The film begins in Afghanistan, where an Army vehicle carrying weapons builder Stark (a tremendous Robert Downey Jr.) is rocked by a roadside bomb then attacked by insurgents. Stark is captured, after which we get a flashback for why he was in these parts, to show his new mega-weapon, the Jericho missile. The terrorists force him to build them such a missile; helped by fellow prisoner Yinsen (Shaun Toub), who saved his life with a device to prevent shrapnel from entering his heart, and also by loose monitoring from his captors, he instead creates an early version of the Iron Man suit. That allows him to escape, but his three-month ordeal and the destruction he saw from his weapons motivate him to discontinue that branch of Stark Industries, which sends the stocks into a tailspin and infuriates his associate, the untrustworthy and resentful Obadiah Stane (a wonderfully scheming Jeff Bridges).
Deep within his lavish Malibu mansion, however, Stark goes to work on the gold and “hot rod red” suit, which looks absolutely fabulous. He goes back to Afghanistan to take care of business, shall we say, and that will lead to a climactic confrontation, back home, with Stane as the Iron Monger. Also important to the story are Air Force pilot Jim Rhodes, well played by Terrence Howard as the responsible counterpart to Stark’s playboy lifestyle, and of course Stark’s secretary Pepper Potts, brilliantly played by an especially alluring Gwyneth Paltrow.
Favreau and the writers position “Iron Man” somewhere between the lightness of the Fantastic Four movies and the dramatic heaviness of Batman Begins and the last two Spider-Man films, for example, while the free spirit and careless attitude of the main character reminded me of Hellboy. The hologram shuffling is a bit Minority Report-like, but yet the fact that you’re reminded of other films (Robocop would be another) never brings down the enjoyment of watching “Iron Man”; in fact, it may enhance it for genre fans, who will probably think fondly of these influences, while casual fans of action films will find plenty to like about it. The romantic tension between Stark and Pepper is also a big reason why the film works so well, and it’s a credit to both actors. Paltrow is really stunning, especially with her blondish/caramel color hair down, and there are some quiet moments of true resonance, revealing these two as lonely souls who need each other. All in all “Iron Man” is great stuff across the board, with a cool final line to boot.
Review by Jean-François Tremblay