It’s the unofficial start of the Hollywood summer blockbuster season. This year, the summer has been kicked off by the superhero movie "Iron Man", starring Robert Downey Jr and directed by Jon Favreau. Just when it seemed like the superhero genre was saturated enough, "Iron Man" manages to carve a niche for itself by maintaining all those necessary clichés that make for a successful superhero movie but adding some fresh ingredients that set it apart.
The movie is based on the comic series by Marvel Comics, which also churned out "Spider-Man" and "X-men". The few aspects that set this movie apart from the genre’s glut are the lead actor, the smart and witty screenplay and steering clear of a psycho babble background for the superhero.
Robert Downey Jr is an extremely unlikely choice to play a superhero. For years, he was declared one of the most talented actors of his generation but drug problems and repeated stints in rehab have never let him peak. This time around he has got his life together, is clean, has found new love and this movie will be the cherry on the cake for his personal life. He clearly carries the movie and there could not have been a better actor cast.
His character is arrogant but charming, smart but irresponsible, loves cars and women but changes to do good. In the hands of any other actor, this character could have been turned into a caricature. But Downey Jr injects it with the proper charm, wit and emotional sensibility to make us connect with him. He makes the transformation from playboy to do-gooder believable.
He is ably supported by some fine actors. Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow plays his faithful assistant, Jeff Bridges is his partner who soon turns against him and Oscar nominee Terrence Howard is his frustrated but patient sidekick. All the actors are served well with a good screenplay, which gives them room even in an action to properly flesh out their characters. It is a miracle that these actors manage to shine amid the noise and the explosions; of which there is quite a bit.
The movie starts off with an introduction to Robert Stark and his achievements. He then flies to Afghanistan to check out the weapons his company produces. His convoy is ambushed and he is taken prisoner. His captors force him to build a weapon but he fools them and builds an armoured suit and escapes. On returning to the US he states that his mission is to do good, but his partner Obadiah (Jeff Bridges) has other plans.
The action sequences are thrilling with the only disappointment being the climactic final scene. Since this movie is the first of a franchise, a lot of time is spent in the evolution of the superhero. A good third of the movie shows the slow development of the superhero as Downey’s character Stark designs the highly advanced and weaponised suit. This is also the lightest and most fun part of the movie. At this time the movie slows down in its plot arc but manages to hold our attention. It is a well-paced movie with the right mix of action, dialogue and character.
For those looking for light action fare with a touch of charm and wit, "Iron Man" is the perfect start of what will most likely be an action filled Hollywood summer.