Dir: Jon Favreau. US. 2008. 126 mins.
A slickly-attractive, well-cast and solidly-constructed piece of mainstream action-adventure entertainment, Iron Man is the latest Marvel comic property to go legit, and would seem, based on its top-shelf execution, to have all the ingredients of another successful franchise-in-waiting. Anchored by an enjoyably-charismatic performance from Robert Downey Jr, this should be a positive kick-off to the American summer box office season for distributor Paramount.
Occupying the same early-May slot that has typically been reserved for sequels like Spider-Man 3 and Mission: Impossible III over the last few years, Iron Manshould have no problem turning out Marvel’s devoted fan base. With its forward-leaning protagonist who looks for a more moral interaction with the world, the film also seems to have the potential to expand on its core audience. While it’s not an ensemble piece like the X-Men franchise, the rest of the cast are involved enough in the story to give it a solid anchor, and one can easily imagine a grander series blooming from this.
The absence of a hugely marketable action star, and the relatively small stature of the comic book title itself may possibly suppress international turnout in comparison with other superhero adaptations, but positive word-of-mouth and critical reaction should push it close to an even split with domestic returns. Ancillary marketplace value will be additionally robust, with extensive excised scenes, presumably re-included, driving DVD sales.
Downey Jr stars as billionaire industrialist and genius inventor Tony Stark, CEO of the government’s top weapons contractor. A rascally charmer derided as being constitutionally irresponsible, Stark has achieved political celebrity status by protecting American interests around the globe for decades, and has enjoyed himself while doing it. This embrace of the limelight costs him, though; following an overseas weapons test, Stark’s convoy is attacked. Injured by a piece of shrapnel embedded close to his heart, Stark is told by his captors to build a weapon, but instead builds a suit of armour to escape.
Upon his return to America, this former lord of war is transformed, and vows to take his company in a new direction. Despite resistance from long-time aide Obadiah Stane (Bridges), Stark secretly sets about personally developing a cybernetically-controlled suit of armor that gives him superhuman strength and the ability to fly. Distraught by his company’s complicity in a tangled case of arms double-dealing with global implications, Stark sets out, with the help of his devoted assistant Pepper Potts (Paltrow) and trusted friend and military liaison Jim Rhodes (Howard), to right past wrongs.
Some of the seams in Iron Man’s screenplay - the first draft of which was penned by Art Marcum & Matt Holloway, then punched up by Children Of Men co-writers Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby - show, especially the lengths to which it goes to establish the multi-ethnicity of its terrorist bad guys. This, along with swathes of its all-action finale, sometimes feel like an exercise in obligation, albeit a technically-dazzling one.
Still, there’s a playfulness to many scenes (especially early on) that benefits Iron Man, and informs the crusading yet wryly self-effacing spirit of its protagonist. The true test of a superhero movie, especially a series debut, is whether it could survive without any of the action sequences, and Iron Mandefinitely could. Favreau invested great care in establishing the relationships of all the characters, and his gift with actors is evident in carefully attuned supporting performances from Bridges, Paltrow and Howard.
Also, while he previously proved his talent at juggling fantasy action elements - albeit on a much different scale, in the under-regarded kids’ flick Zathura - Favreau here shows himself skilled as a cinematic constructor, a master of attention to the component parts of filmmaking. He’s abetted by fantastic, sleek work from Industrial Light & Magic.
Stark possesses intellect, ingenuity, rakishness and more than a little self-destructive single-mindedness, and Downey wonderfully captures all of those aspects of his personality. Owing to Downey’s dramatic chops, there’s also a glimpse of Stark’s deep reservoir of pain, effectively shading the material without explicitly dwelling on many of the darker elements present in the comics, namely Stark’s alcoholism.
Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway, based on characters created by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby
Director of photography
J. Michael Riva
Visual effects supervisor
Visual effects and animation
Industrial Light & Magic
Laura Jean Shannon
Robert Downey Jr.