Iron Man

Superhero Action Movie

  • Written by a whole bunch of people
  • Directed by Jon Favreau

After 15 days of documentaries, serious dramas, and dark comedies at the San Francisco International Film Festival, nothing cleanses the palette like a well-made, big-budget Hollywood entertainment. Iron Man fit the bill perfectly. While not up to the quality of Spiderman 2 (still the best superhero comic-book movie ever made), director Jon Favreau and his team of writers still manage to insert all the requisite thrills into a story strong enough to support the pyrotechnics rather than get buried by them.

That story concerns weapons tycoon Tony Stark, a selfish and egotistical (but brilliant) jerk played by Robert Downey Jr. After some weeks held prisoner by some Very Bad People With Accents in Afghanistan (their exact affiliation is never made clear), Stark has a change of heart and wants to get out of the death business. But he’s conflicted about his new-found pacifism, and secretly builds the ultimate one-man weapon–an armored, flying suit with guns and missile launchers attached–to help him keep the peace.

Of course, I’m using the term “strong story” in a relative way, since we go to different types of films with different expectations. If a Mike Leigh film had a story this implausible, we’d through bricks at the screen. On the other hand, we’re not disappointed if Leigh fails to deliver great-looking action sequences.

Favreau delivers them, effectively and generously. He knows better than to fill his movie with wall-to-wall action, and always ties the fighting to the story, making it all the more thrilling. And the action is choreographed and edited to show, rather than obscure, what’s going on. Iron Man’s fights lack the spatial incoherence that hurt the equally well-written and -cast Batman Begins.

Let’s talk about that casting. With his disreputable aura and problematic personal history, Downey isn’t your garden variety action star. On the other hand, he’s perfect as an hard-living playboy who can tell a bartender “I’m famished. Bring me a scotch.” And that makes him the right choice for Stark. (Strictly speaking, Iron Man isn’t a superhero, as he has no super powers. Anyone who put on the suit and learned how to use it could do the same things. But culturally speaking, he’s a superhero because he fights crime while wearing silly clothes. The same rule applies to Batman.) Among the supporting cast, Gwyneth Paltrow stands out in the Gal Friday role of Pepper Potts, turning a poorly-written cliché into a likeable screen presence.

Stay through the end credits. You’ll be rewarded.

One thought on “Iron Man

  1. Fun fact: For those who know the comics, there are hints as to the affiliation of the “Very Bad People With Accents in Afghanistan,” and that affiliation is decidedly non-Muslim-extremist, and more in the realm of “world-conquering supervillain.” (Remember the Genghis Khan speech.)

    A fun little Easter Egg for those of us who’ve read the comics. I assume this will be followed up in the sequel (which has already been greenlit!).

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