It's been widely speculated — by us! — that this might be the awesomest weekend in pop-culture history, between the releases of Greatest Video Game Ever Grand Theft Auto IV and Greatest Superhero Movie Ever Iron Man. In the hype battle between these two titanic competitors, GTA has struck a pretty strong first blow today; the carefully embargoed reviews are starting to come in, and critics love the game like a fat kid loves cake. The Times features a rave GTA review as the lead story in today’s "Arts" section, maybe a bigger surprise than Harold & Kumar's lead slot in Friday's paper. And the gaming-world big shots at IGN give it the first 10.0 rating they’ve issued this decade. It seems that just about every aspect of the game is amazing: the enveloping atmosphere of “Liberty City,” its stylized and condensed but evocative version of New York; the insane action elements; even its emotional depth — apparently, the main character in a game known for its whore-mongering and pedestrian-beating features even faces some “gut-wrenching” moral decisions.
For GTA’s foe, Iron Man, it was a day of ups and downs.
The high: New York’s estimable David Edelstein said he “loved” the film, which he says belongs in the pantheon of ludicrously oversimplified but nonetheless gratifying liberal-humanist vengeance flicks. The low: The New Yorker’s David Denby calls Iron Man a “whooshing junk pile.” (Neither bad nor good, but funny: our misreading this Rotten Tomatoes pull quote from Richard Roeper as stating “Robert Downey, Jr. is in this movie.”)
Grand Theft Auto IV is looking hard to beat. The title comes out tomorrow for Xbox 360 and PS3, and although our video-game usage has been on the wane for many years, we’re thinking about firing the ol’ console back up. Since the last system we owned was the N64, we will also have to buy said console and spend 30 minutes figuring out how to turn it on. (And plug it into the Internet so an 11-year-old Dutch child can call us a “homo” when we screw up in an online multiplayer game.) We're perfectly willing to have our minds changed by the geniuses of America's pop-culture hype complex, though, so tune in tomorrow to see whether Iron Man can fight back. It's a 21st-century cliffhanger. —Ben Mathis-Lilley