'It could've been worse," my friend told me when we got in the car after seeing "Iron Man," the first summer blockbuster out the gate. And there you go, ladies and gents.
When my friend, who is much more of a fan of the Marvel comic book than I am, can barely hustle across-the-board enthusiasm for the flick, you realize what you're dealing with here. But, I swear to you, it's not Robert Downey Jr.'s fault.
Cocksure and flippant, the kind of cat who can suavely, casually tell a gal, "Sure don't!" when she asks if he remembers her, Downey seems so tailor-made for the role as playboy arms industrialist Tony Stark that it's surprising to keep hearing how he had to fight to get the role.
If you don't know the story, Stark becomes a DIY superhero when he gets held hostage by Afghan terrorists and is forced to build a missile with his own weaponry. Instead, he builds his suit of mega-armor, breaks out and comes back to the States a changed man, opting to become a supercharged, international crimefighter instead of a lord of war.
It isn't that "Iron" gets things about the comic book wrong. The script (written by "Children of Men" writers Hawk Ostby and Mark Fergus, among others) throws many mythology nuggets for the hard-core fanboys to chew on. It's just that, for a movie about a sleek, state-of-the-art superhero, "Iron" certainly has a visual rustiness to it.
Director Jon Favreau, who appears briefly and inconsequentially as Stark's driver, is going for a sort of Michael Bay-with-substance thing. He admirably gives us a full-fleshed story of a superhero's evolution before hitting us with all the explosions and high-speed chases in the air. But the cinematography and editing suffers from a flatness that makes the action less energizing than it should be.
While Downey, who seems as if he has been preparing to be a summer-movie star forever, takes off with his performance, the rest of the big-name stars try to keep up, even though they can't stop looking shocked that they're in a big-budget, summer-movie production. As his assistant/unrequited love interest, Gwyneth Paltrow looks as if she has been out of the acting game so long, it's like watching a coma patient learn how to walk again. Jeff Bridges tries not to appear so obviously devious as Stark's partner and future nemesis. And Terrence Howard builds a nice, useful rapport in the few scenes he has with Downey as Stark's longtime colonel friend.
While "Iron Man" seems to be an OK comic-book flick ("it's not 'Ghost Rider' bad," my friend also added), I wish it could've been just as sparkling as Downey's performance. But hey, it could've been worse.
And, by the way, if you rap fans are curious, yes, Ghostface Killah does make a prominent, albeit televised, appearance.