Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow make Iron Man more than the sum of the boilerplate screenplay by Mark Fergus, and the cover-the-basics villains and action directed by Jon Favreau. As Tony Stark, playboy billionaire (and former Long Island native), and Pepper Potts, his personal assistant handling his professional and personal affairs with equal efficiency — including his hubris-sized ego — both bring a twinkle-in-the-eye charm to this first tent-pole movie of the summertime box office season. And this tent-pole is made solid iron strong because of it.
From the opening salvo of Stark's bloody capture by terrorists, to his revelation his weapons of mass destruction actually kill more than the enemy, Downey keeps the balance of humor and drama in proper comic book movie perspective. While motivations and characters are measured in black and white to keep the action neatly moving, it's Downey's cheeky delivery and attitude riffing against Paltrow's dry, no-nonsense, manner in between the slam-bam fisticuffs, and Stark's humorous outcomes when developing his suit of armor that delights more than the expected rousing rock music score and flashy explosions; but those are not too shabby either.
Between the exploding tanks and Humvees, and bullets ricocheting, his development of Iron Man's armor from early prototype to uber-gadgetized, mechanized, Jarvisized (a very personal and proper speaking computer net), and hot-rod red-splashed alloy chick-magnet, the special effects kick in big time but still take a backseat to Downey's over-eager robotic helpers, his insistence on testing features not quite ready for prime time, and a chest implant keeping him alive, but glows like a Burger King sign and requires more upkeep than he can carry out alone. Ms. Potts rises to the occasion here, but sends him into cardiac arrest when she accidentally pulls the plug on this mini-power plant, which keeps the shrapnel scattered around his heart from moving any closer. It also powers the suit of armor, and provides the impetus for a mine-is-bigger confrontation between Iron Man and a very hostile corporate takeover.
The movie stays true to the original comic book storyline, but updates it from Vietnam to Afghanistan. There's also S.H.I.E.L.D. For comic geeks (like myself) who grew up on a steady diet of the Avengers and Nick Fury's gadget-topian secret service, I'll only say you need to stay seated past the credits. A teaser shows the possibilities for the sequel, and they are Marvel-ous indeed. This beginning franchise is running on all thrusters, and if Downey and Paltrow stay the course, it will remain so.