by RISHI AGRAWAL
Iron Man launches yet another franchise in Marvel’s ever-growing stable of superhero films. I am not sure how well known Iron Man is outside comic book circles, but certainly he does not have the fame of Captain America or Spider-Man as far as Marvel heroes go and so the origin story is particularly important. The film fulfills its goals admirably, by giving us a very watchable film which creates a base on which to build future films. Throw in some decent acting with nice action sequences and great special effects, and this is the movie that fans have been hoping for.
For those of you unfamiliar with the plot, here’s a brief recap. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has a natural gift for technology and inherits Stark Industries, a weapons manufacturer, when his father dies. He grows up playing the roles of both brilliant inventor and wealthy playboy, until he gets kidnapped by terrorists, forced to make weapons for them. Instead of making weapons, Stark builds a technologically advanced suit of armor and becomes Iron Man. When he gets back to civilization, he perfects the suit and fights evil people.
As expected, the action sequences in the film are phenomenal. The suit looks great. Most importantly, one of the toughest jobs for a director in superhero films is infusing a masked crusader with humanity. Jon Favreau’s job is made even more difficult by the fact that Iron Man, in the suit, looks even more inhuman than most heroes. The key to making these scenes work is by getting inside the suit and showing Stark’s face while controlling the suit. At one point, Stark takes a cell phone call in the middle of an action sequence.
This is another strength of the movie. The film can be lighthearted and funny. Downey Jr.’s natural charisma comes through as he portrays Stark as an amicable and likable character. As a billionaire bachelor, it would be easy to compare Iron Man to Batman, but Tony Stark is not Bruce Wayne. The dark cloud that hovers over the Batman movies would not work in this film.
In addition to Downey Jr.’s great performance, Gwyneth Paltrow is very good as Stark’s assistant Pepper Potts. Paltrow especially works in her scenes with Downey Jr. Their relationship is innocent and tender, which serves in sharp contrast to Downey Jr.’s other “relationships” with women in the movie, which are merely sexual conquests.
Unfortunately, the other acting in the film is less interesting. Terrence Howard, playing Stark’s good friend Jim Rhodes, is hardly used in the movie and is obviously just slipped in to set up storylines for future films. And Jeff Bridges looks like he is simply playing dress-up as he takes the role of Obadiah Stane, an executive who ran Stark Industries between the time Stark’s father died and when Tony Stark came of age. Bridges in this role dons a bald cap and a bushy beard, but never truly embodies the role.
Still, none of this leads to my ultimate problem with the film. This is a film that is almost completely without subtlety. The good guys are good and the bad guys are evil. Even Stark’s flaws: his tendency to go to excess (especially with alcohol) and his arrogance are downplayed in the film. The film goes in generally expected directions, which is unsatisfying in a plot-driven film. Perhaps I would have this problem with all superhero movies, but I would wager if I watched Spider-Man 2 or Batman Begins again, there would be a lot more going on than what was on the surface. Still, despite this observation, the film does some things towards the end (and after the final credits roll) that truly make me excited for more films in this franchise.