the take

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts: Surprisingly Super

Courtesy of Paramount

A few weeks ago, in a post preceding Manohla Dargis’s broadside in Sunday’s Times bemoaning the lack of leading ladies in this summer’s movie releases, we worried that the heroines of this summer’s four major superhero movies might be pushed to the sidelines by their male co-stars. Based on available evidence, we tipped Selma Blair, Hellboy 2’s world-saving pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, as the sidekick most likely to transcend her second-fiddle status — but we’re happy to report that the impeccably suited, no-frills Virginia “Pepper” Potts, played by Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man, gives Liz Sherman a run for her superness.

While Potts is, ostensibly, Tony Stark’s coffee-fetching, ego-soothing EA, she far exceeds her assistant role, running unfazed from impending destruction in impossibly high heels, saving Stark from cardiac arrest by delicately installing his new heart (hello, metaphor!), and, in her most heroic moment, deftly juggling the world of high technology with the world of Scotch-guzzling creeps. Potts locates top-secret files — the files that pin Stark’s nemesis, Obadiah Stane, at the center of the evil plot — as Obadiah himself circles her. His murderous urges are no match for her pretty poker face. In short, Potts is super in her own right, only without the shiny red jet-propelled iron suit.

“I really don’t think you could tie your shoes without me,” Potts whispers to Stark in one pivotal scene. Icky Oedipal associations aside, it’s true that without Potts, Stark and Iron Man would have destructed several times over, both literally and emotionally. What makes Potts super is her balance: She negotiates feminine desire with feminine brain and feminine technical proficiency, all in the absence of sass and perk, those grating affects that are all too often substitutes for, well, being a man. Not only does she deliver his afternoon coffee with gentle poise (in outfits equally practical and fatal), she connects the crime-solving dots before Stark does and sets plans in motion for the smackdown of Obediah’s evil superego Iron Monger. While Dargis sees ditz and empty glitz, we’d like to think Potts will be just one of many elegantly smoking supporting females who will be tying Hollywood’s proverbial shoelaces this summer. —Emma Pearse

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts: Surprisingly Super