Iron Man

Certificate: 12A
Running Time: 126 mins
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gweneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard
Genre: Comic Book, Superhero, Action
Country: USA

Though Ang Lee’s Hulk and Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy both made it to screen before Iron Man this movie must be considered Phrase 1.01 of Marvel’s plan for World Domination through Interconnected Cinema.  Until this point the crossover of superheroes had been limited to TV, comic books & animated movies and though there are no such crossovers/team-ups here the foundations are laid for what will eventually become Avengers and the incredible leveling of New York by Loki and co.

With the director of Elf and the star of some many Hollywood arrests it surely required equal parts genius and insanity from the producers to hand these two men the keys to the Marvel Universe and say “get us started fellas”.  Updated to place Tony Stark as a major player in the supply and demand cycle of the Afghan conflict has Stark Industries surrounded with just as much grey areas as he is dessert camo.

Personally, having seen Stark in modern day USA it’s difficult to conceive of him in comic form over the years.  He is the poster-boy for the brash ego-centric generation of now.  The kids that soak in reality TV, train for war on Xbox and then are horrified by having to deal with the consequences of their actions.  This is what Downey Jr. does incredibly well in Iron Man[1] and what is both attractive and unappealing about his character’s personality.  He goes out of his way to do good, spends a fortune in an effort to “do good” but has to be seen to be the one doing the good thus negating the goodness of the act.  He’s a superhero without a secret identity.  He’s a duel-existing identity.  An ID and a Superego.  It’s that complexity, bordering on hyper-arrogance, bordering on total self obsession that Downey handles fantastically well as you are never not in his corner.  Always cheering for him, even though you know he’s cheering for himself more than anyone.  There are moments of pity and loneliness when you see the world that Stark built reject him, when you see his closest allies turn on him but it is this superficial world that has to reject him in order for him to seek out a new world.  A better world… maybe.  One that is certainly more realistic and less idealized than that of Superman or even Batman[2].  Stark’s world is one of deterrence.  In becoming Iron Man he is essentially becoming a one-man Doomsday device ala Dr. Strangelove, a one-man Star Wars Project[3] (or Son of Star Wars for the Bush 2.0 Administration babies).  He is the line in the sand, and if you do wrong, if you cross that line the consequences will be visited upon you.  For all of DC’s claims of being the more gritty of the new Universes it is this notion in Iron Man that truly fascinates me.

Paltrow gives a solid enough performance as the obsurdly named Pepper Potts.  I’ve never understood Stan Lee’s obsession will Alliteration when it comes to his characters and something tells me I never will.  Her character is strong enough in this movie, and has enough to do as large portions of the espionage narrative plays out through her actions but it’s a character that Marvel have more and more trouble with as the movies go on.  Jeff Bridges (as Obadiah Stane) gives a masterclass in Shakespearean duplicity, head shaving, and giant robot construction.  He has the presence (both screen and physical) to command and dominate.  In order for the drama and conflict to exist in the film, you need someone that can take Tony to school and make it seem as though the company that bares his family name can be taken away from him by votes or force if necessary.  Bridges does that.  He delivers that in spades and in doing so eclipses the Iron Man antagonist hierarchy for many movies to come[4].  Terrence Howard was a great piece of casting for Rhodey and it’s a shame that contractual disagreements led to him walking and being replaced by Don Cheadle as Howard as War-Machine was something I was really looking forward to seeing.

The most amount of praise for Iron Man needs to land at Jon Favreau’s feet.  As a director he took a massive step up with this film, an equally massive risk had he not been able to deliver to home-run for what was then, the beginning of Marvel’s greatest cinematic legacy.  His camerawork, colour and pacing from the opening back and forth in the Hummer right up to the end credits was almost without fault.  Yes, Iron Man is a lot more superfical a movie than The Dark Knight[5] but it arguably can’t get bogged down in the same level of “urban realism” as Nolan’s films as it has to, eventually, lead into a large scale alien invasion of the world, not to mention fight alongside a Demi God.  The action sequences are really well handled.  There was always going to be a risk that a wisecracking bloke in a large flying robot suit would lead to somewhat repetitive action but Favreau has read enough Stark tales to have identified a motif, theme and rhythm to each conflict.

Iron Man doesn’t make any effort to reinvent anything.  As first up, it’s job is to ground the Universe the Studio expects audiences to inhabit for the next decade plus.  To deliver a competent, exciting, entertaining powerhouse of a blockbuster to build an entire world around.  It does that with a bucket of spare parts left over and though that theme of deterrence isn’t dealt with here, it is certainly one that we will become more and more familiar as the Avengers assemble, regroup, and return.

[1] Before Robert Downey Jr. became a parody of Tony Stark creating the infinite Stark playing Downey playing Stark playing Downey paradox that would later be best demonstrated by taking an actor whose sobriety has caused him to lose all personality.  Have him bend over and jam his head straight up his own bunghole.
[2] Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is looking forward to a day when Gotham won’t need Batman.  An idealistic notion as a city like Gotham will always need a Bat-Man because mankind is corruptible and as such will always do wrong for their own interests.
[3] The failed and extremely costly U.S missile defense system pioneered by the one term George H. Bush Administration.
[4] Only in Avengers does it look as though the Shadow Of Obie has lifted.
[5] Released a few months later.


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