What happens when a hip, new superhero appears? He attacks corporate amorality, skewering the military/industrial complex, and changes the geo-political landscape. Too bad he can’t run for President.
When arrogant billionaire playboy/weapons manufacturer Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is in Afghanistan demonstrating his company’s new Jericho missile, he’s kidnapped by insurgents who bomb his convoy. Awakening in a cave, he learns his life has been saved by doctor (Shaun Toub) who implants an electromagnetic device to keep the shrapnel from piercing his heart. While the terrorist leader, Raza (Faran Tahir) demands that he replicate a Jericho out of spare parts, Tony secretly makes a high-tech suit of armor and escapes, looking a bit like the Michelin Man. But his life has been changed.
Back in his Malibu mountaintop mansion, he’s determined to stop making armaments and use his knowledge to wreak vengeance on his captors and save humanity, much to the surprise of his manipulative guardian/mentor (Jeff Bridges), loyal assistant (Gwyneth Paltrow), military liaison (Terrence Howard) and an investigative reporter (Leslie Bibb).
While the making-of-a-superhero story is formulaic, by assembling a high-caliber cast, headed by gifted Robert Downey Jr., director Jon Favreau (“Elf,” “Swingers”) elevates the superhero concept, making it hip, augmenting the imagery with metallic touches from “Iron Giant” and reminiscent tinges of the reclusive lifestyle of Howard Hughes. And credit production designer J. Michael Riva and cinematographer Matthew Libatique for convincing us that there’s really a man with a soul propelling that special effects suit.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Iron Man” is a nifty 9. Make no mistake, though. It’s Robert Downey Jr., having triumphed over his substance abuse battle, who puts the pedal to the metal and scores the freshest new franchise going.