Friday, May 02, 2008

Robert Downey Jr Redefining the Comic Book Movie

When I was a little girl my favorite comic was Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos. Fury was a grandly menacing figure: always scowling or screaming, usually with a cigar butt between his teeth. I'll never forget the exciting episode where I learned what forgery was and that there were people who could detect forged signatures. Now that was exciting super-sleuth technology!

Sergeant Fury turned into Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD (our hero gets a promotion to a spy organization) and I liked that too, but age eventually changed my tastes and by the time I was nine or ten I had switched my allegiance to Thor. Thor was more your typical comic book hero type: an outsider, a wanderer - lonely, disgruntled, searching for meaning. (Plus he had long blond hair and a hat with wings.)

By the time comic books started becoming huge movie blockbusters I was an adult and hadn't read comics in a while, but what really appealed to me in the movies was that outsider thing. Great comic book heroes, I decided, have to have a whole lot of angst, like Batman and Spiderman. I would almost measure the effectiveness of a comic book movie based on the hero's level of angst.

Then today I saw Iron Man, and all that changed. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is the opposite of an angst-ridden teenager. He's a supremely confident 40-something engineer super-genius. His character flaw (if you choose to think of it that way) is that he gets bored and fills the void with drinking and philandering. Other comic book movie heroes are superheroes because some deep trauma has made it impossible for them to be otherwise. Iron Man dons his suit for rational reasons. For me, Tony Stark is a return back to my roots and the kind of hero represented by Nick Fury.

And I like him. It's hard to imagine anyone other than Robert Downey Jr pulling it off. He's a drunken jerk, but he's our hero.

The very last line of the movie is a real velvet hammer - a knockout punch that defines the character and made me, at least, exit the theater thinking only one thing: I can't wait for the next one. And they better bring back Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Shaun Toub, too.


No comments: