We don’t need another hero. All we need is life beyond Ben Affleck as Daredevil. In our murky times, when American Psycho gets to play Batman and villains are more likely to be US government officials than any exotic moustache twirler, we need a leading man who’s a little bit damaged, likely to lead us astray. Step up Robert Downey Junior as Iron Man.
He plays Tony Stark, a billionaire industrialist whose company makes missiles that blow-up, democratically, in every corner of the globe. He likes fast cars, fast women and saunters round like a trainee Al Pacino; complete with small pointy beard. Stark’s charmed life hits the buffers when a military convoy he’s presenting weapons to in Afghanistan is ambushed by Taleban-style warriors and his shrapnel ridden body is dragged into a cave network.
Before you can say “Where in the world is Morgan Spurlock?” the evil-doers are forcing him to build a super-missile. Only Tony is not compliant, and being a bit like McGyver meets Bill Gates (what he can build with his bare hands in the middle of the desert is nobody’s business) he instead fashions a robotic-skeleton which turns the wearer (him) into a walking/flying whoop-ass machine. So he fights the evil-doers with his prototype and returns to America to face the machinations of corporate schemer Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) who wants to make sure Stark industries stay in the weapons game, despite Tony’s newly found reservations.
Iron Man gently mocks America’s bombastic militarism and contains just the right amount of self-deprecating humour with Downey Junior at the sardonic heart of things, like when his PA, (Gyneth Paltrow, essentially Alfred the butler in Manolo Blahnik) finds him with dozens of metallic plates being applied to his body: “Let's be honest, this isn't the worst thing you've caught me doing.” There is plenty of time for moments like this as Iron Man is not weighed down with too much plot or a surfeit of super-villains to introduce. As the Marvel geeks will tell you, it is an origin story, so it takes its time to establish Stark’s motivation for donning the metallic suit and as a bonus you get amusing scenes where the technology blows up in his face (with a nice running gag about his domestic robot too eager to turn the fire extinguisher on him).
As the first instalment of a hoped-for franchise for Marvel, it’s amazing that Iron Man was helmed by Jon Favreau, a comedy actor with only TV episodes on his directing CV. He does a great job. He combines a light touch on the acting scenes with the expected mecha-destruction. The graphics and special effects are very good; Iron Man looks particularly sleek in his retro-futuristic outfit. Jeff Bridges goes up to eleven on the sinister scale (looking like an egg with a beard). Essentially though, this is the Robert Downey Junior show who, unlike Michael Keaton when he was given Batman, relaxes into the role straight-off and makes you think: more episodes please, this is fun.