Written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum & Matt Holloway
Directed by Jon Favreau
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges
Tony Stark: I love peace. Peace will put us all out of a job.
What is Iron Man anyway? Can we really call him a superhero? As far as I can tell, he’s just a guy with a bum heart that happens to be pretty handy in the shop. His superhero development falls more in line with Batman’s as neither necessarily has any special power (Wait, my bat-sense is tingling?) but rather relies on strength and gadgetry to get the job done. Even Batman has the dark history to fuel his passion though. What does Iron Man have? His day job is as an arms manufacturing tycoon named Tony Stark. He’s got all the money in the world, women throwing themselves at him and the worst part is, he inherited everything from his dad. This silver spoon baby has been set his whole life and now he gets to be admired and adored as a superhero too? Ordinarily, I would give in to my jealousy and scoff at this supposed superhero but Robert Downey Jr., under the fresh direction of Jon Favreau, just makes him too damn cool for me to do anything other than love him.
Aside from all this, Iron Man is also hilarious. Make no mistake; he most certainly gets himself into a number of perilous scenarios but he also manages to find something to laugh at no matter how dire the circumstances. While the original comic book found Stark in some life threatening Vietnam war situation (I am not a comic book junkie so I’m afraid I can’t get more specific than that), Favreau wanted today’s Iron Man to have a contemporary back story and what could be more appropriate than Stark being held prisoner in Osama Bin Laden’s former hood, the mountains of Afghanistan. At first, it feels all too easy to place Arab militants as the face of the bad guys but the film vindicates its initial racial vilifying by exposing Stark himself (and therefore, America) as the supplier of these terrorists’ entire arsenal. It is Stark’s realization that he truly is one of the great mass murderers in American history that wakes him from his comfortable, privileged existence to a new dawn of using his position for positive change. After all, a weapon is only truly a weapon when it is in the wrong hands.
IRON MAN is not without its clichés. Stark suffers injuries in the Middle East that requires him to have some form of electro-magnetic contraption lodged in his chest so that little bits of shrapnel don’t seep into his blood stream and eventually cut up the arteries in his heart. So what if the ultimate playboy/loner now needs help to sustain a healthy heartbeat when he has walked around for so long acting like he never had a heart in the first place. So what if the man who has everything doesn’t truly have anything of real value. These kinds of truisms are the foundation of comic book characters; what genuinely matters is how the men are portrayed and Downey Jr. was born to play to Tony Stark. After rising to critical fame with films like CHAPLIN, personal problems with drug abuse led Downey to years of type casting as characters with drug problems in films like WONDER BOYS and THE SCANNER DARKLY. With IRON MAN, it looks like he might finally be able to wipe his past clean and achieve the heights his talent has always warranted. Though his body is in noticeably better shape, it is his quick-witted delivery and cynical yet sympathetic duality that make Tony Stark the kind of guy everyone wants to hang out with or just plain be.
So, what is Iron Man anyway? Well, according to this adaptation, he is the superhero for the modern era. He is sarcastic and skeptical but still hopeful and genuine with those he is close with (most notably, his perfectly matched assistant Pepper Potts, played just as delectably by Gwyneth Paltrow). He is a man who is capable of admitting his failures, not dwelling on them and then fostering a new path for himself. He is the kind of man that is both envied and looked up to. He is building himself a reputation as a superhero that can manage tremendous feats through intelligence and perseverance rather than just brawn and dumb luck. And now, IRON MAN is also a movie that offers perspective on the world around us at the same time as some awesome exhilaration.