Iron Man is such an absolutely perfect adaptation of a comic book that it will make you spitting mad at all those studios who got it wrong.
Director Jon Favreau captures in one movie everything that ever made Iron Man good, from Tales of Suspense #39 ("He lives! He walks! He conquers!") right through to the Tony Stark of The Ultimates and Civil War. The love for the charater oozes from every frame and comes through in every line of dialogue; this is an iconic and authoritative interpretation of Iron Man that will endear itself to comic fans and the general public alike.
Robert Downey Jr plays Tony Stark, playboy, millionaire, and head of Stark Enterprises, a major weapons manufacturer. While touring Afghanistan to demonstrate his new missile system, Stark is wounded by his own weapons captured by the terrorist cell The Ten Rings, who attempt to force him to duplicate his lethal missiles. What he builds instead is Iron Man, a suit of battle armour with which he defeats his captors and escapes back to America.
Upon his return, Stark vows to stop his company's manufacturing of weapons, but is opposed by childhood mentor Obadiah Staines (Jeff Bridges), who intends to replicate the Iron Man armour and sell it to the Ten Rings. With the aid of friend Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) and secretary "Pepper" Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Stark develops a next-generation Iron Man suit and confronts Staines, now become the Ironmonger, in a final showdown.
Robert Downey Jr is unspeakably excellent as Tony Stark, a performance enabled by the script's fantastic characterisation and dialogue. You get the impression that you'd be happy to watch an entire movie about this guy even if he never once stepped near a suit of flying battle armour. Paltrow is likewise strong as Potts. Jim Rhodes and the Ironmonger are not quite so instantly enjoyable but they get by on the strength of the rest of the film.
One of the film's key successes is its tech fetishism. This is a story about tech geeks. Whether it's the villain riding on a segue, or Tony Stark testing his Iron Man suit in his car park, the film constantly makes it clear that these are people who are on a first-name basis with cutting-edge technology, and who do what they do because engineering is cool. With the exception of a rather awkward scene involving Pepper Potts and a computer, the sci-fi tech is a credible extrapolation of current military hardware and civilian consumer trends. You will believe that it could be built.
The first half of the movie, detailing Iron Man's origin story, is absolutely flawless. There is not a single element to criticise from the opening scenes through to Stark's escape from the Ten Rings.
The second half is a little weaker, mostly arising from problems with the Obadiah Staines character. Staines' master plan is never really fleshed out, and the character goes from ruthless businessman to violent psychopath without any real reason or motivation. The final fight between Stark and Staines also has an unsatisfactory conclusion, and throughout that sequence the film has the regular problem of superhero movies, which is that masks don't show emotion.
Still, the movie ends on a high note that will leave you cheering, and if you sit through the credits you'll get to see Samuel L Jackson playing Nick Fury, which is worth cheering about all over again.
This is easily one of the best superhero movies ever made, going right up there with Batman Begins and whichever one of the first two Spider-Man films is your favourite. It's also probably among the best films of this year, which is impressive considering the strong company it's already in. Don't miss this at the cinema - see it at your earliest opportunity.