Movies: Iron Man
If you haven't heard, "Iron Man" was the top-grossing picture at the box office last weekend, and, from what I saw, it's likely to hold on to that top spot for weeks to come:
Robert Downey Jr. gives a career-defining performance as Tony Stark, a middle-aged man who realizes that his life's work - inventing weapons - may not have improved mankind after all (John Moses Browning might disagree, but I digress). Stark builds a suit that allows him to right injustice in style. Along with a good supporting cast that includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, and Jeff Bridges, Downey animates the character with wisecracks, irreverence, and, ultimately, humanity.
The film sticks pretty closely to the comic book continuity, but it does so with aplomb. Although Stark is a billionaire playboy, the movie also repeatedly hammers home the fact that he is a genius, with a nigh-impossible talent for engineering (he builds a revolutionary new reactor from spare parts in a cave in Afghanistan). I think it's important for a superhero, if not innately gifted with superhuman abilities, to be an extraordinary person; if Tony Stark wasn't such a badass by himself, "Iron Man" would just be a guy in a suit (similar to how Bruce Wayne is portrayed as having the intellectual and physical skills necessary to be Batman).
The main problem with "Iron Man" is the lack of exciting fight scenes. One of the joys of a really good superhero movie is seeing your protagonist and the resident supervillain duke it out a few times, usually with the fate of the world and/or the hero's life in the balance. The plot of "Iron Man," as well-paced as it is, simply couldn't accommodate this, which leaves the film a bit empty as a result. Still, as a franchise-opener, it's quite a blockbuster.