Fri 25 Apr 2008
For its first 60 minutes (of a total of 126) “Iron Man” manages to overcome quite a few obstacles to become a surprisingly chirpy comic-book action movie.
1) Robert Downey Junior as an action hero? Oh yeah. What seemed as a quirky casting decision turns out as an inspired call. Downey Junior may be the most spot-on actor to portray the alter-ego of a super-rich, self made crime fighter, since Michael Keaton turned into Batman. His glib cynicism saves the movie as the story too often veers into “seen that” territory. Downey Junior’s Tony Stark is a man with no respect for life, one who’s seen it all, done it all, and let none of it sink into his soul (if he has one). Then he has - quite literally - a change of heart, which alters his methods, but changes nothing of his behavior, which remains irreverent.
2) Is this a “Middle East Conflict Movie” masked as a superhero action flic? For a while it looks like “Charlie Wilson’s War” has melded into “Lord of War”. The majority of the film’s first act takes place in a cave in Afghanistan, full with very bad Muslims (and one good one), as Tony Stark confronts the reality of the armed conflict in the Gulf region, that he has helped fuel by his greediness, cloaked by phony patriotism.
3) Oh no, not another origins story. I’m fed up with those. Cut to the chase already. give me the sequel, not the pilot. I get it, he had a troubled conscience but then decided to become a better human being, helping out people instead of killing them. Fine, seen it. Read it. Add to this a not-so-wonderful last act battle sequence - way too reminiscent of Spiderman vs. Goblin, and you’ll get a movie that story-wise treads water.
So how come after all this, “Iron Man” is - for at least 3/4 of the movie - so much fun? Because of it’s tone. This superhero is self-serving, an egomaniac, but he’s well aware of his defects and wryly self-dissects his own flaws. And he’s a man living in the “real world”, so he is also the self-conscious superhero, aware of story mechanisms that has become cliches.
“Iron Man” is a mixed bag. Slick, snappy, wonderfully witty, and at time more of an irony-man than just plain “Iron Man” (”it’s actually ‘titanium-alloy man’”, says Stark in his usual blasé mode), yet at time a routine action movie with no real inventiveness, plot-wise. Politically it tries to be liberal minded at first - putting the blame for wars on profiteering by arms manufacturers - but in fact this is an conservative old-fashioned picture, about a nation looking for a dude to fight its wars for it, abroad and at home, and do it with as little accountability as possible. Its a childish movie for grown ups, that allows the viewer to root for the fetishistic gadget-laden chauvinistic power-happy capitalist playboy, while liberal minded viewers may feel safe here, because of there are no flag waving and anthem chanting, just a guy, in a super-cool suit, playing with his toys, that keeps reminding the viewers this is only a movie. And a barrel of fun as such.
Oh, and by the way: Gwyneth Paltrow is absolutely wonderful. She’s quite the revelation here. Hope she doesn’t disappear again.