Downey flies high in Iron Man
You gotta love a middle-aged wreck as a superhero. Iron Man may not make the A-list of Marvel Comics’ stable—home to Spider-Man, X-Men and the Hulk—but he may be the cinema superhero for the rest of us.
The entire film, written by Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway, is devoted to how Tony Stark, the top US weapons manufacturer and all-around playboy, becomes Iron Man. A kidnapping by insurgents in Afghanistan forces Tony to invent a crude prototype to escape captivity. (His captors are a little too dumb for belief to think he is actually assembling a weapon for them.)
Back in his Malibu home, having witnessed US soldiers slaughtered with his weaponry, he declares himself out of that business for good.
The film neatly borrows from a raft of both real and science-fiction technologies as well as previous sci-fi movies to propel the fast-paced two-hour film. In his home basement (think Bat Cave), Tony can talk to his computers and robotics (think R2-D2) while his suit starts to resemble RoboCop on human growth hormones. The space flights and acrobatics over Los Angeles evoke Spider-Man. Yet the whole package is distinctly its own, a tale originated in the ’60s cleverly and logically transposed into today’s world.
Downey plays off his own bad-boy image wonderfully. The writers give him great lines to work with and ditto that for his Girl Friday, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, whose own svelte lines cannot be improved on.
Key disappointment is a climatic battle between different Iron Man prototypes, which is both illogical—how did Tony’s nemesis learn how to use the suit?—and derivative of many other superhero climaxes. Never mind. Marvel has several more sequels to upgrade Iron Man.
Jackie Chan, Jet Li lost in Forbidden Kingdom
What do you get when you mix The Wizard of Oz, The Karate Kid, Rush Hour and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? You get a hodgepodge titled The Forbidden Kingdom, which will please its core audience but won’t enthrall anyone over the age of 16. (Even that might be stretching the point.)
The Forbidden Kingdom
Young males adore martial arts movies with plenty of well-choreographed mayhem. To ensure the involvement of that key demographic, the film provides a teenage American hero, Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano), magically transported from his south Boston neighbourhood to ancient China, where he gets to study kung fu under the guidance of two masters of Asian cinema, Jackie Chan and Jet Li. The first-ever teaming of Chan and Li is a shrewd commercial ploy, and the movie looks poised for strong opening-weekend business. But the weak script will keep it from enduring for long.
In the opening scene, after visiting an elderly Chinese pawnbroker (Chan), Jason is pummeled by a neighbourhood bully and wakes up in China, where he is thrust into the middle of a battle to rescue an old wizard, the Monkey King (Li). He finds himself in the possession of a magical staff (much like Dorothy’s ruby slippers) sought by heroes and villains alike. Friends (including younger incarnations of Chan and Li) materialize to aid him in his journey, but he also is pursued by a wicked white-haired witch (Li Bing Bing) on his way to the Emerald City—er, the golden fortress, where an evil warlord keeps the Monkey King imprisoned in stone.
Under Rob Minkoff’s direction, everything unfolds predictably, which is why the film ultimately becomes tedious. The fight scenes (including Jason’s climactic battle with the bullies back in south Boston) are fun, but the filler in between is deadlier than one of Li’s lethal kicks.