Afghans. Although at first the film could be perceived as a rather trite allegory of the US-led war on terror, the fact that the root of the villainy is traced back to Stane in the US adds a further dimension to the film and consequently the metaphor.
The acting too is spot on. Even though Downey Jnr may not seem like the most obvious option for a superhero, his performance as the charismatic whiz kid is seamless. Paltrow too is superbly suited to the role as his assistant with her disarmingly understated smile and well-timed ripostes. The absence of spectacular special effects in the fight scenes, in particular the rather pedestrian finale, may be a drawback for some. Iron Man is nevertheless a thoroughly enjoyable blockbuster that provides the kind of light-hearted entertainment that Hollywood does best.