Thursday, May 1, 2008

Iron Man (2008, Jon Favreau)

The summer movie season gets off to a roaring start with Iron Man, a big-screen adaptation of the Marvel comic book series. Iron Man isn't a household name like Spider-Man or the Incredible Hulk, but this is no cut-rate superhero movie. The film, directed by actor-turned-filmmaker Jon Favreau, is both funny and exciting in the tradition of the best superhero adventures. But while the studio spared no expense bringing the film to life, its real ace in the hole is star Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role. Much like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, Downey reveals himself as a bona fide movie star in Iron Man, showing real charisma without sacrificing any of the infectious unpredictability that's made him such a fascinating character actor. Downey is so good as Iron Man's alter ego Tony Stark that it's almost disappointing when he disappears behind the suit... almost.

But what makes Iron Man an irresistible character is that he's in almost every sense a self-made hero. Most obviously, there's his powers, which derive not from natural means or some strange twist of fate, but largely through his own ingenuity. He flies, stands up to heavy fire, and fights with superhuman strength because he invented the means to do so. But in a deeper sense, he's a hero because he chooses to be one. It's key that Tony Stark is quite a bit older than most comic book heroes. No babe in the woods, he's lived through a lot, and is floating through life aimlessly buoyed only by his money. His kidnapping jars him out of this inertia and leads him to build the original suit out of necessity. This, in turn, reinvigorates his sense of purpose, to quote another recent Downey character. Seeing the destruction and despair that his weapons have caused, he instead uses his formidable intellect and almost inexhaustible means for good, and once he's chosen that path there's no going back. I think it's interesting that once Stark has decided to devote his life to heroic endeavors, there's never any angst about it- he's seen the light, and isn't the least bit conflicted about it. It's also telling that there's never any real hand-wringing about his decision by his assistant-turned-love-interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow)- once she finds out, she's concerned for his life, but she also respects the decision he's made. More than most comic book movies, Iron Man genuinely believes in the possibility of heroism, and for that reason alone it's well worth seeing. Well, that and it's a lot of fun.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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