is a high-tech, well-polished, cult-following kind of Marvel Comic-based
series that is going to succeed mightily at the box office. It can
hardly miss. But would you still enjoy it even if you aren’t into comic-book
action heroes? Yes. Because it’s sufficiently complex in between
the CGI-enhanced action sequences.
Robert Downey, Jr. reprises his role as Tony Stark, the
engineer/business executive whose alter ego is “Iron Man,” because he’s
smart enough to have developed the technology himself for the flying suit that
makes him practically invulnerable.
Now, after a couple of highly-publicized triumphs over evil warlords,
everybody knows who Tony Stark is. He’s no longer incognito. And
he deals with his celebrity status unevenly. Sometimes he’s imperious
to people. Sometimes he uses the press/paparazzi to send his own
messages. Most of the time he hides out in his private laboratory,
working on improving the technology of his flying suit. The good news is
that he’s now able to get it to break up into pieces, travel over some
distance, and re-attach itself to him. Clever. And maybe useful.
The bad news is that all this time spent in the lab has begun to be a drag on
the relationship with his lovely girlfriend, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Besides all that, Iron Man is reminded that he’s still quite human on
the inside, because he’s developed a kind of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,
which manifests itself as anxiety attacks, because of his extreme struggle
with the last villain (and we’re glad to know that even superheroes are
vulnerable on the inside). So Tony Stark is kind of an emotional mess
right now, but there’s nothing like a clear and present enemy to spring him
back into action.
Actually, this particular enemy, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), is
someone whom Tony Stark snubbed several years before, and the vengeful Killian
has never forgotten it. Killian has developed a powerful, fiery method
of rapid tissue regeneration, which endows him with both superhuman strength
and near invulnerability, but with a zombie-soul side effect (kind of like
steroids on steroids). However, he’s too smart to just make threats in
person; he hires an actor (played memorably by Ben Kingsley) to play the part
of The Mandarin, who takes credit for random violence, and flaunts his
superiority on the mass media seized by Killian’s genius assistant, Maya
(Rebecca Hall), who also, it turns out, has been rejected by Tony Stark, so
she joins the personal vendetta team. And the plot even extends to a
palace revolt at the White House, in the promise of limb replacement for the
Vice President’s daughter. (Yes, it’s a little creepy, post-Boston
Marathon bombing, to see the poignant angle on instantly replacing missing
limbs. But who knew?)
Remember the dynamic in the old James Bond movies (and books), about our
hero, though captured, charming the enemy’s girlfriend, and thus getting a
leg up on the opposition, as it were? Well, this movie borrows that
gambit in spades, as both hero and enemy focus on the other’s girlfriend,
but neither is exactly a helpless showgirl. Both are forces to be
reckoned with in their own right. Very 21st century.
But the real endearing aspect of this movie is the complex character of
Tony Stark, and how Robert Downey, Jr. plays it: wisecracking, yes,
self-absorbed, certainly, but when he makes mistakes, he apologizes sincerely
for them. When things don’t go according to plan (which is often), he
improvises, and adjusts, and adapts. And he never gives up.
Downey’s acting skill lends an air of tongue-in-cheek self-parody that not
only makes the action hero cheesiness bearable, but even downright fun.
Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas