We're getting to that stage in superhero movies where all the big names have pretty much been taken and we're getting down to the guys who've never really made it past the pages of comic books. But just because you've never heard of Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man, doesn't mean he's not perfect action movie material: super-smart arms dealer Stark (Robert Downey Jr) undergoes a change of heart (literally) when he's ambushed and captured by the comic-book version of the Taliban in Afghanistan. With an electromagnet implanted in his chest to pull shrapnel away from his heart, he's set to work building weapons of mass destruction for his captors, only to turn the tables and build himself a cybernetic suit of Ned Kelly armour and bust out of his cave prison. Back in the US and looking a little shaky, both his assistant 'Pepper' Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his business partner (Jeff Bridges) are worried about what Stark's building in the basement - but as it turns out, they're worried for very different reasons... Fast paced, and with just the right mix of humour and cheesy seriousness, this is about as note-perfect a superhero film as you could hope for. That said, there's a big difference between a mid-level special effects film and one of those Hollywood blockbusters where money is no object, and there's no denying that Iron Man falls into the former camp. The action is well shot and exciting and the many effects as the Iron Man suit flies around dealing damage are all well handled, but this is a superhero film made on a budget and occasionally there's just the faintest wiff of financial limitations. Fortunately, there's also a big difference between the usual B-grade cast that populates superhero movies and Robert Downey Jr, who gives perhaps the best performance yet in a superhero film. Going from a decadent playboy to a slightly less decadent crusader with a glowing super-powered heart gives Downey plenty of opportunity to be funny while hinting at a darker side, and even if this was a movie about a playboy arms dealer without a robot suit his performance would make it riveting viewing. The suit might get all the action, but it's the man inside that makes Iron Man a great superhero film.
Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #427)