Lego bricks from 1958 still interlock with those made in 2010.
Iron Man has something most of the recent spate of Marvel comic movie adaptations do not, and it isn't the power plant in Tony Stark's chest.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), a former boy-genius, has built his late father's arms manufacturing business into an empire. He and his father's partner, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), sell sophisticated weapons to the US military for use in foreign theaters, ostensibly as peace keepers, although Stark couldn't care less what his weapons are used for.
While demonstrating a new missile system in Afghanistan, Stark's convoy is attacked. When he awakens, Stark find that an electromagnet powered by a car battery has been implanted in his chest to keep shrapnel from entering his heart. His captors are terrorists who want him to build his missile for them. Confined in a cave and given little more than scrap metal and a blow torch, Stark instead builds a super generator to replace the car battery and magnet, and uses it to power a crude but powerful suit of armor which he uses to escape captivity.
Back in the US, Stark refines his suit design. When he learns that his company's weapons are being used to kill innocent people, he discovers his conscience, dons his suit, and takes on the role of super hero.
The climax comes when Stark realizes that his partner, Stane, is the one that betrayed him to the terrorists and who has been selling weapons to both sides. Unfortunately, Stane now has his own suit of armor and, as Iron Monger, is even more powerful than Iron Man.
Oh, by the way, there's a hint of romance -- not at all overdone -- between Stark and his assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). But it's almost incidental to the plot.
A few things are wrong with the story.
Stark's transformation from egocentricity to self-sacrifice is too quick. Sure, he made and lost a friend while held captive by the terrorists, but that doesn't seem quite sufficient. He finds out that his weapons are being used to kill innocent civilians, but he must have known that before. When have innocents ever escaped the ravages of war?
Implausible transformations aside, Iron Man does benefit from flawed characters. Given a little more time we could really grow to hate Tony Stark before his enlightenment. And afterward, while he still has his faults, we're ready to root for him.
A good part of this is due to Downey's acting, an excellent although unlikely choice to play a super hero. Paltrow makes a very appealing love interest and predictable heroine in distress. Bridges is well-placed as the bad guy, although he plays the roll a little over the top once he becomes Iron Monger. The special effects are well done, what we've come to expect from this genre. There's also just the right amount of humor, especially in Stark's interaction with the robot assistants in his lab.
Watch the credits right to the end. There's a neat little lead-in to the sequel that's already been announced and that is due out in 2010.
We said that Iron Man has something most of its recent predecessors don't. But it isn't one single defining quality. Instead it's the combination of good acting, well-developed sympathetic characters, and an interesting plot. It's a great achievement for Marvel Studios as its first wholly independent film.
Nothing life-changing, but a good diversion nonetheless.
Random Notions rating: 4 out of 5