Ah, those wonderful comic book superheroes! Spiderman. Superman. The Hulk. The X Men. Iron Man…… hang on, who?
Okay, I admit it. I love a good superhero film but I’d never heard of Iron Man before the publicity for this film began. But with this slick, big budget blockbuster, director Jon Favreau (Elf) will be hoping to bring the character alive to those who don’t have a bedroom filled with cardboard cut outs of Captain America.
Forget geeky Peter Parker or do-gooder Superman; Tony Stark is the man...
Like DC’s Batman, Marvel’s Iron Man is a self-made superhero. He hasn’t been bitted by a genetically-modified arachnid or scratched by a radioactive nail. Rather, he’s the all too human Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), a charismatic playboy and genius weapons developer who is on a trip to the Middle East to showcase his latest missile, The Jericho, when he is attacked by a terrorist group, The Ten Rings.
Held captive and hurt, Stark’s life is saved by fellow prisoner Yinsen (Shaun Toub), who stops the shrapnel from reaching his heart by fusing his chest to a car battery (we need more of this on Casualty). Chief terrorist Raza (Faran Tahir) orders Stark to build him a Jericho bomb, but Stark, having seen first hand the damage his missiles do, has a different plan. Cue an A-team style sequence as Stark constructs a prototype Iron Man suit, blasts his way past the bad guys and returns to the US with a whole new attitude to the world of weapons.
Since many superhero films have a heavy moral tone, it’s refreshing to watch one that’s so shamelessly slick. Forget geeky Peter Parker or do-gooder Superman; Tony Stark is the man: he has a cliff top Malibu mansion, lots of fast cars, a private jet complete with pole-dancing air hostesses, and he’s clever enough to build a super-suit which shoots fire from the arms, fires missiles from the shoulders and allows him to fly. Oh, and did I mention he’s pretty good looking too?
If eyebrows were raised at casting 43-year-old Robert Downey Jr in the lead role, then the decision has proved a smart one. Not only does RDJ have a kind of sharp-outlined cartoonish look about him, but with his chequered past he’s also extremely well equipped to carry off the juicy role of a narcissistic lothario who regains his conscience without losing his edge.
Stark’s partner in munitions-making and eventual nemesis is Obadiah Stane, played by Jeff Bridges. Bridges, always good at creepy, is becoming even more sinister with age, his menacing drawl helped out here by a frightening bald-head and beard combo.
The casting isn’t all great: I didn’t enjoy the relationship between Stark and his dutiful assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow); the contrast between the charismatic weapons maker and the prim Miss Potts is deliberate, but the gap between Downey Jr and Mrs Chris Martin is too great and their chemistry doesn’t really convince.
Iron Man has the scope, effects and visuals you’d expect from a comic book adaptation, with some amazing explosions and incredible fight scenes and some reassuringly comic-book touches such as Stark’s snooty British computer, JARVIS. But the dialogue has a scuffed-up, add lib quality which might have something to do with Downey Jr’s involvement. While the resulting script isn’t as funny as it wants to be, it’s unarguably entertaining, tackling the underlying themes of terrorism and arms-trading without taking itself too seriously. It doesn’t have the timeless quality of a Superman film, but it does manage to give real character and excitement to this new superhero where other such ventures (Daredevil anyone?) have failed.
But Downey Junior is the real revelation here. Unhindered by humility as Tony Stark he’s able to portray the same exhilaration at becoming a superhero as comic book fans have long felt reading about them. He’s reckless, sarcastic, sexy, magnetic and, in true maverick style, he doesn’t even bother to conceal his identity. If every generation gets the superhero it deserves, Iron Man fits the bill rather well. Lord help us.
Iron Man is on general release now