Review: Iron Man (2008)

What is it with America’s fixation on superheroes? It seems we generate superheroes in infinite combinations and many of them prove their moxy by eventually leaping off the comic book page and into our local cinema. That is the case of Iron Man, but at least Iron Man, like Spider-Man, cannot claim supernatural powers. Just as Peter Parker was able to create a sticky formula that let him swing from building to building, Tony Stark was able to use his gifts as the genius behind Stark Industries, a prestigious and innovative defense contractor, to encase himself in a steel suit that comes equipped with a number of nifty mobile devices.

Robert Downey Jr. plays the eccentric inventor, entrepreneur and playboy Tony Stark. I was surprised by director Jon Favreau’s pick for this role, which was unconventional, but Downey actually does a convincing job with this character. Moreover, as action-adventure movies go this one is significantly more engaging than most of them, even if its plot leaves little to the viewer’s imagination. Stark is a pragmatic genius who hopes his next generation armaments will intimidate potential enemies into meek compliance. He feels this way until he pays a visit to Afghanistan and gets captured by a group of guerilla fighters who I assume are aligned with the Taliban. It is hard to tell and doesn’t really matter. The main thing is that Stark is a valuable asset to the enemy, who want him to reproduce one of his newest signature weapons. Instead, very improbably, Stark manages to construct an iron suit instead, which allows him to escape. The incident is transformative. Once back safely in his California digs Stark denounces violence and attempts to change the course of his company toward more peaceful pursuits. As you might suspect this does not go over well with stockholders. In particular, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), the company’s CEO is not amused and works hard to change Stark’s mind. Stark though prefers to hide in his laboratory where, except for occasional interruptions from his comely personal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), he works to improve the shattered Iron Man prototype suit he left behind in Afghanistan.

It turns out that Stane is much more jealous of Stark than he is an admirer and this conflict will eventually manifest itself with many special effects. Stane wants to prove his mojo too and works to develop his own much bigger Iron Man suit, thereby proving his superiority and masculinity, while also hopefully saving Stark Industries from the evils of developing peaceful technologies.

Downey seems to be having fun playing Stark. He manages to make Stark rather fun and interesting. Women are his plaything, but he his real passion seems to be his laboratory and his cute robot which aids him in assembling his Iron Man suit. It takes a party for him to see his slinky secretary Pepper in a romantic light. Clearly Pepper has had the hots for him for many years, but they have had too many years in an employer-employee relationship for either to seriously consider a more intimate kind of relationship. Paltrow too is convincing as Stark’s Girl Friday. Their cute banter helps enliven the movie which probably would otherwise have gone somewhat flat.

The special effects are not that special, at least these days, so by themselves are not much incentive to see the movie. Fortunately, the story at least moves briskly and never drags. We do not spend enough time with Stark to find him irritating. Also the romantic tension with Pepper Potts hits just the right notes to be engaging without becoming annoying. The villains, which include Terrance Howard as the Afghani warlord Rhodey, are at least not your typical one dimensional villains and draw your interest. The scenes in Afghanistan are quite convincingly done. Naturally Stark has to save some villagers from impending injustice, but most of the action seems to be confined to Los Angeles where Stark and Stane get to engage in some amazing pyrotechnics.

While not as much fun as the recently released Star Trek, if action-adventure films are your love and you missed Iron Man, you should definitely pick it up for it is engaging and enjoyable. Iron Man definitely rests in the top twenty percent of this genre.

3.2 on my 4.0 scale.

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