United States, 2008
Directed By: Jon Favreau
Written By: Mark Fergus & Hank Ostby and Art Markum & Matt Holloway
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard
Running Time: 126 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content
This review was originally published May 5th, 2008.
Comic book super heroes have historically been a political and sociological representation of America’s frame of mind. Superman grew out of depression era grievances, fighting corrupt politicians and championing social causes; the X-Men, birthed in the sixties, were metaphors for diversity and racial justice; and the first issue of Captain America, who was a blatant patriotic creation, featured the star spangled hero slugging Adolf Hitler in the jaw.
Which brings us to Iron Man circa 2008. His alterego, Tony Stark, is an arrogant, absurdly rich weapons designer who thinks he is God’s gift to the military machine. Visiting Afghanistan for a demonstration of his latest Make-Stuff-Go-Big-Boom war toy, he is ambushed by Afghan rebels wielding his own weaponry and drug off as a hostage. Escaping, he sees the error of his warring ways and swears off weaponry forever, opting instead to build himself a technologically advanced iron suit in order to right his past wrongs. He then goes back and lays waste to rebels who imprisoned him, under the auspices of liberating abused villagers.
Let me go over that again. An arrogant American recklessly feeds global conflict, is attacked by terrorists using his own weapons, and then seeks retribution in the name of freeing an oppressed people. And this all takes place in the Middle East. I smell a metaphor.
Politically heavy-handed as it may be (as it has always been – Iron Man got his start fighting the commies in Vietnam), Iron Man is sheer candy-coated cinematic bliss. See that picture to the left? That’s a dude in a glowing suit of iron. Blowing up a tank. With a missile he just fired out of his arm! Do I even need to write anything else? If that doesn’t stoke the fires of your inner-child, if you don’t find that the epitome of cool, if the prospect of watching a guy in an armored suit outrun fighter jets can only summon a tepid “Meh” in response, then you were clearly not the target of Paramount’s $50 Million marketing campaign. I suggest Made of Honor playing next door. If you’re lucky, the explosions and sonic booms won’t distract you from ogling Patrick Dempsey’s perfectly styled stubble.
And if, for some for some reason, that defies the laws of the universe, aforementioned missile-launching armored suits are not enough to part you from that $10 burning a hole in your wallet, then see Iron Man for the most genius casting decision of the year: Robert Downey Jr. As every critic worth his salt has already mentioned, he is scarily perfect as the self-possessed playboy billionaire, witty and arrogant and charming and narcissistic, the quintessential “likeable a**hole,” as director Jon Favreau (Elf, Zathura) has referred to him. The supporting players—Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, and Gwyneth Paltrow—are all top notch, most notably Paltrow, who effortlessly creates a nostalgic 1940s chemistry with Downey, but the fuel in Iron Man’s testosterone injected engine is Downey. The success of the franchise (and franchise it is, with sequels 2 and 3 already peeking their shiny heads over the horizon) will owe itself largely to his note-perfect performance. Here’s hoping this does for his career what Wolverine did for Hugh Jackman’s.
In terms of comparison, Iron Man is most similar in structure to the original Spider-Man: likeable protagonists with guilt over past mistakes, love interests that tease us with the potential for future romance, throwaway villains that serve as a practice run for the hero, and gut-bustingly slapstick training montages where the superhero tries on his new powers for size. With its growing pains out of the way, the second installment is almost guaranteed to top this one, much like Spider-Man 2 trumped its predecessor in nearly every respect.
The Hollywood season of summer is here, with Iron Man’s sugary ILM eye candy and eardrum shattering Dolby trumpeting its arrival. Grab the popcorn and kick back. Your ears weren’t really that important anyway.