As Sean and I left the movie theater, Sean pointed out how Iron Man is a second-tier Batman. Both Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne (their everyday identities) lack superpowers, per se, but possess such extraordinary wealth and ingenuity that they can build or acquire technology to compensate. Sean prefers Batman’s backstory, but I think it’s not so much Batman as Batman’s world that makes him more compelling. I’m hardly a comics aficionado, but what impresses me about Gotham is its moral complexity. The villains aren’t necessary evil, or at least they weren’t always, and Batman himself walks a fine line between justice and vengeance. The world is shaded in gray, without absolutes, which is why it feels so resonant, so recognizable, superheroics notwithstanding.
But Iron Man (at least as portrayed in this movie—I’ve never read the comics) exists in a sharply black-and-white universe, which wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t make so many feints at real, contemporary issues. This Iron Man tries to have it both ways—grittily recognizable universe and pat, rah-rah heroics—and the dissonance is painful. It’s a shame because Robert Downey Jr. is great, and the robotic exoskeleton thing is pretty cool. Iron Man has much to recommend it, but I walked out of the theater not with a grin but a wince.