Iron Man
Directed by Jon Favreau (PG-13)

A reformed arms manufacturer builds a robotic suit.


“There’s no rust on this baby,” said Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. Iron Man, the latest film based on a Marvel comic-book character and the first produced by newly formed Marvel Studios, “kicks off summer on a blazing high note.” It’s been quite a while since a blockbuster as expensive as this one thrilled audiences the way it was meant to. Spider-Man 3 was a letdown, Transformers a migraine-inducing bore. But this superhero flick, enlivened with a genius cast and a ripped-from-the-headlines central conflict, proves emotionally gripping as well as entertaining.

Director Jon Favreau leavens the candy-colored escapism with gritty realism, said David Edelstein in New York. So much of the first half of the film is set in Afghanistan that “you’d think you were watching a military thriller.” Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is the playboy CEO of America’s biggest weapons-manufacturing company. After showing off a top-secret weapon during a trip to Afghanistan, he is kidnapped by insurgents, who direct him to build them their own missile system. Instead, he builds an armored exoskeleton, which he uses to escape and blast off to freedom.

Stark returns home with a conscience and a brand-new agenda—to rid the world of his company’s own weapons, said Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune. Neither preachy nor watered-down, Iron Man is “the right kind of conflicted,” presenting a complex view of good and evil during wartime.

Iron Man also never gets so deep into politics that it forgets to have fun, said Bill Zwecker in the Chicago Sun-Times. Jeff Bridges is “deliciously evil” as the bald villain trying to derail Stark’s plans, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s a cheerful romantic foil as Stark’s leggy assistant Pepper Potts. “But in the end, it all comes down to Downey, who’s having a ball with this role.” At 43, he’s still young enough to land superhero parts, but his crow’s feet and worldly persona bring intelligence to a genre recently dominated by teens in tights.