For about 80 minutes, Iron Man is clearly the best comic book adaptation ever made. Sharp and witty, allowing for Robert Downey Jr. to give a completely freewheeling and simultaneously arrogant and self-deprecating performance, the movie makes fun of the dumb clichés inherent in these origin films, and makes it about the people and not so much the suits, Iron or not, that they hide behind.
Director Jon Favreau excels at these types of aversion of expectation scenes (there’s even a very stretched out MacGyveresque scene where Downey builds a weapon inside a hidden cave in Afghanistan) it was true in his Made, Elf, and especially Zathura. But when he’s required to fulfill the standard genre obligations, his heart simply isn’t in it, and we get left with a bunch of CGI robots fighting each other.
This didn’t work in Transformers, which even had far superior special effects (Iron Man‘s are a bit fuzzy and ill defined), and it doesn’t work here, as the Iron Man resembles a clunkier combination of Robocop and The Rocketeer. A bunch of metal clanging against another bunch of metal may sound good in theory, especially appealing to the pre-pubescent boy inside all of us, but despite the worthy examples of a film like Robot Jox, unless we can actually see the people behind the scenes or inside the suit, it is totally impersonal and boring.
It is unfortunate that what was initially thrilling and funny in Iron Man, with Downey riffing and basically having conversations with himself, even when he’s talking to other people, boils down to Downey battling against his second in command at his weapons company, played by the perpetually cotton mouthed Jeff Bridges (who has been made up to look like Rob Reiner). A note to all filmmakers; don’t have your villain be bald if you want the revelation of his evil to be a surprise.