If Spider-Man's alter ego is a dweeb and Batman's Bruce Wayne is kind of a "Debbie Downer," then the human inside this iron suit, Tony Stark, brings me a new kind of superhero: the coolest cat in the room. I haven't read the Marvel comic the movie is based on, but I think the cool factor has less to do with the original character and more to do with the spin director John Favreau puts on it — along with Robert Downey Jr.'s mesmerizing and nuanced performance.
Can you tell yet that I'm excited about this film?
My hero Tony Stark is a brilliant manufacturing magnate who is supplying the United States government with sophisticated and deadly weapon technologies. He has seemingly bought into the party line that without these weapons the world would be thrown into chaos and his company keeps everyone safe. I get to know Stark as a ladies' man who approaches just about everything, including charges that he is responsible for a lot of the world's suffering, with a largely irreverent outlook. He's charming, witty and arrogant, and watching Downey play him during this first part is a whole lot of fun.
This isn't to say that there aren't parts that, upon reflection, are fairly preposterous, like when Stark is captured by the bad guys in the Middle East who order him to make them a weapon and instead he builds a giant robot . . . in the desert. But it's a testament to how fun (and how well-made) this movie is that I totally didn't care about the absurdity.
I know I'm not the first to point out that anyone who has observed Downey's personal ups and downs will be able to see the similarities between him and his character. It's as if someone decided to make an allegorical comic book hero based on his life. Because of this inspired casting choice, Tony Stark's personal transformation into a superhero is more than just believable — it's downright moving. Honestly, I couldn't tell the difference between Tony and Robert Downey Jr. when his eyes well up and he realizes he should use his life to do good things with his unique talent.
Gwyneth Paltrow is wonderful as Stark's love interest/steadfast assistant, and Terrence Howard makes a great, straightlaced sidekick — first to Stark's hard-partying self, but later as someone who tries to understand his friend's new ambition to destroy all the weapons he supplied bad guys with. And then there is Jeff Bridges, who makes a marvelous, if prototypical, villain. This mature group of supporting actors, combined with a commanding lead actor and a director who leans heavily on story (not special effects) makes this one of the best movies I've treated myself to this year.