So what do you expect from a big summer superhero action movie, of which this is the first of 2008? Action, of course, but you might also wish for wit, an appealing character or two, some funny situations and some real ones (just to set off the unreal stuff that’s bound to happen in a comic book movie), an intelligent script (within the limits of the genre), and maybe even some attention paid to science and engineering. That it will be fast and dazzling with CGI-SFX is a given these days … but will it show you something original, something cool, something that makes your jaw drop?
This movie delivers on all counts. First, casting laid-back smart-ass Robert Downey Jr. was a stroke of genius, as he can take the smart-ass lines and give them his own personal, droll delivery. (Man, I sure hope he has his drug problem under control.) There is an appealing, understated and never-consummated romance between Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow (who I adore) as his assistant, Pepper Potts. There are three different Iron Man suits, and a lot of very funny stuff about learning to use them. Many of the problems inherent in such a crazy device are at least addressed. Even the climactic final battle, where many superhero movies bore me, was well done. This one is a keeper.
Robert A. Heinlein, in Starship Troopers, beat Stan Lee to the idea of a powered suit by a few years, but so what? Heinlein beat everybody to a lot of things. The chief problem with such a thing is, of course, power. The best flying suits we’ve ever developed are good for about 30 seconds, and crash a lot. They are unlikely to get any better in the next century or two. As for weapons, Heinlein’s Mobile Infantry used everything up to and including small nukes. I can’t recall what power source Heinlein used, probably something nuclear. Iron Man at least pays attention to this problem, and solves it in the traditional SF way: It cheats. It makes up a gobbledygook power source. Again, no problemo, homey. My last three books have involved even worse cheats. You get one big cheat per book, that’s a basic rule of SF.
Look for Stan Lee as Tony Stark is entering the Disney Center. He’s standing with three stunning women, back to the camera, wearing a maroon smoking jacket. Tony pats him on the shoulder and say something like “How you doing, Hef?”
If only the rest of this summer is this good … in particular, the new Indiana Jones movie.