Posted March 12, 2013 by Becky Hall in Comics

Comic Book Movie Review: Iron (Gold Titanium Alloy) Man

© Marvel/ Paramount Pictures

Director: Jon Favreau

Release Year: 2008

Starring: Robert Downey Jnr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges

© Marvel/ Paramount Pictures

This is not the first time I have watched Iron Man and it will certainly not be the last. It was the first film released by Marvel as part of “Phase One” of their Cinematic Universe (aka MCU) and it received a 93% rating from the film critic website Rotten Tomatoes. Why? Because it’s goddamn awesome. That’s why.

It is THE origin story, not just for Iron Man, but for the whole Avengers film arc. This is where it all begins and Iron Man is a dazzlingly explosive entrance into what is swiftly turning into one of the longest running and most adventurous movie franchises to date. And I mean explosive in a very literal sense.

It takes only 1 minute and 53 seconds for the first bomb to go off. Less than five minutes from the start and all hell has broken loose. There are bullets and bombs, American troops are dying left, right and centre and our hero, Tony Stark, is hiding behind a rock playing on his phone (in the middle of a gunfight, I hasten to add, and presumably without signal…). Before the title appears on the screen with a metallic thud, Stark has been introduced to the audience, promptly attacked using weapons of his own design and kidnapped by terrorists. BOOM! What an entrance. Well played Mr Favreau. Well played.

What’s stunning about this movie is that it’s not all about the superhero saving the day. Well, not entirely at any rate. Any superhero movie that does not involve tonnes of explosions, some badass CGI and climax with the hero going head to head with the baddie, can’t really be defined as a superhero movie.

What Iron Man is really about, beneath all that action awesomeness, is the character development of Tony Stark. Pre-attack he is completely confident in the life he is leading and, to be honest, the guy is a douche. But when he is kidnapped by a terrorist group using *his* weapons, Tony comes face to face with stark reality (see what I did there?). He has been blinkered, blind to the true nature of the world he lives in. His weapons don’t always protect the people they were meant to and Stark realises that zero accountability is not luxury he can enjoy anymore.

© Marvel/ Paramount Pictures

Even when he is changing for the better, Stark is the very definition of a flawed hero and casting Robert Downey Junior in the role was a piece of stunning insight. RDJ manages to capture Stark’s emotional and personal journey with cutting humour, intensity and a performance so nuanced and believable that one might think he was drawing from his some of his own experiences to understand the character. We all have parts of our personal histories that we wish hadn’t happened, that we would like to forget, but RDJ seems to use his to lend real, tangible believability to his role as Stark and this is why IMHO, no one else could have done this role even half as well. RDJ is a rockstar. Truth.

© Marvel/ Paramount Pictures

Stark’s capable and unflappable PA, Virginia “Pepper” Potts, wonderfully portrayed by the equally unflappable Gwyneth Paltrow (seriously, if RDJ ad-libs half as much as I think he does, you’d have to be more than unflappable to be able to keep pace without corpsing), is also his antithesis. Organised, intelligent and focussed, Potts has almost full control over Stark’s life. She doesn’t fawn over him, she has no allusions as to his character and she manages to keep him on track, for the most part at least. The dynamic between RDJ and Paltrow is one of the best things about the movie. Their cutting banter belies genuine warmth in the characters’ professional relationship and Paltrow has a way of delivering her dialogue with RDJ with all the little character quirks and turns of phrase that you’d expect in a normal conversation with an irritating genius, billionaire, playboy.

Rhodey on the other hand… oh dear. Howard does a decent job of portraying Rhodey as a straight laced, upright member of the US military and a man who has to put up with a shed load of crap from Stark. But the dynamic between RDJ and Howard is just… horrible. Wooden, stilted and a little awkward in places, the on screen relationship is less than convincing. Even when the two are meant to be bantering, Howard seems to have a look on his face that is less than impressed. This may just be his interpretation of the dynamic of Stark and Rhodey’s relationship, however it does little to impress on the audience that these two are, supposedly, best friends. This particular aspect of the storyline was disappointing.

© Marvel/ Paramount Pictures

But, the defining relationship of the piece has got to be that between Stark and his mentor and business associate, Obadiah Stane. Jeff Bridges is a wonderfully talented actor, a complete badass and in this he is, quite frankly, terrifying. Certainly scares the bejeebies out of me. But, this is also where Iron Man fails to break the mould. As Obadiah Stane, Bridges is phenomenal- manipulative, clever and fiercely ambitious, a man who has been playing Stark for years, doing dodgy deals with international terrorists and building up the kind of contacts you’d need to kidnap and kill the son of your old business partner. But as with most superhero villains, Stane has little build up, no real back story to speak of. Compared to Stark, he is a remarkably 2-dimensional character, a baddie there purely to make the good guy look… well, good. Which, let’s face it, is a tough job when your good guy is Tony Stark. So maybe I should cut them some slack.

Iron Man, while disappointingly falling into the archetypal superhero movie trap of using a villain that has no real depth of character, is still a pretty awesome superhero movie. Intense action and kickass CGI effects aside, it also goes that little bit further than most, providing a flawed hero that doesn’t achieve ultimate enlightenment in dazzling flash of realisation. Instead he has his eyes opened and makes the choice to be someone different, someone who can make a difference in an equally flawed world. Iron Man has enough conflict to satisfy the action fans, enough futuristic tech to make the geeks squee (extremely guilty- I would give an obscene amount of money that I don’t have to have JARVIS running my flat) and enough heart to give the whole thing a deeper meaning than your average action flick.

Superhero rating: 8/10

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