Alternate title: The Futurist. (Totally pretentious, worth a listen.)
So much has changed since my days with Robert Downey, Jr. and James Spader at the Chateau Marmont. (Good times.) While I'm still building my legend, Spader's become an Emmy-winning liberal superhero of the law on Boston Legal, and Downey's taking his mightiness quite literally these days: he IS Iron Man.
This is a clear case of having the right actor in the right role at the right time. It's not a stretch to picture Downey as billionaire playboy and technical wizard, more pleased with tinkering in his lab and leaving corporate matters to his late father's partner (Jeff Bridges). His skill in weapons manufacture has brought him both success and isolation; he works at home and only interacts with his loyal assistant (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his close friend in the military (Terrence Howard). When he learns the truth about how his technology also helps his enemies, he grows a conscience.
The cast is in good form. Bridges' best work is probably behind him, but there's a certain amount of nonchalance and underacting that I appreciated here. (The Dude still abides.) Howard is not given that much to do -- part of the plot requires him to stay out of the loop -- but you get the feeling that his importance could grow in time. And as is common with superhero films, the heroine is the weak link, but Paltrow does well enough in her steely Girl Friday role to appear worthy of acting opposite Downey.
The film itself delivers as well; it's ambitious, but not overly so. There's a satisfying origin story that takes its time but provides sufficient humor and action. And the central conflict is, well, local in nature, so that director Jon Favreau can let loose in the inevitable (and welcome) sequel.