This Marvel Comix-based big screen adventure is not just for 15-year-old males. Brooding, smart, crisp, astonishing and edgy — that’s Iron Man, and its star Robert Downey Jr. who pretty much owns the screen from the scorching opening in war-torn Afghanistan to the final delightful shot. I repeat, Iron Man is a thinking woman’s gloss on at least three Greek myths, one or two Freudian complexes and the age-old battle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.
Value-added for film buffs, Iron Man looks sensational, and serves up an orgy of visual quotes from Metropolis, Aliens, Gattaca, as well as reframing both the tale of Icarus and Plato’s myth of the cave.
As a Blakean flawed genius, Downey works his way into the short list of great American actors. (I know you’re thinking I have slipped a cog here. It’s a marvel Comix industrial design heavy metal flick — but Downey rockets Iron Man way out of the mere fantasy hormone genre.)
Muscular, graceful and charismatically weary, Downey builds on the tight, searing performance he gave in Zodiac, modulating his role as spoiled munitions billionaire Tony Stark into an existential character with energy to burn and a believably redemptive mission. Throwing his body, and an encyclopedic array of facial responses into the role, Downey pretty much doesn’t care how much of his own addictive suffering he reveals. Every nuance goes into powering his character through a mesmerizing transformation, with help from the most astonishing arsenal of techno-artistry (think Boccioni on cyber-steroids) yet seen on the screen.
Cast as Stark’s entrepreneurial mentor, Jeff Bridges struts his delicious stuff and even the blandly pretty Gwyneth Paltrow seems just right in the Moneypenny role of faithful, ultra-competent “girl Friday.”
I just can’t find anything not to like about this film. It moves, it’s gifted with a script committed to smart, rather than heroic-generic. Downey’s presence gives it total street cred, and cinematic credibility. Watching him move, his eyes blazing with intelligence, his body riddled with a variety of high-tech assaults, we’re watching the heir to James Dean, the young DiNiro and what Sean Penn with less ego might have been. At the end of Iron Man all I could think about was Downey in his next major film role.