In a world where Hollywood-endorsed B-grade comic book films have dominated the Box Office reaped the financial benefits accordingly, Iron Man offers a relieving reprieve with a film which is both entertaining and well made. A strong lead and outstanding visuals cements Iron Man as one of my favourite mainstream films of 2008. From the start the suave, whisky-wielding billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) establishes himself as a strong and likeable character. He made an armoured Humvee journey through the war-torn Taliban Middle-East seem not only comfortable and cool, but like a tropical holiday destination.
Having earned his fortune through dealing in military weapons contracting the “Death Merchant” Tony makes a whirlwind visit to Afghanistan in order to secure a trade deal with local military forces. Here his armed company is ambushed, his American guards are killed and Tony is taken hostage and held captive at the hands of political extremists wielding none other than Stark Industries American made weapons. So does this turn into some dire political commentary? An acute social observation and philosophical analysis of consumerism and capitalism?
Under the weight of such potential premise Iron Man could have easily toppled and fell, yet it remained nimble and light at heart. Much of the lightness and excitement of the film comes not from the action and special effects, but from a strong script and casting. With the creative input of 4 credited writers the script and a cast well educated on the action-fantasy genre even the most information laden establishing dialogue seems light and loose with an almost improvisational atmosphere.
In particular the quirky, bantering relationship between Tony and his sassy secretary Pepper Potts (Gweneth Paltrow) shine as improve comedy highlights in the film. Director Jon Favreau granted Downey Jr much creative freedom in his role, exploiting his sharpness and clean comedic genius. Much of what saves Iron Man from becoming a generic comic-book origins film lies within the semi-improvised performance from perfectly cast lead Robert Downey Jr.
When portraying a character more wealthy than humanely believable, Downey draws upon the experiences of his recent past for which he has become infamous. Life in the fast lane with the money, the woman and the scandal. This is all inserted into Tonys character in the most fundamental sense; a playboy billionaire who gets what he wants, when he wants it. Hence why Tony’s Malibu mansion bears some resemblance to the Starship Enterprise, and how he can jet-set anywhere across the globe with his private jet.
Favreau cast Downey as he believed he could personally relate with these traits and let them permeate Tony as a character, imbuing him with a dark edge without losing the cool, spilt rich kid attitude. This was a success in both conceptualisation and in action So when plucked out of his Hollywood life and forced into rugged captivity he uses this know how and James Dean attitude to MacGuyver his way out of his imprisonment with a makeshift power armour suit; the origins of Iron Man.
From here he rejoins the rest of the cast, including his Air Force officer friend Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) and his Stark Industries Second in Charge Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). Obadiah Stane is an interestingly complex character whose serious premise contrasts those of other characters. He serves to represent the Old-World war profiteering of Bush and the years past, the resentment of change and inability to accept new horizons.
What could have been worked into potential plot strengths instead gave way to highlighting the transformation of pretty boy anti-hero Tony into the heroic figure as Iron Man. As mentioned previously the special effects in Iron Man are outstanding. They make the suit really shine onscreen; from the slight sheen of distant lights reflected of the computer generated metal of the Mark III armour to the grafted, roughly hewn Frankestein-like concept each suit seems real, weighted to an extent where they seem like characters of their own.
Jarvis, Tony’s computer, takes on a life of its own inside the suit and out, blending real world mechanics and near-future sciences fiction and blending the two with special effects to make seemingly plausible super science. It wasn’t a case of silly gimmicks such as cell-phone sonar’s or shoe phones, Iron Man’s gadgets are not only useful but seem like naturally evolved ideas conceptualised by real scientists as opposed to being dreamt up by artists who never grew up.
Iron Man the film other comic book films such as the Hulk and Spiderman should have been. Not some frivolous fan wank which stuck to the source material with Biblical dedication, but which opened its premise to new interpretation and re imagination. Yes, ultimately it is still derived from a source material written for 14 year olds so suffers from a degree of tameness accordingly, but with the help of some strong performances, strong writing and some damn fine effects, Iron Man has gone above and beyond to make a genre-spanning film with a wide appeal.