While most superhero origin stories are simple – the protagonist has a life, something happens to change that life, and the protagonist dedicates the remainder of his or her life to a new cause as a result – they don’t have to be simplistic. The best origin stories grapple with the complexities of both the human condition and with our often conflicting motivations. Unfortunately, despite all the high-gloss special effects, ‘Iron Man’ fails to embrace those subtleties and instead looks at the world from that either/or perspective that has been so popular in America in the last decade.
Briefly, ‘Iron Man’ tells the story of billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr) the former “boy genius” designer now behind the newest wave of weapons manufactured and sold by Stark Industries, a company founded by his father and the current co-CEO Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). Stark is captured in Afghanistan by a group of rebels after a demonstration of Stark Industries’ newest weapon, a surface missile with multiple warheads capable of completely demolishing a mountainside. Stark’s capture begins a series of improbable events and revelations starting with Tony Stark’s shock, conveyed almost believably by Downey, that his weapons are being sold or diverted to the black market and have fallen into the hands of someone other than “the good guys.”
Stark’s naivete is but the first in a series of clear-cut dichotomies that marr this film. Like any action film ‘Iron Man’ requires a huge suspension of disbelief among them Stark surviving emergency heart surgery in a cave in Afghanistan to wind up with a magnet implanted in his chest so that imbedded shrapnel doesn’t enter his heart; that he’s smart enough to build the first iron Man suit out of weapons collected by his captors specifically so Stark can build them their own version of his new weapon; that, while amusing as hell, the first test flight of the rocket boots for his second generation suit in his workshop/garage doesn’t strip the finish off all the cars he hovers over. These things pale in comparison to the script’s biggest sin: Tony Stark’s complete and utter transformation from party-boy to do-gooding superhero.
Is ‘Iron Man’ worth watching? Only if you are in it for the effects and you don’t expect too much in the way of character development.
What’s good about this film
- Technology fabrication sequences that result in the final Iron Man suit are a geek’s dream.
- Downey’s sly comic delivery gives the script an edge the writers probably did not count on.
- It adds another category to the Jeff Bridges hair length debate (long, short, or none at all)
For Fans of
- Michael Bay movies (the big. the loud. the brainless.)
The Film School Review
Part of the problem with ‘Ironman’ is the character’s obscurity: Tony Stark/Ironman is a third-tier hero at best, known mostly to hardcore pen & ink heads.
The bigger part of the problem with ‘Ironman’ rests with the script, or should I say scripts. This film went through a lot of development rounds and it shows. You can almost hear the thump as the movie transitions over the bump created by jamming together the two different drafts. The tone of the story itself changes in the middle and it’s clear in the second part of the film that there were scenes that were filmed that didn’t make it to the theatrical cut.
Too, Stark is at best a flawed character; self-centered and entitled to the point that he is casually abusive to his staff. The examples used by the script writers to establish Stark as a cavalier playboy undercut his transformation to altruistic superhero. Similarly, his foe in the story is placed and characterized as unmitigated evil. Everything this character does positions him as power-mad and without any redeeming qualities. It is this lack of shading in what should have been an ambigious scenario – Stark’s position as a weapons manufacturer can only be seen as without shading by those with a complete lack of understanding of the ways of war and government and commerce – and turn it into the equivalent of a child’s drawing: big, bold, and completely without sublty.
In an increasingly complex world it’s a travesty to throw away the potential of Stark’s story. True, the emo-pathos of the Spider-man franchise wouldn’t have been appropriate here but to turn a comic into a cartoon wastes an opportunity to tell a difficult, truly adult story.