Stark Contrast

Movie •••• Picture •••• Sound •••• Extras ••••½

Apart from nailing the tone and look of the classic comic books (something you'd expect from a Marvel flick), Iron Man has something that most other superhero movies sorely lack: charm.

Part of this comes from Tony Stark, the man beneath the armor. Being a self-made billionaire and a genius inventor, he doesn't take anyone or anything beyond his work too seriously, which helps make for a fascinating character. And if you want an actor with enough charisma and talent to pull off such a mix of dedicated, intense-focus smarts and bad-boy rock-star flamboyance, you couldn't do better than Robert Downey, Jr. It's grand to have the old Downey back, complete with all the mercurial wildman creativity that got suppressed when he was proving himself sober and responsible. While looking every bit the handsome, confident ladykiller, he brings to the role the fun-loving, motormouth pickup-artist who wins everyone over with witty but self-deprecating humor.

Director Jon Favreau knows how to charge the 2.35:1 screen with horizontal flying forms and well-composed backgrounds, and they all look vivid on this bright and colorful Blu-ray Disc. Pattern elements in the loud-striped pajamas of villain Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) are distinct and don't bleed, while the corporate suits worn by Tony's assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), are deeply black.

At the same time, faces are well textured, and there's enough detail in the picture to see all the surfaces of Iron Man's various outfits, the rough with the smooth - although sadly, not enough detail to give them three-dimensional roundness.

In the well-balanced Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, the surround channels are always filled with accurately placed atmospherics, from desert noises and applauding crowds to bullets bouncing all around during a firefight. In fact, the whole soundtrack, including dialogue and the hard-rock score, is crisp, clear, and open, featuring some impressively roaring jets and bassy explosions.

Extras on this two-disc Ultimate Edition are excellent. In an enjoyable 50-minute documentary on the history of the Iron Man mythology, co-creator Stan Lee and various other comic-book writers and artists go into the origins and evolution of the character. Nearly 3 hours of featurettes nicely cover the production, and interactive models allow you to zoom in on and rotate around the various Iron Man suits and gadgets. You also get 25 minutes of extended and deleted scenes, all of them well worth watching, and Downey's screen tests further demonstrate the range of his talents.