Film Reviews

Iron Man Jon Favreau

Rating - 8/10

The comic book film genre that has dominated Hollywood’s summer menu over the past decade is a polarizing affair. Millions have salivatingly flocked on opening weekends to gorge upon these all-action parfaits- and their resulting sequels-to hear fantastical tales of Christ-like heroes, twisted übermenschen, mutant tyros and nefarious madmen. Not everyone however has come away satisified. For some tastebuds, the all-you-can-eat visuals and simplistic sugary, paper-thin plots have left only a feeling of emptiness upon consumption.

Slowly, but surely, the comic book film genre has undergone a process of maturation. No longer are such films purely visual filler. Over the past few years, issue-orientated storylines and socio-political themes have been grafted onto the visual framework the genre has earned its reputation upon with varying degrees of success. Subsequently, films such as Ang Lee’s box-office failure Hulk (2003), James McTeigue’s V For Vendetta (2006) and Christopher Nolan’s re-inventions of the Batman franchise have stressed elements such as politicized undercurrents and flawed protagonists.

Iron Man represents a continuation of this invigorating trend currently enveloping the genre: a movement primarily emphasizing psychologically conflicted souls, emotional storytelling and the social heart of darkness beating throughout contemporary society. Based upon Marvel's mid-Sixties Iron Man comic book series, the film embodies the genre's newfound desire to create a potent equilibrium between narrative and excitement. The end product is a complex, yet delicate morality play freshly clothed in the textures of the genre.

Directed by Jon Favreau (Elf, Zarathura), the film stars Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, a former technological prodigy, whose youthful inheritance of the family's munitions business enabled him to become the world's most famous arms dealer. Arrogant and avaricious, Tony is both loathed and loved in equal measure by the media for his business tactics and notorious lifestyle. An insatiable self-promoter and masterful seller, Tony travels to Afghanistan to sell his latest weapon to the U.S military. Upon enjoying a self-congratulatory martini, Tony's world is changed, as his military escort vehicle is attacked and he himself is captured by local insurgents.

Severely wounded, Tony is left with a crippling heart ailment requiring a car battery to remain alive. In a small cave, Tony is forced to build, with the assistance of a fellow prisoner (Shaun Toub), a destructive rocket designed to destroy American troops. Instead, Tony creates an armored suit and begins his redemptive conversion from the Merchant of Death to Iron Man. Unlike in other super-hero films, the Iron Man character in Favreau's picture is neither an alter-ego with furtive Jekyll and Hyde properties, nor a figure popularly ingrained in the public's imagination. The Iron Man suit simply acts as a metallic shield; protecting and guarding the reformed ideologies and geopolitical perceptions of a politically naïve, silver-spooned whiz-kid turned diligent crusader.

In an era when complex matters have often publicly been reduced to dichotomies, Iron Man is a sensitive and politically heterogeneous blend: envisioning shades of grey in people and addressing an intricacy of the soul. A mixture of Robert Oppenheimer, J.D Rockefeller and Hamlet, Stark is the film's foremost representation of this inner conflict. Morally torn by his past actions, Iron Man becomes a vehicle for personal redemption: shaped via Downey's sardonic performance into something as egotistical as it is honorable. The torment within Stark's soul weighs upon his decision-making, causing him to reflect on matters such as civilian casualties, ethical industrial capitalism, business models and the purchasing recipients of his controversial goods.

Although Favreau could have greatly expanded upon the dark psychological conflicting aspects of Stark's emotions, he does offer a biting sense of spiritual awakening and personal development often critically lacking in similar films. Downey imbues his character with intelligence, self-deprecation and clumsiness. His special talents are acquired through diligent self-instruction and scholastic obsessiveness, rather than corporeal abnormalities and superhuman properties. In contrast to the ultra-serious principles of Nolan's Batman films, Favreau's film breaks the world-weary tension through humorous moments.

A comedic feeling borrowed from Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd offers visual hi-jinks, while the playful banter between Stark and his loyal and caring assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is lifted straight from the screwball comedies of Howard Hawks. The rest of the well-rounded cast features Terrence Howard as Stark's military friend James Rhodes and Jeff Bridges as the rogue executive custodian of Stark's industrial empire. 

Cool, snappy and relevant, Iron Man astutely demonstrates the ability for the comic book genre to simultaneously balance a sober character study and a visual effects cornucopia. Directed with fluidity and cynicism, Favreau's film is a pulsating, clever and incredibly enjoyable ride filled with responsive, energetic performances and a moral narrative that places the onus of responsibility directly upon the shoulders of a hero, who feels veritable and palpable in his paucity of extraordinary abilities and his abundant set of inner discords.