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Movie Reviews

Iron Man




Director: Jon Favreau

Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow

Certificate: 12a

Reviewer: Movie Truth


AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” Afghanistan. A jeep. Tony Stark, suited and booted, shades on, drink in hand, wise-cracking about banging cover models. Not long after this there’s a scene where Tony comes whizzing into view in his Audi R8, boards his private jet, and the in-flight entertainment is his very own lap-dancing club. This seems to trigger a reflex reaction amongst viewers. Some think, “Cool!” Others think, “Prick!” Instantly there’s a line drawn in the sand. The people who think he’s cool all the way through the film, don’t get it. The people who think he’s a prick all the way through the film, don’t get it. I also think there’s an element of jealousy/envy going on, but we won’t go there. You see, the thing is… he’s supposed to be a wise-cracking prick. It’s the evolution of that wise-cracking prick into something more, something better, that is the crux of the film. The making of the man. Or, as the tagline says…

“Heroes aren’t born. They’re built.”

Tony Stark has inherited his father’s wealth. He’s a genius, a playboy, and yes, he’s also a dickhead. His company, Stark Industries, are a dirty big weapons manufacturer that causes untold misery and destruction throughout the world. Stark doesn’t give a shit because he’s grown to believe his own hype. At an awards ceremony in Las Vegas, that he doesn’t even bother turning up to, a video presentation tells the audience, “Tony Stark. Visionary. Genius. American Patriot…has changed the face of the weapons industry by insuring freedom and protecting America, and her interests, around the globe.”

Soon after, Tony explains his idea of saving the world to a Vanity Fair reporter: “My old man had a philosophy. Peace means having a bigger stick than the other guy. My Father helped defeat the Nazis. He worked on the Manhattan Project. A lot of people, including your professors at Brown, would call that being a hero.” I can’t remember the name of the Vanity Fair reporter; mind you, neither does Tony after he bangs her.

Tony’s life-changing moment comes when he’s taken hostage by terrorists in Afghanistan. Just before his capture he’s in a jeep with some US soldiers and as he’s getting his photo taken with one of them he quips, “I don’t wanna see this on your MySpace page.” MySpace?! People say life’s too short; this film was made only four years ago but it seems like an eternity since anyone last mentioned being on MySpace. While Tony’s getting his photo taken he also makes fun of a solidier making a peace sign, saying, “Yeah, peace. I love peace. I’d be out of a job with peace.” Seconds later the jeep is ambushed by the Ten Rings terrorist group (a nice nod to Iron Man’s comic-book archenemy, The Mandarin). Stark escapes the jeep and is crouched behind a rock when a missile lands near him. On the missile it says, “Stark Industries.” Karma doesn’t bite him in the ass, though, it fires shrapnel into his chest leaving him critically wounded. Tony is captured and taken to a cave where fellow captive Dr. Yinsen (Shaun Toub) saves his life by attaching an electromagnet to his chest. The hostages want Stark to build a Jericho missile for them but he’s having none of it and, instead, with the help of Dr. Yinsen, builds an iron suit (Mark 1) powered by an arc reactor (the fictional God of batteries). They say the clothes maketh the man and that’s what happens to Tony as he bursts from the cave with the suit on, like some sort of resurrected Terminator Jesus. After being blasted by a hail of gunfire, he growls, “My turn!” and shoots flames at the terrorists, and their weapons stash, before flying up through an explosion and into the sky.

The action throughout the whole film is majestically done. Smooth, crisp, clean sequences that look utterly fantastic in HD. Iron Man’s voice, unlike the Bat’s, is perfect. Some of the flying sequences, although far more technically advanced, reminded me of The Rocketeer (1991). It generally feels right and, at some points, is just downright fucking awe-inspiring.

The comedy throughout is clever and never feels too corny or crammed in just for the sake of it, as is displayed when the Vanity Fair reporter (still can’t remember her name) wakes up in Tony’s home only to be told by Pepper Potts that her clothes are ready and there’s a car waiting outside to take her anywhere she wants. Miss Vanity Fair (I dunno?!) says, “After all these years, Tony still has you picking up the dry cleaning.” Pepper responds, “I do anything and everything that Mr. Stark requires. Including, occasionally, taking out the trash.” ZING!!!! Another funny scene is when Tony arrives at an event and a woman says to him, “”Hey, Tony. Remember me?” Tony replies, “Sure don’t.” This is quickly followed up by my favourite Stan Lee cameo in any of the Marvel movies. “You look great, Heff,” Tony says as he taps Stan on the shoulder. Stan just turns round with this hilarious, vacant look on his face. Brilliant.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays Pepper Potts to perfection. Pepper is 100% loyal to Tony Stark and there are some genuinely touching moments between the two. When Tony arrives back in the US after his three months in captivity, Pepper is waiting on the runway for him. Tony says to her, “Your eyes are red. Few tears for your long lost boss?” At no point does any of this “relationship” feel false. There’s a great chemistry between the two and although they come close, they never actually kiss. This, for me, was an astonishingly refreshing development. The easy, and cheesy, way to go would’ve been the slow build-up to an eventual last scene smooch or some other overly sentimental catastrophe, but it never happens. Kudos to Mr. Favreau and the writers.

There’s one scene that I thought was especially touching. Tony asks Pepper to pull a wire out of his chest and Pepper says, “You know, I don’t think that I’m qualified to do this.” Tony replies, “You are the most capable, qualified, trustworthy person I’ve ever met.” On paper it may seem like any other crappy line but on screen it seemed heartfelt and genuine. Afterwards Pepper says, “Don’t ever, ever, ever, ever, ask me to do anything like that ever again.” Tony replies, “I don’t have anyone but you.” Good quality acting and great chemistry.

The whole sequence where Tony is working on the suit works well. Instead of a quick montage we get to see a relatively slow process. The music, which is top class throughout, builds gently as we get closer to seeing Iron Man’s shiny new getup. It gives you time to take it all in and bask in the awesomeness, unlike, for example, the Transformers movies where there’s far, far too much going on at any given time to take in anything. After the slow build up, the lights switch on in Iron Man’s eyes and he blasts into a superb, seamless flight scene. Great stuff.

As he builds the suit, the building blocks of his new future begin to take shape. He no longer wishes to wear the manacles of the Merchant of Death. His new outlook is made abundantly clear when he says, “I saw young Americans killed by the very weapons I created to defend them and protect them.” He’s slowly, but surely, awakening from his selfish slumber. Thankfully though, there’s no false-feeling tectonic shift. Robert Downey, Jr, explains:

“What I usually hate about these [superhero] movies [is] when suddenly the guy that you were digging turns into Dudley Do-Right, and then you’re supposed to buy into all his ‘Let’s go do some good!’ That Eliot Ness-in-a-cape-type thing. What was really important to me was to not have him change so much that he’s unrecognizable. When someone used to be a schmuck and they’re not anymore, hopefully they still have a sense of humor.”

In the end, the new Tony Stark is faced with an old friend that becomes his greatest foe. Obadiah Stane (played by the legendary Jeff Bridges) wants Stark, and his newfound heroism, wiped off the face of the earth, so he has his own suit made and becomes the Iron Monger. The build-up to the climactic collision between Iron Man and the Iron Monger includes a scene where Rhodey (Terrence Howard) sees Stark in the Iron Man suit and exclaims, “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” He’s not far wrong; it’s all kinds of cool. At the end of this scene Tony blasts one of his prized cars out of the way and takes off. His materialism is now quite obviously of much less significance to him; he’s a changing man.

As Obadiah Stane takes up the mantle of the Iron Monger he becomes an awesome mechanical monstrosity that, fondly, reminded me of ED-209 in the way that it moved. In a menacing voice he says to Pepper Potts, “Your services are no longer required.” This again reminded me of ED-209 and the famous line: “You have twenty seconds to comply.” A battle across the skies takes place and, obviously, Iron Man wins out. What a memorable ride it is, though. Truly epic.

Robert Downey, Jr’s performance has came in for criticism, in some quarters, with people saying that he’s just playing himself. Who has Jack Nicholson been playing for the last fifty years? There’s a myriad of good acting performances down the years where the actor is ‘just’ playing an accentuated version of themselves. His performance is more than sound; as is the rest of what is, in my opinion, a quality cast.

In 2008, Iron Man was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. It was also one of The American Film Institute‘s picks for the ten best films of 2008. I wouldn’t dream of arguing with this. I actually hovered on the thought of giving it a rating of 9/10, but then we’re entering Superman: The Movie (1978) and The Dark Knight (2008) territory, and it’s not quite there. It is, however, (in my opinion) the best Marvel movie ever made, and The Avengers (2012) will have to go some to beat it.

“I’m just not the hero type. Clearly. With this laundry list of character defects. The mistakes I’ve made. Largely public. The truth is… I am Iron Man.


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