Finally, a superhero movie whose hero is a) not a superhero, and b) very witty. It's "Iron Man," and if you think he's going to morph into some clanking ubermensch, well, he's clanking all right as he builds himself an iron suit (think medieval armor) in his first try, but after that he relies on titanium and carbon fibers and whatever people like that think of.
The best thing about "Iron Man" is that he's played by Robert Downey Jr., that wonderfully underrated actor whose sly wit has rarely been allowed out in his career. Here, though, directed by Jon Favreau, who knows how to play comedy without bludgeoning us to death with it, he takes a comic book format and turns it into a very good evening's entertainment.
Downey is Tony Stark, the scion of an arms-making company that's a great favorite of the Defense Department. It was started by his legendary father; we see Tony first at a demonstration of his new weapon to the combined U.S. forces in Afghanistan, where he blows up a whole mountainside. Then, driving away in an armored vehicle and sipping a drink while making time with his female driver, the car is blown up and he's captured by insurgents. But the shrapnel has come close to his heart, and thanks to another captured scientist in the cave (this is a comic book, remember), a strong electromagnet is attached to his chest that will keep the pieces from puncturing his heart. And, of course, if that electromagnet is somehow turned off or removed, well... And now, to escape the cave, he creates his first Iron Man costume and is soon back in his Malibu mansion, where his loyal, discreet and charming secretary Pepper Potts (nicely played by Gwyneth Paltrow) is waiting for him, along with his Army friend Terrence Howard.
Okay, that's a lot, but we've hardly begun, because Tony's partner Obediah Stane (Jeff Bridges), who used to be his father's partner, is turning out to be something other than trustworthy - but let's not go there. The important thing is that Tony, electromagnet and all, now realizes that he must do good with his talent.
Does this have a happy ending? Was the Pope once a Nazi? Of course, but the nice thing about "Iron Man" is that it doesn't take itself seriously. Downey is the same delightful character from beginning to end, Paltrow makes Pepper Pott much more than we would expect from the cliche of a secretary, and the film ends with a nice surprise. All in all, an early but very good start to the summer.