Human hero

He may be Iron Man, but the toughest part is on the inside

Iron Man
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow and Terence Howard. Directed by Jon Favreau. Rated PG-13.
Rated 4.0

A multibillionaire CEO who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty—now that’s a rare breed. But it’s what makes Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) human. And incredible. And Iron Man. But we’ll get to that later.

As far as comic-book movies are concerned, I’m generally a fan. Never read the comics, but the movies sure are fun. Iron Man is a bit different from some of the others, though. Instead of taking place in some mysterious Gotham City or alternative mutant universe, it’s right here, right now.

The film opens in the desert of Afghanistan. Stark, a weapons designer, is in a military vehicle, sipping a drink and listening to his boom box when an explosion occurs. He wakes up in a cave, a captive of local terrorists who want him to build his latest weapon for them. A device hooked up to a car battery keeps him alive—until he can fashion a more efficient, stylish device, that is.

What happens next is probably the coolest part of the flick. With the help of a local doctor, Stark builds a full-body shield out of iron, complete with wired circuitry and blowtorches and the ability to fly—all in the confines of a cave in the desert. He is just that good. (Later scenes in his home lab, however, are perhaps less inventive, but much cooler to watch.)

When he returns to the United States, after seeing his weapons used by Afghan forces against Americans, Stark gets a conscience, much to the chagrin of his partner and father figure, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). Meanwhile, Stark’s assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, as a cute redhead), who is used to doing menial tasks like sending women on their way in the morning, sees a more human side of her boss.

Unlike many other comic book characters, Stark doesn’t fall in a vat of acid or get bit by a radioactive bug to become Iron Man. He just has to decide to use his incredible mind for good rather than evil. His nemesis, Stane, on the other hand, has the bottom line to think about—and the shareholders. After all, this is big business.

So when Iron Man faces off against Iron Monger, it’s more than just two totally awesome machine-men fighting—it’s good vs. evil, peace vs. war, conscience vs. corporation.

Iron Man is a sort of comeback for Downey Jr., who has played small roles in the years since his drug arrests. He’s wonderful here, as are Bridges and Paltrow, neither of whom have starred in anything recently. Terence Howard also puts in a strong performance as Stark’s friend in the military. There’s also a small cameo from director Jon Favreau, who pulls off an awesome summer kick-off film, even if it is a bit slow in parts.