Jon Favreau's Ironman starts as it means to go on. Not concerned with wasting time on backstory, the film opens with Tony Starks, played by Robert Downey Jr, doing his arms dealer thing in the Middle East. He jokes with the US Marines guarding him. He's clearly not fazed by the environment. It seems that Stark is somewhat typical of the jetsetting, billionaire playboy superheroes that Marvel and DC love so much.
However its not all plain sailing for the life of a weapons dealer/philanthropist. The convoy is attacked, Stark is kidnapped and forced to design a missile for the terrorists. The terrorists in turn have performed essential surgery on Stark, keeping the shrapnel he received in the attack from piercing his heart and killing him. Faced with the prospect of surrendering his technology over to the terrorists, and being disposed of once his purpose is served, Stark uses his expertise and skills to create something else...
Eschewing the traditions of previous Marvel offerings, director Favreau only offers a brief glimpse into how Tony Stark became the man he is. No lengthy flashbacks here: this issue is dealt with quickly and effectively. Images of a younger Stark appear on Rolling Stone magazine as he takes up his fathers legacy, and the presence of Stark Industries veteran Obadiah Stane (played by Jeff Bridges) is evident. Stane, it seems, often has to step in to save Stark Industries from Stark himself. Colonel James Rhodes (Terrence Howard), apart from being Stark's military liason, is also his friend, doing his best to keep Stark from screwing up. Completing this trio of helpers is Gwyneth Paltrow's multi-faceted assistant Pepper Potts.
Gone is the glossy richness of previous efforts such as Daredevil and Hulk. There are elements of humour, but the director sticks closely to the subject matter. I'm sure that Favreau is developing a more assured style with every picture, but he doesnt try too hard with Ironman. There is no split-screen storyboard tomfoolery to give that comic feel. Favreau has created a movie with characters that you can get close to, and no one but Downey Jr could have played the role of Tony Stark as well. Sure, he's in his forties now, but it doesnt show in the picture. What was more important I think was using an actor who has come through his own crises. Stark is flawed - he has a debilitating weakness that needs constant attention; a junkie feeding his addiction. We know Downey Jr has been through his own troubles, using rehab to establish and deal with his weaknesses. His own life, complete with a perfectly executed career comeback, mirrors Starks somewhat. In the Marvel comics, Stark battles alcoholism. Downey Jr will have no trouble approaching this.
The supporting players impress aswell. Paltrow, as Tony's assistant, adds an air of effortless organisation and sophistication. Terrence Howard does well as Rhodie, but the role doesnt challenge him, although there is a reference in the film which implies that he wants his own shot at superhero status. However, the real star is the suit. The traditional red and gold is dazzling, conjuring up memories of how I wanted to be Ironman as a boy. It is stunningly realised in a mixture of CGI and real, and moves so fluidily that you forget you are watching something that is partly created by computers. I sat watching and wondered why Tony had not been seen attempting to get in and out of the suit. 'Maybe it looks weird?' I thought. Visually, you cannot fault the realisation of the suit. Never does it seem cumbersome, and the scene when Stark comes out of it makes you realise that the filmmakers thought about this and wanted to make sure it looked cool too.
I mentioned humour earlier on. This comes easy to Downey Jr, as he brings energy and a hint of mania to the role of Tony Stark. His teething problems and clumsy crashes in the seat are very entertaining, and outside of the suit Downey Jr is crazy AND cool. There are plenty of reasons for most people to see this film. Kids will love it, 30 yr old's like me, well, its what we've been waiting for isnt it? A climactic final battle completes the film, and it looks stunning. As for the fanboys, I dont think they will have much to complain about. As long as they stay until AFTER the credits.....