Hollywood took a big risk, casting actor Robert Downey, Jr., as the lead in its new mega-million-dollar superhero franchise, "Iron Man." But judging by the spectacular results at the box office ($104 million opening weekend), the gamble is paying off.
Several years ago, Downey was virtually uninsurable and unemployable as an actor, what with his chronic relapsing into drug rehab and prison. However, filmmaker Jon Favreau ("Elf," "Swingers") and his team of writers have wittily spun Downey's dysfunctional dark side into his character of genius-inventor-degeneratezillionaire arms merchant Tony Stark. As such, "Iron Man" becomes a lot more fun than the average special effects fest.
In fact, the film begins with Stark sipping a Scotch on the rocks inside an armored military vehicle as he is driven to a remote spot in Afghanistan where he demonstrates his most recent ballistic war weapon for the U.S. Army. Using rapid-fire Jeff Goldblumesque delivery, Downey is having great time playing off his wisecracking decadent image.
Moments after making a monster merchandising deal, Stark is ambushed by Taliban-type war lords. Awaking in a cave after a detonated bomb has nearly destroyed him, Stark finds himself equipped with a device designed to prevent shrapnel from infecting his heart, courtesy of a fellow captured scientist (Shaun Toub). The two are then ordered by the jihadists to build a state-of-the-art missile system using spare parts accumulated in the cave.
However, the clever Stark outwits his captors and making a Tin Woodsman Robocop outfit, instead. Also, it flies and shoots. Suited up, Stark merely walks out and, as bullets bounce off, he soars away over the desert.
Returning home to a hamburger and with a new mental attitude against the arms merchant business, Stark faces an enemy far worse than the Mid-East terrorists: His partner, Obadiah Shane (bald baddy Jeff Bridges), who has no interest in being a peacenik.
Helped by loyal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Air Force friend Rhodey (Terrence Howard), Stark constructs an updated Iron Man suit and begins doing the Superman thing.
Of course, Shane builds his evil version of the outfit, so the two can crash and clash in the standard "Transformer" video-game climax. But the actors are having such a fun time, it's infectious.
"Iron Man" is solid summer entertainment. As a franchise, it will make moocho money, as long as Downey stays off the dope.