Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review
|#26: Iron Man|
Very rarely do you have a movie role that is custom-made for an actor. This is especially true when it comes to moves based on well-known comic book characters. Quite often the actor has to make the character their own, such as Michael Keaton with “Batman” or Hugh Jackman with the character Wolverine in “X-Men”.
But the 2008 movie “Iron Man” stands out as one of those films where the title character was custom-made for its star, Robert Downey Jr. From start-to-finish, you actually believe that he’s the millionaire inventor Tony Stark.
The movie was released by Marvel Studios, the first movie financed by the Comic Book company, and stars Downey, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrance Howard, Jeff Bridges, Faran Tahir, Paul Bettany, Clark Gregg, and Shawn Toub. It was directed by Jon Favreau, who is probably better known for his acting ability than as either a writer or director, but he certainly earned his stripes here.
We start with weapons-maker Tony Stark (Downey) in a military caravan going through the hills of Afghanistan when his convoy is under attack by terrorists. He tries to flee but ends up being wounded by a bomb explosion.
We learn from flashbacks that Stark was the prodigal son of super-genius Howard Stark, the founder of Stark Industries until his tragic death. Since then the company was under the control of Obadiah Stane (Bridges), allowing Tony to live the life of an out-of-control playboy. He skips out on cushy award ceremonies, leaving the uncomfortable acceptance speeches to his friend, Lt. Colonel Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes (Howard), while he brushes off snarky titles of his war-making empire being hurled by cute liberal reporters by sleeping with them. The aftermath of his latest conquest allows us to see the role of Tony’s assistant, Pepper Potts (Paltrow), which is to basically handle the dry cleaning and show the one-night-stands out the door after being scared by the “smart house” named JARVIS (voiced by Bettany).
While Rhodes tries to get Tony to be more serious about what he is doing, Tony is getting lap dances on his private jet and hauling around chilled drinks in his portable bar on their way to Afghanistan. There Tony shows off his latest creation, the “Jericho” missile, which leads us to the ambush by the terrorists.
Tony discovers that he has been taken hostage by a terrorist group called “The Ten Rings”, led by a man named Raza (Tahir). Tony is only alive because of an invention from fellow hostage Dr. Yinsen (Toub) that keeps a piece of shrapnel from entering his heart. Raza wants Tony to build his own “Jericho” missile, and gives him all the parts from Stark Industries to do it. Tony is disgusted at seeing his own weapons in the hands of terrorists but “agrees” to Raza’s demands as long as he has the help of Yinsen.
Rather than build a new missile, though, Tony uses the weapons to create a prototype miniature arc reactor so he could keep the shrapnel away from his heart and still have mobility. He also begins construction of a special suit of armor that would allow him to power through the steel doors, survive the hail of bullets from the terrorists, and escape by rocketing away. The suit works, although Yinsen would be killed in the cross-fire, and while the rockets allow him to fly away from the cave, it’s only short-lived as he ends up crashing in the desert. Thankfully he is rescued by Rhodes and is returned home.
After stopping at a (fast food product placement) to get a couple of hamburgers, he shows up at Stark Industries, brushes off Stane’s welcome, and announces to the world that he is no longer in the weapons-making business, and would instead be doing something else entirely. This does not sit well with the people around him, though, especially Stane.
Tony’s first new invention is to replace his prototype arc reactor with a new one. He then uses that extra power to construct a new energy-based repulse device that would allow him to fly. These lead to some new comedic scenes with his robot aids, one of which he refers to constantly as “Dummy”, and JARVIS. Pretty soon he’s developing a new suit of armor around the repulse devices. After the first field test of the new armor results in him almost crashing because of the high altitude temperatures, he attends a Stark Industries function (complete with a cameo by Stan Lee as “Hef”). There he meets Agent Coulson (Gregg) of the special top-secret Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division. (Yes, they shorten it at the end of the movie to something that people will recognize.) Coulson has been pestering Stark for a debriefing, but Tony has been ducking him like he’s ducked everything else. But to appease Coulson, Stark says he’ll arrange things with his secretary, whom he quickly spots wearing a beautiful evening gown. Stark and Pepper have a semi-romantic exchange, and then when he’s getting more drinks, he finds out through the reporter he earlier slept with that his company is arming the Ten Rings after all, and that Stane has been leading the stockholders in locking Stark out of the company.
Tony takes his new armor (now with the familiar gold-and-red finish) back to the Middle East, where takes out the Stark Industry weapons and many of the Ten Rings terrorists. On the way back, he has to reveal to Rhodes that he’s inside the armor to get the Air Force to stop attacking him for violating the “no-fly zone”. Meanwhile, Stane has taken out Raza and the rest of the Ten Rings that have retrieved what was left of Tony’s original armor. Stane has the armor pieces sent over to his own people, only to find they can’t replicate the most important component because… they’re not Tony Stark! (Of course!)
It’s at this point that I’m going to have to pause things, because I don’t want to spoil how the movie ends if you haven’t seen it yet. I will say, however, that you do not want to miss what happens after the credits. In fact, this movie is the one that starts a long string of “teaser” clips getting people hooked to Marvel’s “ultimate production”.
In terms of casting, there are some great and some okay choices. Downey as Tony Stark has to be spot-on the best casting, period. Tony Stark as a character is far from perfect, and given some of Downey’s real-world history, he seems to be a natural. One has to wonder if there would even be a script needed, or if Downey was just told “Okay, be yourself and have fun.” Casting Bridges as Obadiah Stane was a bit of a surprise, since I didn’t really know the character, and having Bridges end up being the villain in this was a shocker, never mind making him BALD!
On the other hand, casting Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts seemed to be one of those moments where you have to ask “WHY?” when you see what the character really does, and I don’t mean the “dry cleaning and floozy-removal” role in the beginning of the movie. Pepper seems to be too flaky at times, especially at the end.
The story may seem simplistic, but it worked in that it brought an updated look to Iron Man’s origins. The original Iron Man story had Tony injured in Asia. Here, it’s Afghanistan. Using a modern-day battleground to showcase new weapons is nothing new either. Why do you think the Hummer and the Patriot missile defense system became so popular in the 90’s?
The one change that took me by surprise, though, was replacing “Jarvis” the human butler into JARVIS, the artificial intelligence “smart house” which ends up being Iron Man’s “sidekick” as well. Okay, as part of the “smart house”, I can see that happening. But using that same AI to also run the Iron Man armor? That’s a big stretch.
In all, this is a really good hero movie in terms of casting and story. So now the real challenge is… how does it handle sequels? We’ll find out in a future review of “Iron Man 2”.
|Capes:||This movie easily earned four capes out of five.|
|Cheese:||Despite the “playboy” tone of Tony Stark, the overall cheese level is kept pleasantly low and tolerable to Mild Cheddar (1 out of 5).|
|Books:||While simplistic at times, the overall story works and easily earns four books out of five.|