Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jeff Bridges. Rated PG.
Although a buffet typically places the sweets at the end of the line, movie theatres serve their fluffiest delights right in the middle. Yes, it’s May: bring on the summer movies!
Whether you call them blockbusters, eye candy, or multilevel marketing franchises, most of us like good summer movies. All we ask is that they be fast-paced, well-shot, funny, and coherent, with interesting characters vividly performed amid innovative special effects. Is this too much to expect? Apparently so, because for every Spider-Man 2 that has freshness and heart, you seem to get a bunch of Spider-Man 3s that are tiresome, empty product.
Thanks to an exciting, Black Sabbath–accented trailer and the eccentric yet inarguably correct-feeling casting of Robert Downey Jr. as the candy-apple golem, Iron Man has been on the radar of summer-movie fans for months. So we probably all know that this movie is the story of how one Tony Stark underwent a physical and spiritual transformation from playboy war profiteer to flying vigilante.
How’d they do? Superbly. Downey Jr.’s Stark is a charming contradiction: impulsive engineer, suave geek, hedonistic idealist. An Irony Man, if you will. Director Jon Favreau creates an atmosphere that is suspenseful and somewhat adult, if not exactly naturalistic. The opening sequence, in which Stark is captured by a mujahideen-like troupe somewhere in Afghanistan, borrows from the visual language of Gulf War footage, culminating in a borderline-distasteful quote from Islamic execution videos.
The balance of the movie could be interpreted as a character study of a traumatized survivor, now obsessed with creating the ultimate protective shell. Or it could be called a bunch of Oscar-nominated heavyweight actors dressed up in robot suits and whaling on each other. Either way, it is a compelling summer movie.