Dinner & a Movie: Living the High Life With Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man 2"

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Dinner & a Movie: Living the High Life With Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man 2"

  • Dinner & a Movie: Living the High Life With Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man 2"

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    Francois Duhamel
    Paltrow, Downey Jr., Rockwell and Christine Everhart jet over to Monaco.
    The Dinner: Grilled Cheese Sandwich and an IPA at Paddy Coyne's (1190 Thomas St.).

    The Movie: Iron Man 2, at Pacific Place (600 Pine St.).

    The Screenplate: When the first Iron Man came out in April of 2008, the times were more in tune with Robert Downey Jr.'s cocky billionaire weapons designer Tony Stark. He was a playboy who, after replacing his heart with a miniature atomic reactor, actually grew a heart. The comic-book adaptation, directed by John Favreau, was cheerful and light. It was a huge, deserved hit, grossing around $300 million by the year's end. But by that time, of course, the country had plunged into a recession. Today, as the sequel arrives, Tony Stark seems like a creature from a very different era. He's still rich, still smug, still attracts beautiful women (Scarlett Johansson and Gwyneth Paltrow), still swats down his rivals (Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell), still lives in a Malibu mansion stuffed full of expensive toys and exotic cars. And though Downey Jr. is just as confident and charming as in the first Iron Man, the character of Stark is not the kind of guy you'd want to meet for a burger and beers...

    Stark was born in 1963 to the Marvel Comics stable of superheroes, with Stan Lee his father. His Cold War birth date roughly coincides with the JFK Camelot era now so popular on Mad Men. Cocktails and narrow lapels were de rigueur. Glam and the high life were something we all aspired to--to live like Jackie, James Bond, and Cary Grant. America was on an economic bender that would last another decade, until OPEC, Vietnam, and the recession. Stark, as Iron Man, was very much a space age hero--packaged in steel and transistors, more high-tech than the Apollo astronauts, and a defender of American freedoms.

    But today, well, Stark comes across almost like an asshole. He's a rich prick, Trumpian in his self-regard. "I've privatized world peace," he boasts to a Senate panel (led by the very amusing Garry Shandling). He won't cooperate with the feds; he's rude his best buddy in the military (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard); and he continues to neglect his girl Friday, Pepper Potts (Paltrow). Where's the humility? Unlike tormented Bruce Wayne (i.e. Batman) the guy seems to have no inner life, no self-doubt, only a few daddy issues. Iron Man is his favorite topic, his brand, his product, his reason for being. Without villains to bruise him occasionally, he'd be a pompous bore.

    Paddy Coyne's is a different sort of franchise--and a decidedly cheaper one. With two other locations in Bellevue and Tacoma, it's an echt olde timey Gaelic bar located in the base of a new apartment building in Paul Allen's new SLU neighborhood. In truth, Iron Man (the comic) has a much longer history. Still, the place is cheerful and unpretentious, with TVs on the walls, a fireplace in the bar, a patio outside, and several dogs usually tied outside the front door (with fresh water bowl and a metal canine sculpture for company). Also, it's an affordable, regular guy's watering hole, which means Tony Stark and his $5,000 suits would never be caught dead in the place. Sure, you can go upmarket with the cocktails, but Paddy Coyne's is a joint for Guinness and fish and chips. Dinner for four didn't break $70 (tip included), and we had food to spare.

    My Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($8.95) was tasty, but hardly ultimate. Really, how much more do you need than cheese, toast, bacon, and tomatoes? Also at the table, the basic cheeseburger ($9.95), fish and chips ($12.25), and bowl of potato-leek soup ($5.95) had all the same straightforward appeal. Half the burger and several fistfuls of fries remained to be boxed up for home. (Though we missed happy hour, there are two: 4-6 p.m. and 10 p.m.-1 a.m.)

    Iron Man 2 would benefit from some of the same economy. The film jets over to the Monaco Grand Prix just because, well, it'll help the film in Europe. (And there was probably a consideration fee paid. Just like Audi, just like all the weighty luxury watches Tony Stark wears and mentions.) Stark backslaps fellow titans of tech, including Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Elon Musk (the Tesla electric car guy). It's as if the studio (Paramount) and director (again Favreau, again playing Stark's valet and chauffeur) have no sense how little esteem we poor ticket buyers now have for that preening crowd. (What, no Goldman Sachs cameos?) Weirdly, the film's designated evil billionaire (Rockwell) is the most fun to watch precisely because he knows he's evil; in come ways, he's got more inner life than Stark.

    He's also more concerned with value: It's simpler and cheaper to steal Iron Man's technology from Stark (whose father may've stolen it in the first place). To a degree, our hero is aware of his profligate flamboyance; when Johansson's character calls him a narcissist, he cheerfully agrees. Yet his blithe wastefulness grates. The scene that brought it home for me in Iron Man 2 occurs when Stark stops at a strawberry stand for some fruit. Lacking a wallet--because only little people carry cash--he trades one of his giant watches for the berries. Later, when Pepper can't eat them, he just dumps the fresh fruit in the trash.

    Still, the movie has its virtues. Iron Man 2 aspires to be little more than light summer entertainment, much as Paddy Coyne's aspires to be little more than an ersatz old pub. However many millions were spent on CG effects (as Iron Man battles not one but two other tin-suited warriors), the film is more enjoyable when the unarmored actors have room to banter. You want to see more of Downey Jr. and Rockwell tossing insults back and forth at the bar. Paltrow has no character to play beyond the good girl, but you wish she had more lines. And though Johansson isn't as capable with her lines, she deports herself nicely in a skintight ninja outfit--sashaying and karate chopping security goons with unruffled aplomb. (It's so much nicer to see the actual performers, not their digital avatars.) Only Rourke comes off the real loser: His vengeful long-haired Russian physicist Ivan Vanko looks like a tattooed extra from Eastern Promises, swallowing his consonants and mumbling about his lost pet bird when he's not typing madly at the computer. He belongs in a different movie, as does Samuel L. Jackson, who drops by to pimp another Marvel spin-off presumably in development, Nick Fury. (If that gets made, Johansson will likely be in it, too.)

    Since superhero movies tend to come in threes, we can look forward to a third Iron Man in another couple years. Before then, however, your money will be better spent at Paddy Coyne's. Tell them Tony Stark didn't send you.

     
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