I wonder how many media flunkies, toured around on junkets and corrupted into giving positive reviews of the films they see, or flat-out paid to do same, currently bepeople Rotten Tomatoes critics' roster? Tame dogs, sensitive to where advertising dollars come from, who roll over for whatever drek the industry is most hyped to promote? Because I'm really at a loss to explain why Iron Man should have a 96% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes; in a way, I would feel reassured about the state of what passes for film writing in the mainstream to discover that at least a generous helping of the yay-sayers were in some way influenced (bought, threatened, begged, whatever) to stick their thumbs up - compared to the alternative hypothesis, that the majority of these reviewers genuinely thought that this formulaic, smarmy little non-contender merited a positive review. "One of the hippest, best-written and best-directed superhero movies ever!" raves Lou Lumenick, a RT "Top Critic" affiliated with the New York Post. Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald raves that Iron Man is "an absolute blast to watch, a consummate piece of popcorn entertainment made with wit and class, and it leaves you so pumped for a sequel that it is practically guaranteed to become a huge hit!" (tell me that that isn't written as advertising copy, folks; it's even trying to hype us on part two!). "One summer blockbuster that succeeds on brains, not bombast!" - this from the oddly named Colin Covert, of the Minneapolis Star Tribune... all for an empty, predictable comic-book action film, thin compared even with Robocop, bepeopled with one-dimensional, cardboard-cutout characters, formulaic plot devices, and predictable "funny moments" that telegraph themselves minutes in advance. (Robert Downey is trying on his "flight boots" for the first time; what do you want to bet that he'll be blasted into the back wall as soon as he flicks the switch?). About the only thing I had fun with was watching a vaguely Sterling-Haydenesque Jeff Bridges, trying on a new look, bald and bushy-bearded, as the bad guy. There were a few idle chuckles, the craft of the film suited its budget, and qua film - pretending it isn't accountable to a larger reality - there wasn't anything deeply objectionable about it, at least compared to most other Hollywood action films: but God knows it doesn't accomplish anything new or unusual... It's really hard to imagine 96% of this film's pre-release viewers being genuinely THAT enthusiastic about it.
...and when the issue of the wider reality in which the film participates is raised, the picture is even grimmer, because while the film DOES supposedly critique the American military-industrial complex, isn't it reasonable to ask that, at this juncture in history - with the US using, in recent memory, cluster bombs, white phosphorus, and napalm-by-another-name in its disastrous and ill-conceived military misadventures overseas - that the ultimate evil not be found resting on the shoulders of a "bad apple" breaking the rules; that the ultimate remedy not be through bigger and better weapons technology (the Iron Man suit); and that a government agency with the word HOMELAND in it - even if it's ultimately SHIELD, and not the Department of Homeland Security - not be numbered among the "good guys?" I mean, I realize we're talking about a comic book adaptation, here, but the film, in being partially set in Afghanistan, PRETENDS to deal with real issues, and probably represents the most thinking the majority of its viewers will do this week on the American weapons industry; isn't it reasonable to ask it to be just a little more honest, a little more provocative, a little more critical of the current administration than it is? I mean, it's no fucking wonder that George W. Bush got elected TWICE - if he did - if this is what people actually pay to consume in the United States; Goebbels himself couldn't do so well.
We can only hope, as the film enters wide release, the word-of-mouth will spread and the sharper-edged critics out there will speak up. It'd be interesting to see if the Tomatometer dips in the next few weeks, actually, as a wider audience gets out to see the film. My guess is that it will, but who knows?