Despite being one of the unlikeliest actors in Hollywood to headline a comic-book franchise, Robert Downey Jr.'s hiring for "Iron Man" turns out to be pitch-perfect casting. He plays Tony Stark, a ridiculously wealthy industrialist, as arrogant as he is capitalist, who somehow manages to bank billions in the high-tech weaponry game when he's not downing drinks or wooing loose women.
Stark gets one big wake-up call while in Afghanistan selling his latest arms system: He's kidnapped by terrorists who want him to build them super-weapons. Stark agrees, but instead makes himself a massive suit of bulletproof armor, jerry-rigged with flamethrowers and rockets utilizing his built-in power source so he can get the hell out of there.
Safely back home, Stark has a change of heart about how his company makes money, and becomes a weapon himself for the good of all humanity.
While Jon Favreau's film doesn't have the gravitas of "Spider-Man 2" or "X2," it does have a full-blown firecracker of a performance in Downey. As hard as it was to imagine him in the movie beforehand, it's now harder to imagine the movie without him. Like it or not, he's instantly and indelibly linked to it.
Special effects are a given in films like this, to the point where they no longer merit attention (perhaps this is why the compulsory confrontation between Stark and Stane stands as the flick's least interesting bit). But when your movie has a character as charismatic as Downey makes him, special effects are entirely secondary.