Iron Man

Iron Man is a 2+ hour commercial for LG, Dell, Burger King and Audi. It’s also an entertaining superhero origin story, elevated by the light touch of lead actor Robert Downey Jr. and the supporting cast. The director, Jon Favreau, is known for coaching such performances. Now he will also be known for his ability to make a rare summer effects extravaganza that actually relies upon story and character for entertainment.

Not that the story — script credited to Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway — is anything beyond straightforward and conventional. The climactic fight, in fact, is dull and anti-climactic. And, judging by the trailer for the new Incredible Hulk, there will be a second superhero movie this summer with an almost identical plot.

Nevertheless, a movie like this that rocks the box office will surely be used to gauge the temperature of the nation. How do we, in 2008, feel about our neverending war on terror? Are we, like Tony Stark, waking up to the evils of war, or just war profiteering? As Sunny Bunch points out, the villain clearly represents “an out-of-control military-industrial complex,” but then again, in a subtler way, so does the hero, Tony Stark.

Stark is a playboy, a jerk, and a genius and cut much from the same mold as Rick in Casablanca. He has willfully ignored the ethics of weapons manufacture his whole life until he’s on the receiving end; he has ignored the woman who cares about him until a fellow terrorist captive points out his life is empty. We believe this rapid conversion because of the great metaphorical visual of his heart being powered by a glowing blue disk. “Proof that Tony Stark has a heart” it is called, though the real proof be is his actions… the action scenes.

MORE:
Making Iron Man’s suit
Modernizing Iron Man
Vanity Fair Profile of Tony Stark

Redbelt

David Mamet remains an acquired taste, though this may be his most approachable film as a writer/director since State and Main. Redbelt is Mamet’s take on the fight genre, and it is a tautly-plotted tale of betrayal and redemption in the world of Jiu-Jitsu.

Largely on the strength of a hypnotic and commanding performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mike Terry), Redbelt is a dramatic tour-de-force until perhaps the closing minutes when Mamet’s telegraphic style telegraphs just a little too little. There are also un-Mamet-like loose threads — why was Chet Frank in the bar that night? — what happened with the order of the cloth from Brazil? — what will happen to the widow?

The movie has some brilliant moments. I much loved the shot of the men watching dailies of a war movie while the women talked fashion in the background, posed identically. The wordless scene between Chiwetel and Emily Mortimer was great. The cop’s words to Terry right before he was about to fight near broke my heart.

“There is nothing from which you cannot escape” is Terry’s mantra. He’s wrong. Redbelt is a movie that sticks with you. That cannot be escaped.

MORE:
Elvis Mitchell interviews Mamet on The Treatment