I didn’t go into Iron Man with the fanatic excitement reserved for A-listers Batman and Spider-Man but the combined talent of self-effacing Robert Downey Jr., massive-jawed Jeff Bridges and actually-kind-of-likable Gwyneth Paltrow – and a ton of anime-inspired machinery – left me excited for the inevitable sequels. Terrence Howard, who plays Army guy James Rhodes, turns to one of Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey) humanoid inventions, ponders a second and breathes “Next time, baby.” Not so much a wink as a goddamn heraldic promise. Expect War Machine! Expect new villains and heroes! Expect more of the respectful treatment director Jon Favreau gave to this character and world, an unusually more grown-up Marvel universe than perhaps we’re used to.
For one thing, It’s been a long time since a movie made science and computers and good-‘ol American (by way of Japanese – at one point Bridges demands a piece of tech to be made smaller) know-how look so cool. So far every comic book movie has made science out to be the villain or the direct cause of the reluctant superhero. A genetically-altered spider bites Peter Parker, gamma-ray toads or whatever turn Bruce Banner into the Hulk. Iron Man reverses all that. Science is progressive, imaginative, ambitious! And that’s exhilarating. Tony Stark, similar to Bruce Wayne, builds himself into a superhero. Bruce looked to myths and fear for his inspiration but Tony builds his first suit, like so many inventions, out of the necessity to survive. Not that Tony lacks mythical strength. His Hephaestian construction of the armor provide many of the film’s best moments.
As he augments and builds upon his design, locked up in his lab like a Howard Hughes with his ducks in a row, he hovers around, crashes, learns from his mistakes. Fantastic 3D computer displays appear out of mid-air to be manipulated by touch. Who knew Star Trek-like holograms, long exploited by stupider movies, could be cool again? The inspiration is drawn from all over sci-fi – RoboCop‘s armor, The Rocketeer‘s flight, the HUD displays from Terminator or Ghost in the Shell – the Mark 2 armor’s bust suspends in air by wires akin to the Puppeteer’s captivity in Section 9. Transformers gave us our first live-action giant robots, Tony Stark is basically the first live-action mecha pilot. His first test flight most fittingly resembles the 1960s’ “new frontier”: Tony shoots for the moon.
But it’s not all Camelot. The goings-on leading up to the invention have a grit bordering on Persepolis‘ animated-yet-real-word conflict, a depiction of war and violence fairly harrowing for a supposed family film. And Iron Man, the movie won’t let you forget, is a weapon. Tony used to build weapons for a living but a crisis of conscience causes him to use science for good. I don’t think a popular piece of entertainment since Metal Gear Solid or Terminator 2 – no, scratch that: The Iron Giant – has played so well with the concept of redemptive science – the bad weapon gone good. Tony’s dad even helped with the Manhattan Project. The movie doesn’t outright preach disarmament. If anything it looks like vigilantism is yet again the answer though in the end it turns out to be a more honest brand of the stuff.
The ideas, like any good sci-fi movie, are the best part of Iron Man and they’re brought to life with sheer effortlessness by all involved. Everyone looks like they’re having a ball and Favreau brought something that could’ve been cheesy as hell – giant tin cans walking around – to convincing life. Stan Winston, famous for Jurassic Park, does the special effects. While it’s obvious a shot is CG but once Iron Man is knocking things around or Tony’s face is unmasked I can’t tell if it’s practical or not and I don’t care. I buy it. Towards the end, when The Dude sits in the pilot chair of his own mech, I was sold. Oh, and my favorite effect has got to be the close-ups in the helmets with the HUD lights glowing information all around. So cool.
It’s also refreshing how weak Tony is at the outset. He parties, he drinks, he sleeps around … The parallels to Robert Downey’s real life foibles are obvious but I had Marvel’s movie reputation in mind. Ghost Rider, X-Men 3, Spider-Man 3 … it hasn’t been that hot for them lately. Marvel needs Iron Man to prove they can develop their own movies internally. It could be the springboard for a new generation of fun flicks and I get the feeling they planned this for a while. They held back certain heroes from the other studios because maybe, perhaps, if all things go well, they could have their own superhero team-up flick, the type of movie DC/Warner Bros. is struggling to get off the ground now. If you want to get a taste for the possibilities be sure to stay after the credits. Mothafuckin’ Marvel fans oughta be mothafuckin’ pleased.
1. Gwyneth rummaging around Tony’s chest? That’s love right there.
2. More action would’ve been nice. Just as the movie heats up it ends.
3. The Dark Knight trailer. OOOoohoohhhhhhhhoohohhhhhhhhh. :3
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