April 14, 2008 by Korshi
About a week ago I got a call from my friend who works at Greater Union cinemas, asking me if I wanted to see the premier of the new Iron Man film. I said yes (followed by about 20 exclamation marks). I should probably start this review off with a confession- I love comics. I love superheroes. And I love films based on superheroes.
Only problem is that most superhero films are, basically, crap. They’re guilty pleasures for me- Spiderman was okay, The Hulk was interesting, X-Men started well but nose-dived at 3- the problem is that when it comes to live action, it’s hard to avoid something that looks like a big budget version of Power Rangers. In my opinion, the most successful adaptations have been animated- The Incredibles and Bruce Timm’s Batman and Justice League series and- wait, before I get into my uber geeky dissection of the film I should tell you it’s awesome. Probably the best live action superhero film I’ve ever seen, and my friend (not a comics fan, although she has been known to enjoy a bit of R Crumb) loved it too.
Why was it the best? It’s partly the concept- the idea of a superhero in a robotic suit is more plausible than gamma rays and spider bites and kids from Krypton, and translates beautifully on the screen, the visuals inspired by the very excellent art of Adi Granov. The special effects are fantastic, with action scenes that reminded me of the awesomeness (expect a lot of that word, I had a big weekend and I’m running on caffeine) of Transformers and the Terminator films.
But unlike those blockbusters, this film has both a heart and a brain. Iron Man was originally written in 1963, the year that America entered the Vietnam War; as Tony Stark he was a millionaire playboy, inventor and arms dealer who created his suit after being captured by the Viet Cong during a weapons test. In 2008, with America is embroiled in the eighth year of a war many are comparing to Vietnam, this film has a very contemporary subtext.
Superheroes are an especially American mythology, combining that nation’s superpower status with its earnest desire to do good; Iron Man turns what was a straightforward comic about one man battling the Red Menace into a surprisingly nuanced meditation on the arms industry and the great responsibility that comes with great power. Stark is a lone dreamer in the mould of Thomas Edison, whose idealistic genius is contrasted with the amoral corporation which sells weapons to terrorists behind his back. He represents the American interventionist dream, fighting only to save lives and undo his past wrongs, using über-advanced computer targeting to take out hostage-grabbing villains with their guns to children’s heads; but living in the shadow of the nuclear bomb his father created.
But if that’s not your thing, don’t worry, the film never bashes you over the head with its point, and there’s plenty else to enjoy
If you’re a geek like me you’ll love the references to SHIELD (no Samuel L Jackson Nick Fury unfortunately), an appearance by the butler Jarvis as a computerised voice, the Moneypenny-esque tension between Pepper Pots and her boss- a little love story that walks the line between too much and too little very nicely, the cover story involving Iron Man as Tony Stark’s bodyguard, and a cameo by Stan Lee, without which no Marvel adaptation would be complete. (And I may have seen Condoleeza Rice in the background in a ballroom scene, but that can’t be right, can it…?)
For non-geeks, the plotting is tight, the pace is gripping and cast is… um, awesome. Robert Downey Jr puts his charisma to good use in the title role, alternately as a loose-living playboy with foreshades of alcoholism and a brooding hero out to do good while he still can. In several scenes he convincingly delivers dialogue to robotic arms, which is something of a feat. Gwyneth Paltrow is a nice counterpoint as Pepper Potts- haven’t seen her in anything in a while, but she gets some of the best scenes, and avoids being the token Love Interest for the most part. Jeff Bridges, The Dude from The Big Lebowski, is miles away from that role, but makes a great villain.
I was going to attempt a deconstruction of the themes in the film, but I think it’s getting too late for that, and they’re not too hard to spot. So I’ll just give you my final thought and rating.
I’m not much of an Iron Man expert- I knew him mainly from The Ultimates– but I’ve taken advantage of my Marvel Online subscription in the last few hours to read the first dozen or so comics with him in them, and the film is very faithful to them- updating the action from Vietnam to Afghanistan, of course, even reproducing the original hulking, grey armour as Iron Man Mark I. Unless director Jon Favreau was lying to me, the screening here in Sydney which I just got back from was one of the first in the world; and I think there’s something fitting given the similarities between Iron Man and Australia’s favourite outlaw, Ned Kelly.
Iron Man and Ned Kelly- Separated at Birth?
Being in the same theatre as Robert Downey Jr, Naomi Watts and Rove McManus is probably responsible for some of my gushing, but I’m hard pressed to think how this film could have been better, something that is very rare for me. I’m happy that I finally have a live-action superhero movie which delivers on all levels. If the public at large loved it half as much as I did, I’ll still love it twice as much. And I’ll be able to look forward to a sequel.