Iron Man (Jon Favreau, 2008)
Robert Downey Jr. seems to be the most unlikely actor to play a superhero. Let's face it, he isn't the type of actor who can bring in hordes of teenagers to fall in line, and spend their money for a movie. He also isn't the type of actor you'd take seriously wearing candy-colored spandex or in this case, a full body armor made of metal. However, he seems to be that prime ingredient that made watching Jon Favreau cinematic version of Marvel Comics' Iron Man such a fun although uneven experience.
Downey absolutely knows the character he is playing, a multi-billionaire weapons maker who suddenly quits the business to invest his money, intelligence, and everything else to a noble cause, is downright silly. There's not a whiff of seriousness in his acting, and that absolute freedom from the constraining respect and reverence for the source material is what makes Downey so watchable here. Right from the beginning wherein he breaks a few militarymen from silence and tension by a political retort, Downey makes it clear that this superhero movie will not be featuring much superhero sashaying the skies throught the power of CGI, but more in-character Downey.
As the heart (although powered by an apple-sized reactor) of the film, Downey's Tony Stark is an engrossingly interesting superhero-in-waiting. Part whiz-kid, part playboy, part irresponsible capitalist, and part goof, Stark is precisely the role that Downey would've handled perfectly. Stark's high-low social skills are grounded by Gwyneth Paltrow whose turn as the unintentionally naive Pepper Potts is near perfect in an awkwardly amenable way. Jeff Bridges' overly antagonistic Obadiah Stane feels like the rightful opponent to Stark's newfound humanism. He's an apt representation of everything that's wrong with Corporate America --- burly, bearded, rotten to the core, but graceful, charming and utterly wily.
It is a comforting notion for this viewer who has ever since the eruption of the superhero movie craze becamse wary of the fakeness of Hollywood's franchise-making endeavor, that Iron Man, while still maintaining its comic book roots, is much more grounded on the reality of this world's present state than the escapist romantic notions or the megalomaniac threats for world domination of the typical superhero movie. The comic book is flexible enough to fit in any period of history (Cold War, Gulf War, War on Terrorism; which makes you think the world sadly hasn't changed much for the past few decades), and Favreau and his team of writers extract the basic storyline and concepts of the original comic to fit into the present mindset, quite effectively at that because it succeeds without being overtly or preachingly political.
Iron Man is most definitely not the best comic book movie out there (Sam Raimi's Spider-Man flicks were wildly enjoyable; Bryan Singer's X-Men 2 was engrossing and pertinent; Tim Burton's contributions to the Batman lore can be described as masterpieces of the genre), but it's inaccurate to call it disappointing since it delivered precisely what it promised (entertainment that is exactly worth the money you shelled out, nothing more). If only the rest of Hollywood's summer offerings would have the same humanistic attitude of economic fairness, then I'd be one content consumer of junk; but realistically speaking, that's wishful thinking.