The chemistry of Iron Man's cast, and the performance of Robert Downey Jr., cannot be overstated.
The story in Iron Man is fairly faithful to the comic book hero’s origins, which is always a risky move. With the notable exception of their bland mutant phenomenon, Marvel’s hero origins are not just laughable, they’re outright terminal when it comes to suspending disbelief. Radioactive spiders, nuclear blasts, cosmic sun lamps, you name it.
We’re treated to the idea that super-brain Tony Stark has been locked up by his captors (terrorists of some sort, although words like “Al Quaeda” or “Islamic Fundamentalists” are never mentioned). Tony's been given a sort of electronic pacemaker or artificial heart or some damn thing. Somehow he’s able to improvise a modern day suit or amour under the very noses of his captors and escape.
Even the A-Team would be envious.
The heart thing was always rather cute in the comics. It provided the character with a vulnerability, but it was too consciously cribbed from the Wizard Of Oz for my taste. However, in the film it’s not only cleverly reworked as an important plot device but makes for a scene between Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow that Entertainment Weekly quite rightly described as “very creepy but very romantic.”
For the heavy, Iron Man’s forgettable cast of original 60s and 70s villains are quite wisely jettisoned. Instead we get traditional Hollywood Heavyweight casting (Jeff Bridges, the Dude himself) to flesh out a rather weightless and expendable bad guy role.
The true conflict is between Tony Stark and Tony Stark. Add to that some fine comic lines and Downey’s pitch perfect readings, and you get a very entertaining movie, entirely on the level of X-Men 2 and Spider-man 2. Here’s hoping that Iron Man 2 continues the “better sequel” trend and gives us a truly great superhero movie, but I hear they're rushing ahead with it.