A film review by Craig J. Koban
2008, PG-13, 122 mins.
2008, PG-13, 122 mins.
Robert Downey Jr.: Tony Stark / Terrence Howard: Rhodey / Jeff Bridges:
Obadiah Stane / Gwyneth Paltrow: Pepper Potts
Man is the closest thing I can think of that approximates a businessman
rarely has fighting villainy with aspirations of world domination been so closely tied to stock options.
crossing equal parts Howard Hughes (minus the obsessive compulsive
disorder, collection of bottled urine and Kleenex boxed slippers) with Bill Gates and then combine that
with the mythos of Batman and Robocop and you have the essence of the
character. Much like
Stan Lee originally envisioned when the character made his first
appearance in March of 1963’s TALES OF SUSPENSE #39, Iron Man’s
alter-ego, Anthony Edward “Tony” Stark, was a Hughes and Bruce Wayne
figure for the way he was a multi-billionaire, an inventor, a colorful
man of the media, and a irrepressible ladies man. Like Gates and Batman, Stark uses technology to his fullest
advantage, which helps him become super human despite his otherwise normal human
frailties. And finally, like
Robocop, when Stark fully becomes a man encased in crimson and yellow
metal, he emerges as a one-man, battle-ready, kick ass squad.
Man may not be the most universally popular of Marvel Comic’s
heroes (that accolade is easily held by Spider-Man and The Incredible
Hulk), but the character is still indicative of Lee’s predilections for
having his heroes’ alter egos go against the grain: They seem like the
least likely people to be costumed clad champions of justice.
Peter Parker is an unpopular teenager that is ridiculed by his
classmates and struggles with the pressures of adolescent life while
saving the world as Spider-Man. Tony
Stark, perhaps even more interestingly, is a monumentally wealthy war
profiteer that made all of his loot selling mass weapons to fight wars
that, it could be aptly argued, cost thousands of lives in the process.
Stark, at least initially, is one of the few comic book personas
that is guided by good ol’ fashioned American greed and capitalism.
He’s out to make a buck, have fun, and score with as many
ladies as possible. What
allows for him to become a hero is when he realizes that all of his
financial pursuits in the arms business are hollow.
great weapons of mass destruction comes an even greater responsibility
and sense of overwhelming guilt.
Favreau’s long anticipated, $180 million dollar summer
blockbuster/adaptation of IRON MAN rightfully and thankfully understands
this psychological depth to the character’s origins.
Like two of the greatest super hero films of all-time, SUPERMAN:
and the very recent BATMAN
Favreau exhibits a
considerable amount of pose and patience with this material.
a relative novice director (he's made only two films, ELF and ZATHURA), he
is keenly able to divulge that the best way to handle this material is
with restraint, not sensory overkill. In a lesser
director’s ostentatious hands, IRON MAN could have degenerated into a
brainless orgy of dumb, bombastic action and chaotic visual hyperactivity (ahem,
TRANSFORMERS), but Favreau is smarter than that.
He let’s this origin story simmer and develop gradually.
We don’t see a full-fledged Iron Man until late in the film,
which allows more depth to be shown for the character dynamics and
interactions. Moreover, since
we anticipate Iron Man’s appearance, the action scenes later also
resonate with so much more spunk and gratifying enthusiasm and energy.
focus on story and character also allows for the more intrinsic aspects of
Stark’s personality and world outlook change to have importance in the
story. Granted, Stark is
nowhere near the emotionally and psychologically damaged goods that Bruce
Wayne is in BATMAN BEGINS, but there are some noteworthy themes here, that
of a war profiteer that develops a crisis of conscience.
His dilemma is to either (a) continue to make deadly weapons,
earning his business empire millions, all while they are indirectly used
by the wrong hands or (b) denounce his trade, stop making weapons, and
become a heroic, titanium clad literal man of steel and attack those that
use his weapons, all while his business loses billions.
film tries to be a bit more accessible to a wider audience.
Favreau takes aspects of the comic book origins and makes necessary
tweaks here and there: In Lee’s first issues, Iron Man was spawned by
Stark's abduction by Vietnamese agents during the war, which later
propelled him to become a strident Anti-Communist crusader versus North
Vietnam and all other Red scum. Since
the Cold War is officially caput, the writers have modernized Stark’s
origins to involve terrorists in Afghanistan.
Okay, so maybe the Taliban is no more inspired than using cardboard
cutout Vietnamese communists, but they service the needs of
this story for a villain we can easily hate.
film’s prologue will easily appease Iron Manoholics.
We are introduced to Stark (Robert Downey Jr., more on him in a
bit) and his Air Force buddy, Rhodey (Terrance Howard, a great actor
marginalized with a somewhat marginalized sidekick character, but he's still decent here)
go to Afghanistan to see a demo of Stark Industries’ latest advancements
in killing the enemy. The exhibition of the lethality of Stark’s new
bombs has the pomp and circumstance of a circus show, all while Stark
lets out his first of many well-articulated zingers: “Is it better to
be feared or respected? Is it too much to ask for both?”
when things look rosy for Stark’s latest inventions, disaster strikes.
Cave dwelling terrorists ambush his convoy and Stark is nearly
killed in the process. However,
he is kept alive, largely because of the efforts of a fellow prisoner
(Shaun Toub), but his life support is a bit…say…tricky.
We discover that he has a nasty little piece of shrapnel lodged in
his chest so his prisoner friend was forced concoct an electromagnetic
device that stops it from ever hitting his chest (imagine having
a big, long, and deep halogen bulb implanted in your chest and you get the
idea). However, things get
worse for Stark when the terrorist leader, Raza (Faran Tahir) wants him to build him the same fiercely effective weapons that he just demonstrated
for the army.
that he will most likely die no matter what, Stark pulls the ultimate
MacGuyer to get himself out of this mess.
Instead of building the bomb, he crafts himself a gigantic suit of
metal armor with weapons and rocket boots so he can blast his way to
freedom (funny, but how the terrorists are not able to deduce that he’s
building an armored suit and not a bomb through their security cameras is
beyond me). Needless to say,
Stark makes it out alive, thanks to his prototype iron man suit.
he arrives home he has an unalterable change of heart (maybe the shrapnel
is helping) about his vocation and decides to cease all manufacturing of
weapons, seeing as they are getting in the hands of people he thought he
was fighting. This, of
course, would mean disaster to any weapons making business (one thing the
film never thoroughly explains is how Stark does not loose everything from
this move). This move stuns his secretary, the affectionately named
Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltro, playing her role here with so much more
spirit and sass than she did in a similar part in SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD
OF TOMORROW, where she looked bored stiff).
Even more stunned are Stark’s board of directors and his close
friend and colleague, Obidiah Stane (played with a sneering undercurrent
of greedy vindictiveness by the great Jeff Bridges).
When Stark Industry stocks take a nosedive, Stane goes on the
villainous offensive. Bridges,
bald as a baby, sporting a thick oppressive beard, and munching on cigars much of the
time, is a real treat as this lecherous fiend, even if this villain is a
bit perfunctory and routine.
Of course, after Stark decides to go from weapons manufacturer to super hero, he decides to make some serious overhauls to his original iron man suit. These moments are a kick, if not surprisingly hilarious (look at one scene which shows Stark’s first test of his gravity defying rocket boots, which generates the film's biggest laugh). With rubber and metal versions of the armor created by Stan Winston Studios alongside visual effects work down by Industrial Light and Magic, there is rarely a moment in IRON MAN where the visual trickery is not seamless. Best of all, they don’t draw needless attention to themselves that distract from the overall whole. They’re where moments in the SPIDER-MAN films where - as much as I liked them - the sight of the CGI wall-crawler looked too artificial, but Iron Man flies and moves around with plausible weight and dexterity.
That, and he looks really,
really cool in battle.
much as I truly admired the film’s visual effects ingenuity, IRON MAN
– like SPIDER-MAN – is made all the more appealing of a super hero
film largely because of the man behind the mask…or in this case helmet.
The masterful comic book films knew the obligation of focusing of
the hero’s secret identity to its fullest, and Iron Man is no exception.
Has there ever been a more inspired, surprising, and perfectly cast
actor as a comic book hero than Robert Downey Jr.?
Downey himself is no stranger to budding heads with the law over
his much publicized bouts with drugs and alcohol, and his laid back
craziness, lightning fast verbal wit, and easygoing drollness and
capriciousness are so flawlessly imbued in this Stark’s hedonistic
impulses. Weak actors would
have played Stark up to hammy caricature, but Downey invests in this
figure, which makes his psychological turn from a cocky, conceited, and
selfish billionaire industrialist to self-actualized and well-meaning
super hero all the more believable. Downey’s
scenes with Paltro also have such a finely tuned chemistry and flirtatious
symmetry (the way they fire off dialogue back and forth and nearly finish
each other’s sentences is inspired).
Like Tobey Maguire’s take on Peter Parker, without Downey Jr. in
IRON MAN, the film would never soar so high and would have lacked
IRON MAN 2 (2010) 1/2
IRON MAN 3 (2013)