The Wednesday Weekend Primer: Iron Man

Iron Man (2008)

Directed by: Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow 
Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content.

When one thinks of the quintessential superhero, one normally thinks of an individual possessed of supernatural ability of one kind or another. They may be mutants, or gods or even beings from another planet. They once were ordinary individuals, but they have been thrust into extraordinary circumstances either through quirks of nature or some outside force. One normally doesn’t think of a normal person with no preternatural strength, no ability to walk through walls or control the weather. Perhaps that’s why Batman fascinates us as a society. He is a regular man (albeit with a sizeable bank account) who has been trained to fight and uses his own natural resources – wealth (those weapons can’t be cheap) and intellect – to fight crime.

Tony Stark (Downey Jr.), as portrayed in Iron Man, takes that non-traditional origin a step further. He has no tragic back story driving him. He is not out to avenge his parents’ death. In fact, from the moment Jon Favreau’s film introduces us to our main character, we are made to understand that Mr. Stark takes few things seriously, even as he is being escorted through Afghanistan in a military vehicle. The first 15 minutes of the film do an excellent job of painting a full picture of our hero: he is an arrogant, narcissistic billionaire playboy who neither craves nor accepts responsibility. He is a man that you might love to spend a weekend in Las Vegas with, but you wouldn’t count on him to make it back from the bar with your drink, much less save the world.

Jon Favreau spends a good quarter of the film on Tony’s ordeal in Afghanistan after his escort is intercepted and he’s taken hostage. His captors want him to build him one of his new Jericho missiles so they can dominate their corner of the world. I appreciated that Mr. Favreau spent the time on this portrait of the Iron Man origins. It grounds the film in present day reality, while allowing the audiences to understand what drove Tony Stark to grow up quickly. Being the narcissist that he is, Tony Stark is driven by guilt – guilt that his weapons are not being used for the purposes for which he believed they were being developed. His lack of oversight of his company has allowed his weapons to fall into the hands of the sort of men that would attack a small, peaceful village.

While these are heavy topics, to be sure, the film is proof that you can ground your film in reality without making it dark. No disrespect to Christopher Nolan or The Dark Knight, as that atmosphere was essential to the success of that film, but I don’t think all films based in reality have to follow suit just because it worked once. The scenes of Stark trying his new inventions as he develops his Mach II version of the Iron Man suit have a kinetic joy to them. The banter between Stark and those who have known him longest: assistant Pepper Potts (Paltrow), best friend Col. James Rhodes (Howard) and business partner Obadiah Stane (Bridges) befits those relationships and flows with a sense of comic timing that feels authentic and earned.

The casting of this film is, perhaps, one of its strongest points. Robert Downey Jr as a handsome, charismatic alcoholic almost feels like typecasting, but he never treats the character like a cartoon. I also appreciated the fact they didn’t cast Pepper Potts with some up and coming Hollywood starlet 20 years Mr. Downey Jr.’s junior, as the part as seen on screen needs to be able to keep up with him, and Ms. Paltrow does beautifully. The only issue with Terrence Howard in the part of Rhodey is his less than authoritative voice (we’ll see if Don Cheadle is able to make the character his own in the sequel). And it was a stroke of genius to cast all around nice guy Jeff Bridges as Stane (for reasons that I won’t mention here for fear of spoiling the film).

As an into to a superhero some of us may not be too familiar with, and as escapist fun, Iron Man, works beautifully. I saw it twice in theaters when it was released two years ago and did not feel as though I wasted my money. I cannot wait to see what Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr. and company have in store for part two.

Iron Man spent at least five years in development Hell before finally making it to the screen, thus allowing Robert Downey Jr. to get sober and make a major comeback as an alcoholic. Ironic?

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  1. Written by crasher21
    on 2010-05-06 at 01:21

    Downey is the perfect Tony Stark cause he doesn't have to do ONE BIT of acting for this movie, but it's a lot of what made it so fun, and Downey gets to poke at himself in the process!! Nice to see a review of a movie I actually saw :)

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