Without sounding too much like a critic spouting off trite expressions of praise, I would have to say that Marvel Studios has another resounding triumph with the new Iron Man film. While the new global threat to America has been updated for modern audiences from a cold war era enemy to the more extremist terrorist organizations in the middle East, to dismiss this as merely another Ramboesque “us” against “them” fantasy on film would be premature in judgement, although there are some elements of that present.
This movie has a definite message which is voiced by a minor character early in the film and which Tony Stark takes to heart, pardon the pun. That message, “Don’t waste your life” sends Tony on a path of introspection but can be applied to any of us, while serving as a strong backbone from which to hang the rest of the film’s narrative on.
While the Tony Stark seen gambling, partying, boozing and ogling flight attendants pole dancing in his private jet in the early part of the film hardly resembles the dedicated industrialist and skilled tactician presented in the comics, the story does a good enough job of developing the character’s transformation into a more responsible entity and Robert Downey Jr. is a skilled enough actor to carry the lead role while balancing both a destructive persona and the more logical side of the character which embodies the work ethic and pioneering sense of ingenuity which has always been this country’s trademark, while at the same time infusing his Iron Man with a sense of whimsy and non-conformity.
He never follows the script prepared for him during a press conference much like a genius inventor would dismiss the suggestions of someone who doesn’t know as much as he does about his work.
Of course, the filmmakers make it all work by not only having Iron Man oppose his former captives in the Middle East but by giving Stark and the audience by extension, a glimpse into a reality which he had previously been naïve about, a plot point which precipitates his epiphany but which also puts him in direct opposition with Obadiah Stane, the film’s villain and Stark’s physical and ideological foil.
While Iron Monger is never actually mentioned in the movie by name, and while Stane’s backstory has been simplified to present a subversive threat from within, rather than a hostile takeover from a rival company to Stark Industries, Jeff Bridges who plays the villain does use the term in one of his conversations with Tony.
Unfortunately, Stane’s treachery and subversion are telegraphed early on, not only by his business related interactions with Tony, but by a comic fan’s knowledge of his back story, if they were fortunate enough to have read Iron Man #200. Luckily, this doesn’t detract too much from a fanboy’s delight in watching one of Marvel’s few self made superheroes leaping from the printed page into the silver screen, nor would it interfere with an audience completely unaware of the hero’s back story from enjoying this cinematic adventure.
Indeed, a sequence in which Tony is testing his suit, flying around at night is one of the most gorgeous I have seen in a super hero film thus far. It’s great fun and is but one example of some cutting edge special effects which are prominent throughout the entire film.
Another major aspect of the movie is Tony’s involvement with his assistant Pepper Potts, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Unlike romantic interests in previous films, Potts is actually indispensable to Tony despite the fact he at times treats her like an appendage or like one of his robotic helpers. There’s a quiet, playful infatuation bordering on attraction based on admiration on the side of Potts, which would have come across as hackneyed in the hands of a less skilled actress. It’s also refreshing to see that Potts is not your average damsel in distress.
So the question remains, is the movie worthy of your hard earned money and does it deliver as a form of escapist entertainment based on a comic book source? Is it able to capture the spirit of the comics and be embraced into the pantheon of good superhero flicks like X-Men and others? The answer to both questions appears to be an unqualified yes.