Billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), head of Stark Industries, is taken captive on a trip to Afghanistan and ordered to re-create his famous Jericho weapon in exchange for his freedom. Stark creates a weaponised suit, which wins him his freedom, but he has to deal with the fact that there is shrapnel in his chest and someone within his company that both want to kill him.
Iron Man was the first Marvel movie that was created with an eventual Avengers movie in mind. The story covers the creation of Tony Stark’s alter ego Iron Man, and introduces the charismatic and pigheaded character to audiences.
The casting of Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man/Tony Stark was a touch of genius. Downey Jr brings charm and charisma to a character that could easily come off as arrogant and rude. Tony Stark is both of these things, as well as self-obsessed and narcissistic, but he has the skills and charm to back up his swagger. Robert Downey Jr creates a character that the audience roots for; he is rich and privileged, but there is a darkness within him and a tenacity for life that the audience can relate to. Yes, this is a man who has a wealth of fancy cars and toys to play with, but he is as troubled and unhappy as the next person.
Downey Jr is supported by Terrence Howard as Lt. Col. James Rhodes, who managed to annoy Marvel enough that he was recast in the second film. Howard is fine in the role of ‘Rhodey’ but there is never really any chemistry between the two ‘best friends’. Gwyneth Paltrow plays the beleaguered love interest Pepper Potts, who seems like she wandered in from a different movie and Jeff Bridges uncovers his evil streak as Obadiah Stane; the man who wanted Tony killed and is desperate to recreate his ‘iron man’ suit. Bridges does well as Stane, but the scripting issues are obvious, and he comes off as campy, rather than frightening or threatening.
Casting issues aside, however, the film is actually a lot of fun and this is mainly because this is Robert Downey Jr’s film. Iron Man is about the evolution of Tony Stark from selfish playboy into caring superhero – with his ego left intact – it is Downey Jr who dominates the screen and carries the story. The super villain is obvious and this plot line is paper thin, but it does not matter, as the audience is so invested in Tony Stark and is having as much fun as he is, that we are swept away by his enthusiasm.
In all, Iron Man as a movie is very like Tony Stark as a character; slick, charming and a lot of fun but ultimately deeply flawed. It is hard not to enjoy Robert Downey Jr’s enthusiasm, there is no doubt that the film looks great and somehow, with this magical combination, the issues on screen start to fade away and the audience revels in the creation of this egotistical but charming superhero that does not feel the need to hide in the shadows or complain about his amazing abilities like his teenage counterparts.