Review: Iron Man
I never said you were a superhero
Iron Man is a good film but that’s all it is, a good film. I guess that’s the minimum I should expect and yet the sensation I get after watching it is that it could have attempted more. It seems much of its popularity was in contrast to that other stonking summer blockbuster called The Dark Knight which as its title indicated was rather more solemn compared to the light-hearted frivolity of Iron Man. It depicted a superhero that didn’t need to ‘darkness’ to sell itself to an audience. That isn’t to say that Iron Man is not a good film in its own right but it is certainly not perfect in trying to bring the character to the silver screen.
If you hadn’t heard of the premise Tony Stark is a weapons manufacturer who parties most of the time, gambles and doesn’t seem to take anything seriously. After demonstrating his new weapon in Afghanistan his convoy comes under attack from insurgents and he’s captured. Having suffered almost fatal injuries during the attack he plots his liberation by building a suit of armour and a device to keep his heart ticking as he intends to change his ways and the direction of his company Stark Industries.
It’s the first third of the film that’s really refreshing for a superhero film, Stark is not a likable character but Robert Downey Jr manages to imbue him with a sense of fun that makes him sort of endearing. He’s a charmer, smug, arrogant; content with his role in the world as the man supplying the big sticks of dynamite.
Until, that is, he’s on the other end serving the people intent on causing great damage. The direction the character takes is all too obvious but the point from where character starts is interesting enough. He’s not a goody two shoes from the off, something I think we’ve seen a few too many times in the creation of a comic book character. It makes him more interesting as a character to try to be good rather than be good from the off.
It’s in the caves of Afghanistan, along with making the suits, that are the most interesting and revealing glances into the makeup of his character. Beneath that smug facade he’s an inventor, he’s someone who’s gifted and determined enough not to accept the cards Fate has dealt him. To borrow a phrase from another superhero film, he makes his own luck. In a sense he’s someone we would aspire to be, creative, intelligent, resourceful and successful. Well, apart from being a dick some of the time.
It’s when he’s back on (more) solid ground the film flounders a bit flitting between some exciting moments and other more perfunctory scenes. His creation of the suit is always interesting no matter how many times I’ve watched it. Testing the suit, going through different iterations, assessing problems and finding solutions are a lot more interesting than hearing about boardroom unrest.
The aerial cinematography within the flying scenes is imperfect, zooming in out of focus, always twisting and turning. For a lack of a better word they’re not ‘clean’, picaresque frames and they feel better for being so helping to establish a realistic milieu for the character.
The things it does get right: Its implementation of media was always refreshing helping to make the comic book world feasible. It also allowed for some real world interpretations to enter in the film, whether it was the nature of having a private army or having a sense of corporate responsibility and the humour surpasses the attempts of its nearest rival (the FF4 films) which always felt lazy and contrived.
It’s the scenes concerning Stark’s new direction that don’t ring as well, scenes that evidently are there to create some dramatic tension as a result of Stark’s new egalitarian approach. They feel too predictable and perfunctory with Tony’s eventual betrayal by Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) all too transparent.
In fact Stane feels very much a villain for a first film in a franchise; a safe choice, threatening when he needs to be but lacking a real sense of menace and danger to up the stakes into something more emotional. When his best friend Rhodes (Terence Howard) and secretary/love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) pull away from him, it feels as if these characters are going through the motions simply because the script requires these sorts of scenes at that particular junction.
The actors bring intelligence and fully mesh with their respective roles but you can’t help but feel that they are cogs in a much larger and more interesting machine (that machine being Stark).
What Iron Man was truly in need for by the time of its finale was a rousing finish, what we get is less so. A generic superhero smackdown confined to following this remit; if the hero has a suit then the villain’s has to be bigger and more intimidating to add excitement.
If anything it makes the finale artificial and rote, depleting it of any real emotional content for the viewer and sufficing as CGI characters beating the crap out of each other. It as if the film has given up on trying to deliver something new or clever and settled for convention. A shame because the lasting impression is of a film that tries to break out of the action (or superhero) mould only to be grounded by it.
So looking back on the film two and half years later, it’s a good and mostly successful attempt at launching a new comic book franchise and yet it felt that in some aspects it was reaching out with a tentative feel, not quite sure that everything it attempted would satisfy.