Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard
When Iron Man’s iconic outfit first goes under the mallet, it is in a gloomy prison, in a gloomy cave, with scraps of leftover metal. Similarly, the Iron Man persona is pieced together from spare parts of more successful caped men. Playboy arms dealer Tony Stark is the sunny-sided version of Batman’s brooding Bruce Wayne. His bulletproof armor probably required Superman to sign a legal waiver. Not to mention his ability to fly. (His glowing heart, meanwhile, conjures memories of Neil Diamond’s E.T. tribute “Heart Light.” Yeah, thanks for that.) In terms of being a weak imitation, the film version of Iron Man follows suit (presumably one made of red-and-gold titanium). Batman Begins draws a hero of darkness and complication. Bryan Singer’s Superman allows us an alienated savior, a man who can save the world but cannot fully participate in it. Despite some mild stabs at a darker, deeper vision, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man possesses little of that sophistication. That’s my hopefully not-too-unkind way of calling this a derivative story for a derivative superhero. While Iron Man has plenty of decent, it seldom feels special. That might consign Iron Man to the scrap heap of popcorn cinema, if it were not for one fit of inspiration – the radical lunacy of selecting Robert Downey Jr. to play a superhero. Our favorite intelligently maniacal ad-libber brings his own show tent. That’s good news here, as the modest script begs for a furious performance. That’s why
Things pick up as Stark completes his fully-operational battle station of a uniform. Soon, he’s flying. He’s fighting. He’s gleefully dodging fighter planes and whacking the bad guys. At first, his efforts and missile systems aim for the dastardly terrorists who captured him. Later, he will duel his duplicitous business partner (Jeff Bridges), in a Transformers-esque smash-up, along the highways and skyways of
As superheroes go, Iron Man feels disappointingly non-mythical. That feeling is compounding by the film’s lackluster visual style. The world of a superhero should be custom-painted to its character. It should feel like walking in his psyche. Director Favreau produces no such creativity. Not that there is much of a psyche to work with.
And yet much of this is saved by