Iron Man (2008) dir. Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard
Blockbuster season is underway – a time when my eyes and ears will become beaten down sore from over stimulation of the $100million + gargantuan films which come at us week after week - the excitement is palpable. First up is Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man” – a monster of a film which is now a certifiable franchise behemoth. Wait, is that the same unassuming Jon Favreau who wrote that hilariously pathetic scene in “Swingers” for himself about his character leaving a dozen neurotic voicemails after meeting the girl of his dreams? Yes. Favreau, now a bonafide blockbuster director, has helmed one of the top-tier echelon comic book adaptations. “Iron Man” can sit proudly beside the best-ever comic book films – “Superman: The Movie”, Tim Burton’s “Batman”, “Batman Begins” and “Spider-Man 2”.
“Iron Man” begins with that scene we’ve all seen a dozen times in the trailer and TV spots – Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), a fast-talking playboy billionaire, is being transported in a humvee in Afghanistan. His convoy is attacked and he’s taken prisoner by a group of insurgents. The film then flashes back to establish who Tony Stark is and how he got to this point. We learn he’s the technologically-talented son of a military weapons manufacturer who has turned his father’s company into a giant publicly-traded conglomerate whose sole interests are on the bottom-line. Stark is taken prisoner after the humvee attack and forced to construct for them one of his new and deadly Jericho missiles. But with the help of fellow prisoner/scientist Yinsen, Stark surprises his captors with an unexpected escape plan.
Stark escapes and returns home with a new lease on life – for his company to make good for the world instead of the destruction and death his weapons have caused. Meanwhile Stark’s personal life does a 180 and his attention becomes fixated on his loyal assistant Pepper Pots (a lovely Gwyneth Paltrow) who has stood by him through all of his irresponsible playboy years. The new direction for the company doesn’t sit well with his partner Obadiah Stone (Jeff Bridges) who subverts Stark’s activities with his own nefarious plans. Stark’s new life becomes dedicated to creating a defensive suit of armour as a means of cleansing his soul for the wrongs he has been responsible for. The result is the newest superhero on the block – Iron Man.
The casting of Downey Jr. is an inspired choice of a comic book lead. When it was announced in the press last year who would play the lead role of playboy-tycoon turned ego-driven superhero, the film instantly was elevated a few notches on the must-watch list. It was clear “Iron Man” was going to be taken seriously, and the franchise wouldn’t fall in the superhero junk bin where “Daredevil”, and “The Punisher” now reside. I’m sure the mere presence of the gifted and unconventional lead man elevated everyone’s game to the highest quality of drama
And that’s what “Iron Man” has become, a top notch drama. The film is relatively sparse in action (compared with say, “Transformers” or even the average comic book film). In the first half, precious quality time is spent with Stark and his imprisoned companion Yinsen. This is the most important relationship in the film – the one which will cause Stark to change his life and pursue good in the world. His influence on Stark’s life is handled with more intelligence than Cliff Robertson’s equivalent Uncle Parker role in “Spider-man”. Yinsen’s scenes serve more than just to establish Stark’s goals, or incite the action, there’s genuine brotherly love between the two characters which is felt through out the rest of the film. Credit goes to actor Shaun Tobb who gives his character the honour and respectability Yinsen needs to have.
Cudos to Favreau for casting 30-something Gwyneth Paltrow, a role which, under other circumstances, would have gone to the latest 20-something celeb sensation. Jeff Bridges’ easy-going demeanor in the role of the baddie is a surprising success (btw. Mr. Bridges has one of the cooler personal websites out there. Check it out: www.jeffbrides.com) And Terrence Howard is even more easy-going, and fits into his Air Force jumpsuit just as well.
“Iron Man” works because everything in the film, from the technology, to the politics, to the relationships are taken seriously and never exploited for action’s sake. In fact, the best parts of the film are not the action scenes, but the set up and the groundwork of character which will make the series a lasting franchise. Enjoy.
PS. Don't forget to stay to the very end of the credits. A nice easter egg awaits...