finger snaps* Tony Stark/ makes ya feel/ he’s a cool exec/ with a
heart of steel. For those too young to recall, those words form the
opening lyric to the Iron Man cartoon theme song from the 1966 Marvel
Superheroes anthology, a crudely-animated, yet canon-faithful daily
after-school treat. My fascination with the exploits of
multi-zillionaire industrialist Tony Stark began with that jazzy theme.
Stark was a cat no one would ever believe would do something as selfless
(and insane) as don a super-powered suit made of - guess what? – iron,
and jet off via “repulsor” power to fight the world’s crime and
corruption. For the many formative years I spent greedily tearing
through Ion Man’s solo comic adventures and his team-ups with The
Avengers, never could I have fathomed how intensely enjoyable a movie
based on this character would be.
For every Spider-Man 1 & 2, there’s a Howard the
Duck. For every Batman Begins, there is Batman Forever. It’s just hit or
miss. And in the wrong hands, the Iron Man story could have gone either
way, turning into some big screen version of Mighty Morphin Power
Rangers, or even a quasi-Robocop remake. Thank goodness for director Jon
Favreau, who gets inside the metal skin and delivers a story of a hero
troubled, dramatic and funny balanced with the good sense to hand the
audience the action and special effects spectacle a story like Iron Man
demands. Bravo, Mr. Favreau, you’ve made the first blockbuster of the
But Jon Favreau isn’t alone in this praise; I am
convinced that this picture could not have been made if not for the
presence of Robert Downey, Jr. in the lead role as Tony Stark. Finding
the key to the character in the wastrel life Stark leads as one of the
richest men in the world to whom life has no value, Downey’s doe-eyed
sensitivity and stiletto-edged dry wit makes this one of the
performances of the year. The comedy kills and in the dramatic scenes
Downey is all in, expressing the cynicism and ennui of a man who
realises for all his wealth, his life has no meaning and the ferocious
empowerment when he finds a purpose and a way to redeem his failings.
I’ve rarely seen such a symbiotic relationship between actor and role.
Here’s the rundown; jaded, devil-may-care playboy
Tony Stark makes weapons for a living. A genius, Stark takes pride in
his high-tech inventions, believing they have helped to make the world a
safer place. Burning through an ever-growing collection of toys, fast
cars, overpriced artwork and over-heated blondes, Tony consumes with no
joy or satisfaction. Tony only learns to value his life when a sales
pitch in Afghanistan goes terribly wrong: He is violently abducted by
terrorists and tortured into retooling a stolen cache of his own devices
to benefit the enemy. With the guidance of a kindly Afghanistani doctor
also imprisoned, Stark’s eyes are opened to the realities of the damage
his creations really do. During the explosion that initiated his
kidnapping, shrapnel was embedded into Stark’s body and he and the
doctor devise a magnetised power source to keep the fragments from
entering his heart and killing him. Through that invention, the roots of
a bigger, more powerful weapon take shape in Stark’s mind, one that will
free himself and the doctor from the clutches of the weapon-centric
terrorists. With a surprising lack of stealth, the first crude gray Iron
Man suit is born, huge and clunking; it’s more effective than it looks.
Stark escapes back to America where he vows to change the mission of
Stark Industries from being a destructive force to finding new
mechanisms to build and improve life. Having made a hobby of refining
the technology that created the armoured suit, Stark makes precipitate
use of his new sleeker, faster, better, stronger, redder and gold-er
model and rights some wrongs done in the name of his company.
fast, Mr. Epiphany, apparently there were folks who had a lot invested
when you built things that killed people. Stark discovers some deep
skullduggery within his company and under-the-table arms dealing with
the very folks killing our troops and this just won’t do. Stark has to
face his own war closer to home when the war-profiteering division of
Stark Industries uses the remnants of the first gray suit to design the
ultimate war weapon; their first target, Tony Stark.
Fun, fun, fun kids. What a pure blast this was on
every level. Of course, we must discuss the suits, the gray and the red
and gold final suit and are masterpieces; exactly as anyone who ever
read the Marvel comic would have pictured it. Can suit designer and
special effects legend Stan Winston do no wrong? Not tonight, Josephine.
Having only seen comic panels of the original clumsy, outsized gray
suit, the amount of love it’s given in the film was downright
heartwarming and gave me a new respect for it. The red and gold suit
looks heavy and clunky enough to convey its weight, but moves well
enough to keep you in mind that there’s a person in there and it’s not
some automaton. The suit’s weapons, from the repulsor rays in its
gloves, to the jet boots and the uni-beam shooting out of its chest, all
are perfect and they pack a wallop.
The effects of Iron Man flying are
seamless and breathtaking. We see the suit’s limitations and are as
engrossed as Stark reconfigures the shortcomings using some nifty 3D
holograms and some unlikely adorable robotic assistants. As an origin
story, Stark comes full circle from irresponsible gadfly to someone
involved and caring who wants to change things for the better because he
can, and it reads believably. Using Tales of Suspense #39 as an outline,
the kidnapping here takes place in Afghanistan and the film is careful
to show us both evil local villains as well as brave, heroic folk as
equally tormented by the terrorists as Stark. Even though we head into
the Middle East for his kidnapping and torture, Stark realises there is
no fiercer enemy than the one in plain sight back home.
The fight scene
between Iron Man and the villain’s metallic creation, the Iron Monger is
slightly reminiscent of the aforementioned Robocop - particularly when
Robocop takes on his bulky nemesis, ED-209 - and is probably the weakest
action sequence of the film. However, “weakest” is completely relative.
Watching Iron Man’s first burst of heroism as he decimates an
insurgents’ camp is completely riveting (NPI); ditto to the thrilling
first appearance of the gray suit and Iron Man’s exhilarating first
flight. I could’ve watched for hours, endlessly entertained. Iron Man
the movie made me want to dig out my old comics again for the first time
in years and immerse myself in those fantastic stories just like when I
was a kid.
Besides the amazing performance by Downey, Jr.,
Jeff Bridges, almost unrecognisable in gray beard and chrome dome, chews
up the scenery to proper comic book effect as Stark’s trusted mentor and
business partner, Obadiah Stane. Neither Terrence Howard as Tony Stark’s
closest friend and military advisor, nor Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark’s
super-efficient, beleaguered loyal secretary have much stretching to do,
but they look fabulous and they admirably hold up their energy against
Downey’s kinetic performance.
Iron Man was a gamble. Making a mega-budget film
about a hero who isn’t quite as known outside the world of comic book
fans as Batman, Spider-Man or even the Fantastic Four, could have
fizzled like a faulty Stark Industries rocket. In the proficient,
worshipful hands of Jon Favreau and abetted by a magnificent performance
by an energised Robert Downey, Jr., not only does Iron Man's gamble pay
off, but it raises the stakes for not only comic book movies to follow,
but for the entire summer film season.
Extremely well done.
~ Mighty Ganesha/The
Lady Miz Diva
April 29th, 2008
for our review of 2010's Iron Man 2
for our review of 2013's Iron Man 3
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