"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me."And when you go see Iron Man at the cinema (and you really should) you'll understand why I chose to open this review with that bit of scripture.
-- The apostle Paul,
1 Corinthians 13:11
Iron Man now ties with Spider-Man and Batman Begins as my all-time favorite comic book movie. I caught it yesterday evening during a stop in Burlington, on the way back from a political trip to Chapel Hill (I'm treasurer of a friend's statewide election campaign, if anyone's just now coming to this blog). Lisa was out having dinner and a movie with a friend from school. With things going especially well on several fronts in my life lately and since I can't remember the last time I did this, I opted to treat myself to a movie.
I went into Iron Man only knowing that Robert Downey Jr. was playing Tony Stark/Iron Man, but that's it. Search through this blog: you won't find any previous reference to this movie, it's been so far down my list of priorities... and I'm pretty familiar with the Iron Man saga, too. But the buzz has been too great for this movie and I had to see what it was about.
I hope that I can be blissfully ignorant about other movies in the future, if they can pack the same unexpected wallop as Iron Man did!
Iron Man is one of the most faithful adaptations of a comic book that I can recall ever being produced. Just about all of the classic elements of the Marvel comic are here and if they're not, they're subtly set-up for future installments (of which I hope there will be very many).
There are two ways to make a comic book movie: either make it as a geeky love-letter to comic book fans... and sometimes this goes too far and alienates the rest of an audience. Or make it for everyone, and run the risk of compromising on the source material. With Iron Man, director Jon Favreau has pulled off the nearly-impossible and done both, with no shortcomings at all. He and everyone else who produced this movie "get" that Iron Man, at its heart (was that a pun?) is far more about the human strengths and weaknesses of its characters more than it is about nonstop action.
But you'll still get plenty of both with Iron Man.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is the owner of Stark Industries, a major weapons supplier for the United States military. During a trip to Afghanistan where he's demonstrating his company's latest bit of destructive technology, his convoy comes under attack and Stark is seriously wounded, then taken hostage. Shrapnel from the attack threatens his heart and only a powerful electro-magnet provided by a kind fellow prisoner keeps Stark alive. His captors then demand that Stark provide them with the weapon system he had been demonstrating.
But Stark, a born genius in the fields of engineering and computers, has other ideas.
I won't spoil what happens but you can probably figure it out. The fun then comes with seeing how this event changes the rest of Stark's life. And in that regard, Iron Man succeeds better than most comic book movies as a morality tale...
You see, Iron Man is a movie about "putting childish ways behind" and finally having to grow up. But it's also about realizing that to embrace that growth does not mean an end to life. Rather it's the true beginning of it. Tony Stark has it all: fathomless wealth, high society connection, government contracts, lots to drink, and a non-stop parade of women that he can be as fast and loose as he wants to be. He's like Howard Hughes magnified to the nth degree. Tony has everything that this carnal world could possibly provide... and yet he has nothing, as one character observes.
I think it could even possibly be said that Iron Man is, in some ways, a profoundly Christian movie. Just as Paul had a spiritual transformation and became a very different person, Tony Stark experiences his own "Damascus Road" and even a kind of "baptism of fire". It takes a tragedy to force him to confront both human frailty and his own moral shortcomings. He resolves to make the rest of his life count for something more than the money and the constant party. And so it is that in the end, Tony Stark stops being a child. But that doesn't mean that as a man he doesn't have some pretty cool toys, either.
I thought when I heard the news about casting that it was a brilliant choice to give the Tony Stark role to Robert Downey Jr., because in many ways he already knows what this character has to struggle with and Downey could bring that to the role. He does at that, and I seriously think he deserves Oscar consideration for how he uses his personal vulnerabilities to have such a convincing portrayal of Tony Stark. The rest of the cast is just as well-considered: Terrence Howard as James Rhodes and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts (and look for director Favreau as Stark's chauffeur Happy Hogan) do a beautiful job in establishing Stark's circle of friends and colleagues. And they contribute terrifically to another aspect of Iron Man that has translated well onto the big screen: the virtue of loyalty to those that one loves. Probably the biggest surprise in terms of Iron Man's acting is Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane: shaving his head and growing a goatee has brought something positively insidious out of Bridges that we never knew was there before. The result is that Bridges delivers one of the best villains of a comic book movie that I've seen in recent years.
The action sequences in Iron Man are nothing less than staggering. From the very beginning, this is a film about high-octane thrills and glorious eye candy as much as it is about human nature. And the producers and effects team obviously obviously had some fun with this movie. I thought it was especially hilarious to watch Stark's early attempts at fine-tuning his Mark II armor.
Anyone with small children will delight to know that Iron Man is a fantastically "clean" movie: I can't remember hearing a single profanity during the entire two hours of the film. There is one very brief romp in bed for Tony that we see, but it's handled with considerable taste and no suggestive innuendo. I wouldn't have any problem with a kid seeing it and in fact even that little bit works to establish the fast and loose morals that Tony has before his moral metamorphosis.
I'm already hoping to catch Iron Man once more before the weekend is out, if that's possible. Iron Man was the most absolutely perfect way to kick off the 2008 summer movie season. With a Batman movie, an Indiana Jones movie, a Hulk movie and even (after a fashion) a new Star Wars feature, this is shaping up to be the best year for solid blockbusters in a very long time. I can't think of a better way to get this party started than with Iron Man.
By the way, look for Stan Lee playing a Hugh Hefner-type at a glitzy party. And don't leave when the credits roll, because there is one more scene yet to watch, which figures into Marvel's scheme to tie all their comic movies together (it also features a very cool cameo appearance by both a longtime Marvel staple and a well-known actor :-).