Iron Man


There are two overwhelming drawbacks to superhero films.1 The first is the often dull inevitability of their plots. The hero will win, the villain will be defeated. If it’s an origin story, this is often even worse; the time the hero wastes working out he’s a hero and that he can proactively influence the story means that by the time he does, there’s probably barely any time left for him to interact in any interesting way with the villain of the piece. The other is the regularly painful attempts at making shallow adventure plots appear more involving by adding equally shallow romantic plots, or irritating old homily-spewing aunts, or both.

Somewhat impressively, Iron Man dodges many of these drawbacks. Not all of them, sadly. The main meat and bones of the plot is workmanlike, after the first act, the main character doesn’t really have any sort of ethical development, and if you’re surprised by who the villain turns out to be, then you’re a little loco in the cabesa. But from so many other angles, it’s an impressive film.

For a start; it stars Robert Downey Jr as a super hero. Take a moment to appreciate that. That’s gold, right there, gold in pop culture form. Downey Jr doesn’t disappoint in a role which offers considerably more interesting scope than most other superheroes. Actually, there’s a fair bit of similarity between Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne — but whereas Bruce is deep down somewhat grumpy, Downey Jr’s Stark is genuinely a maverick, never quite sure exactly what he’ll do next.2

It might be a pointless distinction, but what sets Tony Stark out from your run-of-the-mill super heroes is that he’s sought out his power to take control of his responsibilities, whereas Spider-Man’s responsibility comes from the fact that he has his powers. Or, to put it another way, a Spider-Man movie often becomes a lot of wrangling about how much he deserves a normal life and what he should do because of this random thing which has happened to him, whereas Iron Man has a lot less hand-wringing introspection and a lot more noble struggle. And I prefer noble struggles, so it’s a win for me.

Of course, if I have a reservation, it’s that in the end, the potentially murky yet satisfying struggle of a man to control a juggernaut of capitalism that he never truly understood becomes a fight to the death between two men in giant metal suits (the one representing the horrific consequences of his actions is the larger one). It’s particularly disappointing because something rather like this happens at the end of almost every one of these films, and if any of them could get away with doing something different whilst still amusing everyone, it was surely Iron Man.

But that’s not to say I’m condemning it. While it follows the traditional plot points for the most part, it does so in ways far and away more interesting than other films of its kind. It has a love interest who isn’t quite, and is all the more fascinating for it. And, she’s played by Gwyneth Paltrow; sad for some, but always a plus for me.3 It’s got awesome gadgets. It’s got crazy Jeff Bridges. It’s got the single best ending of any superhero film ever.4 It’s even got mild social commentary. Ooooh.5

In conclusion then; Iron Man is not perfect, Iron Man will not rock your wold. But Iron Man is awesome, and Iron Man is entertaining without resorting to cheap tricks, and Iron Man has ROBERT DOWNEY JR AS A BLOODY SUPER HERO. Frankly, I sewed this baby up in the third paragraph, and if anyone’s wasted time with the last four, well, that’s a few seconds of your life you’ll never get back.6

  1. Three, if you count crummy cameos by Stan Lee.
  2. This isn’t exactly uncommon amongst Robert Downey Jr’s parts, but I don’t see this as a problem if he continues to do it so damn well.
  3. I particularly liked the dancing scene, being one of the few times when a gorgeous celebrity actress actually comes across as genuinely awkward and nervous.
  4. I haven’t thought that through completely, but even if something else does come up, it’s still pretty awesome. Note that I’m not talking about the post-credits scene, which is pretty dull unless you’re nerdy for comics.
  5. I’m surprised we’re not putting that on the ratings explanations yet. Unless that’s what “mild themes” means, because I’m still in the dark on that one. Iron Man really is only mild, though. There’s not really much focus on what the USA might do with the weapons Stark provides; apparently it’s only the baddies who might actually kill civilians with them.
  6. One day, someone’s going to invent a time machine and only use it to get back at people who say that. What a petty bastard.

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