Casting Robert Downey Jr as a superhero might make about as much sense as having Paris Hilton do brain surgery or Jack Nicholson model lingerie. And yet it works – spectacularly.
‘Iron Man’ goes through all the comic book movie motions – huge budget, elaborate special effects, giant explosions, dastardly villain, rampant product placement – yet, largely thanks to its star, takes the formula stratospheric. As the title character he creates a real flesh and blood character we can root for, rather than some plastic action figure type who looks good on a poster.
It’s an approach learned from the genre’s best (‘Spiderman 2’, ‘X-Men 2’, ‘Batman Begins’), but through his largely improvised dialogue and innate comic timing, Downey adds a playfulness and sense of humour that?s been missing from the cape and tights brigade for too long.
Which doesn’t mean Marvel’s latest is lightweight; you’ll be laughing as hard as it kicks ass. Multi-millionaire arms manufacturer Tony Stark (Downey) is almost blown up by one of his own missiles, captured by Afghan militants, and put through open heart surgery. And that’s just the first 15 minutes.
His escape is inevitable, its sheer exhilaration is not. But even as director Jon Favreau runs riot in the desert, this isn’t a case of too much, too soon; this explosive opening is a merely a dress rehearsal for what’s to come.
When Stark gets back to the ‘States, shell-shocked and haunted by the power of his own weapons, he swaps the high life of casinos and leggy blondes for his research lab and the company of two robots. It’s the old hard-partying playboy turned recluse trick (hello Bruce Wayne), as the genius inventor works relentlessly to add some bling (and a few new features) to the rudimentary suit of armour he put together in Afghanistan.
And so – in between dueling with tanks, getting up close and personal with fighter jets, and a few run-ins with a fire extinguisher – Iron Man is born. It’s a pity the guys who wrote the excellent ‘Children Of Men’ don’t quite know what to do with him; after losing a bit of momentum in the middle, their screenplay stumbles hurriedly en route to a finale straight out of ‘Transformers’.
Good thing then that a stellar supporting cast are there to smooth the ride. Gwyneth Paltrow is perfectly sassy yet supportive as Stark’s long-suffering but lovestruck PA Pepper Potts, Terrence Howard makes the most of one of those generic military commander types, and a bald Jeff Bridges is frighteningly restrained as the shady father figure Obadiah Stone.
But throughout it’s Downey who remains the hero, unlikely or not.
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.