Movie News & Reviews

Downey, Jr., Iron Man good as gold

The brilliance of recent superhero movies has been in linkingtalented, off-beat directors with an equally talented cast -- in otherwords, treating them as serious movies rather than Atrocious PunDelivery Systems (a registered trademark of Joel SchumacherProductions).

Casting Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man's hard-drinkingwomanizer who fights crime as a robot sounds like something from afantasy-land where every movie is perfect and comes with a free puppy.

Movies aren't supposed to have that kind of potential. Like life,they're supposed to be about fumbling opportunities and leaving yourcustomers muttering in a darkened room about how they just wasted ninebucks.

In Iron Man, Downey, Jr. is the chief owner and engineer ofStark Industries, a cutting-edge weapons manufacturer that sells armsacross the world. His smarts have kept him rich, but it's hishedonistic charm that's made him a celebrity.

While demonstrating a new missile in Afghanistan, his convoy isattacked. He's taken prisoner by a local warlord and tasked withbuilding them the missile he was set to sell to the U.S. army.

Instead, he starts a different project: an armored suit he can use toblast his way out of captivity.

The escape costs the life of friend and fellow prisoner Shaun Toub.Faced with the harsh reality of just who his arms are being sold to,Downey, Jr. sets a new course for his life: he shuts down hiscompany's weapons division, raising the eyebrows of business partnerJeff Bridges, and begins the secret construction of an upgraded suithe'll use to battle the brutal warlords of the world.

Origin stories can be tough to pull off -- you've got to introduce allkinds of characters, set up a world in need of a hero, and thentransform a normal guy into that hero -- but Iron Man lives up toits potential right and left. Like Johnny Depp in The Pirates ofthe Caribbean, Downey, Jr. could have single-handedly carriedthings even if he weren't helped by a strong cast (including Bridges,Gwyneth Paltrow, and Terrence Howard), lively direction, and a solidscript by Children of Men co-writers Mark Fergus and HawkOstby.

Director Jon Favreau might be forever known as the dude whodid Swingers, but here, he shows a strong hand for physicalcomedy and eyeball-blisteringly cool action.

Favreau also finds a way to marry outlandish comic book concepts tothe real world in a way that makes Iron Man feel less like atotal outlandish fantasy and more like a slightly awesomer universethan our own. The long period in which Downey, Jr. perfects his suitcould have been trimmed in favor of more scenes where Iron Man puncheschumps through walls.

On the other hand, Downey, Jr., Favreau, and an overeager fire-dousingrobot combine to make it very, very funny, and the small details ofthe construction of Downey, Jr.'s suit make it convincing. IronMan is going to age well, and a lot of that will be because itspends as much time on the process of becoming a superhero as it doeson that superhero handing out complimentary beatdowns.

If there is a chink in Iron Man's mighty armor, it's that itcan't quite compete with the pure spectacle of, say, the Spider-Man movies. Does it make sense to say I liked the wayIron Man was more down to earth than its genre brothers, but Iwish it had more utterly impossible action setpieces? Is it OK todo that?

Well, too bad, because I just typed it, and I'm too decisive a man touse a crutch like the delete key. What's done is done. It's time tomove forward, united as a viewing audience, and remember what'simportant: that Iron Man makes Downey, Jr. look both largerthan life and vulnerably human, and Downey, Jr. makes Iron Manhilariously funny. A post-credits scene promises a sequel. I'll bewaiting.

Grade: A-