Just when you thought the golden-age of the comic book movie was over, 2008 lined up three of the most eagerly-anticipated yet. First up and taking the spotlight before both the green-skinned Doctor Banner and the cowl-wearing Bruce Wayne, director John Favreau takes a less-than-well-known-hero and tries to make him big time.

While in Afghanistan on business, billionaire arms-maker Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is near-fatally wounded, kidnapped and forced to make a deadly weapon. Instead, he creates an armored suit and escapes back home to loyal assistant Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow), best friend Jim Rhodes (Terence Howard) and business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). Realising that his life’s work has been used to hurt people, Tony upgrades the armored suit and decides to help those in need.

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Fortunately, unlike so many who have tried the translation from page to screen, Favreau gets it spot-on. While on the surface Iron Man might appear like your standard superhero origin movie (hero goes through arc, decides what they ‘have to do’, learns to use new skills and fights bad guy in finale) it is set apart by a realistic approach, bags of well-measured humour and action that – on the whole – steers away from the usual silly CGI-ridiculousness.

However, the best thing about Iron Man is undoubtedly the perfectly-cast Robert Downie Jr. Arguably the most pitch-perfect casting in a comic book movie since Christopher Reeve in 1978’s Superman, he nails the charismatic playboy-come-uncaped-crusader with a definitive performance. Masterfully balancing a constantly-funny dry-wit with some genuinely-buyable pathos, the comeback kid makes potentially cheesy lines meaningful and proves the studio wrong for not wanting to approach him as Favreau’s first choice. Though their choice Tom Cruise is now unthinkable in the role, its doubtful that his grin would’ve fitted inside the helmet anyway.

Another one of the elements which lifts Iron Man above the normal for graphic novel adaptations is Jeff Bridges’ nemesis. Combining a surprisingly subtle transition towards villain territory with sheer acting prowess, Bridges’ Obadiah Stane doesn’t just go down the predictable bad guy route and the non-geeks in the audience (who haven’t been reading about the film online months before release) might not peg him as ‘the guy about to become the villain’. In other support, Gwyneth Paltrow offers an effective lightweight romance and Terence Howard makes for a loyal, if somewhat forgettable, best friend.

It’s perhaps inevitable that people will make comparisons with Batman Begins. Though this makes sense given the main characters (both are wealthy playboys that use their wealth, resources and gadgets to fight crime with the help of an assistant-type figure) Iron Man isn’t nearly as dark as Nolan’s gritty franchise-reinvigorator and doesn’t take the hero to the same depths. Did Favreau et al sidestep Tony Stark’s interesting alcohol addiction from the comics due to Downie Jr’s substance abuse problems (understandably)? Only the sequel will tell…

While stolen from greatness at the 11th hour by giving in to the usual comic movie need to have an extensive ‘big final battle’, Iron Man is a great addition to the genre. Look out true believers, there’s a new man of steel in town.

Reviewed on: 27 Mar 2009
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Iron Man packshot
A wealthy industrialist fights evil with a newly invented super-suit.
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Read more Iron Man reviews:

Daniel Hooper ****
Chris ***1/2

Director: Jon Favreau

Writer: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leslie Bibb, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Sayed Badreya, Bill Smitrovich, Clark Gregg, Tim Guinee

Year: 2008

Runtime: 126 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

Festivals:

Glasgow 2013

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