I have always liked Robert Downey Jr., but Iron Man turned my like into a full-on fangirl crush. He plays the movie's title character, arms dealer Tony Stark, with the perfect blend of badass, hero, goof, and cad. The best part is that even when he starts to become heroic, he never stops being a bit of a cad. Even when he's kicking ass, he's still kind of a goof.
This is the recipe future superhero origin stories should aim for: 1. The filmmakers set it in the present, so the political and global ramifications actually resonate with viewers; 2. Instead of being a person's life's ambition (Batman, although Batman Begins is another example of a well-done origin story) or just happening to him suddenly and inexplicably (Spider-Man) or something he's had since birth (Superman), viewers get to go along with Tony for the ride as he becomes Iron Man. And so the change makes sense. He goes through something difficult and life-changing and it ... well, it changes his life.
But don't worry; it doesn't get too poignant: The movie is ultimately a comedy -- and, unlike certain other superhero movies, the laughs are intentional. Downey Jr. has some of the best comedic timing I've seen on film. He's even hilarious when there are no other characters on the screen (he spends a good deal of the film talking to what are essentially robots, and it's some of the best stuff in the film).
Even though it's funny, the action will keep you on the edge of your seat, especially if you can suspend your disbelief about the Iron Men (which, if you're going to see this movie in the first place, I'm guessing you can). There are realistic and frankly upsetting action sequences set in Afghanistan; and more CGI-driven, superhero-vs.-supervillain stunts -- none of which are made any less exciting because of the film's strong comedic tilt.
Director Jon Favreau might have done the impossible with this movie. He just might have launched a successful franchise starring a 43-year-old former drug addict as the title superhero. And cast at his side are Gwyneth Paltrow, who rarely makes movies these days, let alone big, mainstream movies; Jeff Bridges, who's almost never in a blockbuster; and Terrence Howard, who's best known for playing a pimp.
If anyone would have told me a few years ago those four actors would be the central cast of the next great superhero movie, I wouldn't have believed it. I might have scoffed even. But the casting is perfect. Everyone in the movie -- right down to Clark Gregg in a small role as the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent -- is a pleasant surprise.
Just like the movie.
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