Simply put, this is the best superhero movie ever.
I realized, watching this story of a self-obsessed super-rich genius, that the problem with most superheroes is that they’re completely egotistical. Most can do things no one else can, so there’s some justification for it, but all believe that they’re above the law and a force unto themselves. Iron Man brings that superhuman approach down to the realistic level, because its lead character has always been that way, and so there’s much less distinction between the two “identities”.
Who else but Robert Downey, Jr. could play Tony Stark? His charm stays the right side of obnoxious, you believe him as a hard-living playboy, and his self-possession is very sexy. (The mustache and goatee are elegantly devilish, and the man is incredibly good-looking.) He’s also excellent at the humor that makes this so entertaining — when he, surprised in a compromising situation by Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), says something to the effect of “Let’s be honest, this isn’t the worst thing you’ve caught me doing,” it’s hilarious (and the mind reels). Some of my favorite bits were during the test sequences, when he keeps smashing himself into the walls.
The special effects are astounding, and this is the first film (yes, even counting Superman) to perfectly capture what must be the sheer exhilaration of self-powered flight. I did have some quibbles — that must be amazingly padded armor, to have him take some of those crashes without breaking any bones. And I couldn’t believe that no one ever made him go see a proper doctor, or that everyone was so blase’ that he now effectively had a nuclear reactor implanted in his chest. But my “wait a minute” moments were quickly superseded by the sheer wonder at what I was seeing.
Yes, there are only two women in the film (not counting a brief but funny early scene that’s there just to show how much of a hound dog Stark is), the loyal assistant and the pushy reporter (Leslie Bibb). Both are well-trodden paths, both bring little new to the screen (except, apparently, a new fashion trend for 7! inch heels). Both at least contribute some small necessity to the plot, even if too often they’re simple devices. Unfortunately, that’s also part of the genre.
I also wasn’t impressed by Rhodey, played by Terrence Howard. I know stiff and official was part of the character, but I didn’t get much sense of any person beyond that, although he was pretty to look at. Jeff Bridges, as Obidiah Stane (whom I’d never heard of before) had this bushy beard balancing out a huge bald cranium! Apparently he is from the comics and that is a faithful look to the character. It’s definitely distinctive, and Bridges is excellent as well. I did love that director Jon Favreau also played Hogan the chauffeur, in a couple of brief scenes. And I liked the agent I’m going to call Jasper, who sets up the potential of the Marvel universe but doesn’t get in the way.
At the end of the movie, as the credits rolled, I immediately wanted more. (First truly surprising ending in a LONG while, although perfectly in keeping with the character.) I was immensely curious to see what happened next. Since that’s not possible, I’m going to see it again tomorrow. At that point, I’ll probably think more closely about the politics — right now, I’m left with the idea that making weapons is bad only if the bad guys buy them when you don’t want them to. The message is muddled, but that’s not really the focus. It’s one guy’s coming-of-age (at a welcome middle age) story, without much consideration to the bigger picture, although it’s definitely more powerful for the setting to be of today, with Middle Eastern warlords hiding in caves.
Mostly, I liked that, while there was plenty of action, the character and his motivations and growth came first. The story had a definite emotional arc, which made the movie even more satisfying. And they did a great job keeping the focus on the man inside the suit. Surprisingly, Tony Stark has replaced Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in my affections.
Oh, there’s one more reason why I liked it: it seemed so modern and real. As I left the theater, I got into my electrically powered Prius with its display screen and back-up camera. I picked up my smartphone, which gives me internet access anywhere, and I felt a certain kinship with a superhero who talks on his cellphone while ducking fighter jets.