Robert Downey Jr.
reviewed by Tom-Tom
Iron Man is the superhero who began it all. A hotheaded ex-alcoholic whose angry outbursts in the comics more often than not led to genocidal behavior not befitting a so-called superhero, Tony Stark, as played by the charming, motor-mouth Robert Downey Jr. changed not only our perception of the genius inventor and engineer but also forever altered our perceptions of superheroes in general They don’t have to be invincible Dudley Do Rights or brooding Dark Knights or even misfits with special powers. They can be self made geniuses who wisecrack, have their cake, and eat it too. They can be anti-war and anti-violence and be cool about it…while blasting the crap out of warmongers.
At the time of the release of the first Iron Man film, there wasn’t a franchise, just a bunch of random infrequent Marvel films made by equally random studios: Sony, 20th Century Fox, Paramount etc. Jon Favreau of all people came on as director and hit this one out of the park. The crackling dialogue we experienced in his directorial debut Swingers is here in full…well you, know. From the very first few moments, we realize this is not going to be our typical comic book hero movie.
The early scenes seem torn from the front lines (well circa 2008) with Tony Stark, a weapons manufacturer, riding in a military humvee while exchanging rapid fire dialogue with the brave and young soldiers assigned to transport and protect him through this war zone. It is apparent that Stark is an engineer, arrogant, rich, a playboy, and a true believer in the weapons business. He mentions at one point that he would be out of a job with “peace”.
The convoy is hit, all soldiers are killed and we see a Stark Industries made bomb land right next to the eponymous billionaire before exploding and sending shrapnel into his chest area. Before we know it, he is wreathed in terrorists who are making an internet video we all know too well even if we can’t decipher the language.
So begins the journey of Tony Stark from warmonger to hero. It’s a long journey which takes up most of the film but it is rewarded with snappy dialogue along the way between him and his executive assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and senior partner in Stark Industries, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges, completely bald, although it suits him). There is the feeling, in the interlanguage they use, completing each other’s sentences and making off-hand references, that these people have been together or a long time. There is no, “I’ve told you a thousand times Tony…” shortcuts for our benefit. These folks know each other. Potts and Stane have made it their business to cover for Tony when he is being…well, Tony. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard, another excellent casting call) is new to the club, as Military Liaison to Stark Industries. He’s still getting used to Tony, and, still holds out a tiny hope that he can change the billionaire despite several examples to the contrary.
Being kidnapped by terrorists and escaping by using his wits and engineering skills does change Tony as does meeting Yinsen, a quiet, dignified gentleman from the town of Gulmira (also in Afghanistan). Yinsen is responsible for saving Tony’s life from the shrapnel the Stark Industries bomb blew into his chest. Upon hearing that Stark has no family to speak of, he comments, “So you have everything and nothing.” and calmly comments at the weapons cache the terrorists have amassed, all Stark made. “This is your legacy.” and later “Don’t waste two lives.” Yinsen, like Dr. Erskine for Steve Rogers, Odin for Thor, and Uncle Ben for Peter Parker, is the pivotal character who changes our hero into a hero.
Tony returns to the States, makes a shocking declaration at a press conference (it won’t be the last) and sets to work in his basement making Mark II of the invention he used to escape that cave so far away. Like any inventor, there are flaws and mistakes. The joys of temporary success tempers with glaring miscalculations, which are actually quite funny. Finally, Iron Man is born and the little we get to see him in action is all very exciting and cool but realistic as well, story wise. He is perceived as a threat from all sides save for the ones he saves. The scenes are very calculated and very frightening in a real world sense until the big guy shows up.
The film leads up to a big mech showdown which itself isn’t overdone but satisfying and pretty cool. It’s almost impossible not to like Iron Man. The cast, story, and dialogue are all superb. It’s pretty easy to understand why this is the film which launched a multi-billion dollar franchise with no end in sight.