On the Aisle, By Tony Macklin

“Iron Man” is an appealing superhero movie. It’s also clunky. It’s welded together out of disparate pieces that clank and ping. Though at times it’s leaden, “Iron Man” also has enough moments of pizazz to intermittently soar.

“Iron Man” is the tale of powerhouse industralist/inventor/arms dealer Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), who also is a hedonistic playboy. Stark goes to an Arabian desert to witness the test of a weapon he has designed and his company has maufactured.

On his way back from the successful test, Tony is blown up and imprisoned by evil Arabs, who demand that he construct a weapon for them. He has other plans. Needless to say, they involve explosions. They also involve an iron man.

When he finally gets back to the states, Tony is a new man — literally and figuratively. He decides to run his company for peaceful purposes. Obviously that does not get the approval of everyone. So Tony has to fight for his new vision.

The most positive element of the movie is the acting. One of the best performances is Downey and his shiny alter ego. But even better is Gwyneth Paltrow, who is fresh and lovable as Starks’s loyal assistant, Pepper Potts. Pepper is a worthy equivalent to Bruce Wayne’s Alfred and Britt Reid’s Kato.

The supporting cast is able, especially Terrence Howard as Stark’s good-natured, military buddy Rhodey and Jeff Bridges as Stark’s sly and cagy business
partner Obadiah Stane.

Of interest may be two minor roles. Director Jon Favreau plays Tony’s driver, and Marvel Comics maven Stan Lee has a very brief cameo as a Hugh Hefner type.

A lot has been made of Downey’s actual redemption from a drug-riddled past to active actor. The reviews of his performance have glowed like burnished reflections off Iron Man’s surface. But “Iron Man” dumbs down Downey. How much can an actor do constricted in a metal suit? Look fierce, Robert.

In the role of Tony Stark, Downey acquits himself well. He is brash, witty and personable as the reprobate who visits Oz and grows a conscience. But it’s not exactly a role with a lot of dimension.

Downey can be a brilliant actor — he was a supercomedian in “Chaplin” (1992) and a superdetective in “The Singing Detective” (2003). Now he’s a superhero. It is not a step up.

The quality of one’s acting career does not get defined by playing a superhero. It is much more possible for a great actor to be defined by playing a villain. Jack Nicholson as The Joker in “Batman” (1989) and Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector in “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) had their reputations boosted by brilliantly portraying villains. A superhero does not provide the same cachet.

One problem with the movie is that it is episodic — it jumps around helter-skelter and changes villains. When Iron Man and his ultimate foe battle at the end, Iron Man’s enemy hasn’t earned enough villain cred. The bad guy is no Lex Luthor or Green Goblin.

Director Favreau must have been a wiz in shop class, because he loves scenes of welding and nuts and bolts. We surely get a lot of attention paid to Tony’s working on his armor.

Favreau, who directed the pleasant “Elf” (2003), is less in control of big scenes. His action sequences are just a lot of noise and flash. One telltale negative is that the screenplay for “Iron Man” is credited to four writers. Maybe the lengthy scenes of Tony’s working on his outre outfit were to allow the writers to try to finish the script. Favreau and company try to make metal-working interesting, but a hero and an actor encased in a metal suit can only go so far.

Get a cape, Iron Man.

Categories: Entertainment