Pilot at the Movies

Thursday, May 8, 2008

'Iron Man' strikes box office ore

Somewhere, I'll almost bet you, somebody is working on the script for "Archie and Jughead vs. Osama bin Laden."

Can there possibly be any more old comic books to mine for quick, moneymaker movies?

I counted 92 comic-book based flicks, including 15 just between Superman, Batman and Spidey. We're obviously scraping deep in the barrel now, for the likes of Daredevil and Ghost Rider. In production as we speak are "Ant Man", "The Flash," "Thor," "Wolverine" "Sub-Mariner," "Shazam!" (Captain Marvel), "Luke Cage," "Green Lantern," "Spirit," "Solomon Kane" and no doubt more.

The newest flick, "Iron Man," nevertheless, mined $32.5 million in ONE DAY at the box office, putting it in the top 10 ever. The thing drew better reviews than flippin' "Citizen Kane" too.

Frankly, though, I thought it was just more of the same thing Hollywood has been churning out for years now. Are we ever going to get tired of comic book flicks?

That said, "Iron Man" is probably as good as any of the stuff. (Though I personally prefer "Zorro" and Chris Reeve will always be the original hero in my book. And then there's "Jay and Silent Bob" if you can handle it.)

"Iron Man" is a cut above simply because its cast is better than average. Robert Downey Jr. brings personality to his role that guys like Val Kilmer, Hugh Jackman, Tobey Maguire, Michael Keaton, et al, can't muster. While Downey Jr. would be more convincing as a down-and-out Malibu actor in rehab than cast as a butt-kicking superhero, his endless stream of witty banter is a quality distraction. Signing talents like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges is a coup.

Since comic legend Stan Lee is a producer and Marvel put this picture out itself, it is fairly faithful to the old comic storyline.

Tony Stark is a boy genius who grows up to take over his father's company and invent the most high-tech weapons in the world for the military. But while visiting the combat zone, he is taken hostage and forced to produce a weapon for terrorists to preserve his life.

Instead, Stark assembles a robotic suit of armor from scraps in the cave where he is held, and escapes. Now, he has seen his own weapons used against Americans, and he wants to become a humanitarian and make more important things than weapons of war. Like an even better metal outfit that flies around and stuff, I guess.

This is where things get hard to swallow. This guy is supposed to be the world's greatest genius in high-tech weaponry, producing incredible fighting jets and such, and the best he can imagine is a glorified tin can with little jet doo-dads in the feet?

That probably seemed real cool in 1963 when Lee first drew "Iron Man" comics, but it's bizarrely dated when set in 2008. I'm also put off by the unmistakeably dudely voice of Bridges' "The Big Lebowski" coming from inside the evil baldy supervillain. Way odd.

And then there's, um - well - Mr. Genius, just how does one pee in that thing? Somebody has to ask it.

The action is impressive enough, the actors do a nice job, the ending leads neatly to the inevitable sequal. Downey Jr. is an excellent actor who could do big things in a lot of roles. The Black Sab "Iron Man" song finally shows up in the closing credits and still rocks. But at the end of the day, for all the hype, it's just another comic book movie.

* Rated PG-13 for violence and a bit of suggestive content. Run time a longish 126 min. Two and a half stars out of five.