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Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Robert Downey Jr (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Jeff Bridges (Obadiah Stane), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts)

Jon Favreau’s Iron Man is a brilliant piece of design. It bolts together a sardonic script, some adrenalised effects work, a fanboy-pleasing fidelity to its source material and, crucially, a star turn so blindingly charismatic that you suspect mass hypnosis may be at work. Robert Downey Jr wants our credit card details? Not a problem…

It’s one of the smartest, most on-the-money casting choices in superhero cinema. As cocksure industrialist Tony Stark – “constitutionally incapable of being responsible” – Downey Jr’s natural charm even makes a spot of Burger King product placement seem somehow loveable.

We’re able to appreciate Stark in the way we’re not allowed to enjoy Bond anymore: soundtracked by swinging caper music, he dispenses smirking comebacks while bedding anything with a heartbeat and a Malibu zipcode. You can only shudder at the thought of one-time Stark contender Tom Cruise in the same role.

This was the first film from the newly independent Marvel Studios, and Downey Jr’s presence is just one of several decisions influenced by sound creative sense rather than demographic flipcharts. The movie feels like part of the Marvel universe – sure, Iron Man’s ’Nam-era origin is necessarily reworked for the post-9/11 period, but the film retains the essential, familiar beats. The appearance of the clanking mark one suit is a particularly beautiful valentine to fans of the Silver Age.

There are some faultlines in the armour, though. Stark becomes a considerably less watchable character after choosing the side of the angels and, all techno-fetishistic dazzle aside, the plot’s perilously thin – when an exo-suited Jeff Bridges bellows “I built this company up from nothing!” while kicking seven shades of rust out of Iron Man, you do wonder if corporate takeover is really the province of supervillains.

But you forgive such quibbles for all the right moves that this movie makes. From Iron Man’s spellbinding aerial tussle with F22 Raptors to that sneaky Sam Jackson cameo, this comes close to being the perfect machine of superhero cinema. Though, we’ve gotta admit here on SFX, we were still surprised it knockedSuperman The Movie into third.

       

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