Friday, 2 May 2008

Iron Man - Review by Robert Duffin

Director: Jon Favreau
Screenwriters: Mark Fergus & Hawk Otsby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway
Running Time: 126 mins
Certificate: 12A
Released: 2nd May

“I’m not really the superhero type, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, most of you know all about that.” Is it quote from Tony Stark or the actor who portrays him, Robert Downey Jnr? Perhaps a little bit of both. Iron Man, after all, completes Downey Jnr’s years long Hollywood rehabilitation, finally turning him into the bankable box office draw that drugs and alcohol seemingly destroyed years ago. That’s not to say Iron Man is a dead cert smash hit, in fact it’s the riskiest of all the summer blockbusters this year. It’s the first film by Marvel Studios, the now completely independent company, and it is not based on a comic book series that has been enveloped by pop culture like Spider-Man or Batman. In a summer season over saturated by superheroes, is there room for a new one?

Perhaps the only major problem with Iron Man is that it’s another origin story, with Marvel once again sticking to the belief that superheroes can’t simply turn up fully formed. Industrialist and billionaire Tony Stark (Downey Jnr) has made a living developing new weapons technologies; he’s a cocky, womanising capitalist. However after he’s captured in Afghanistan by terrorists, he discovers his weapons are not only being used to defend and when he’s asked to build them a Jericho missile, he comes up with another plan.

The updating of the Stark/Iron Man origin story from Vietnam to Afghanistan was a choice made by director Jon Favreau, and if weren’t for Iron Man liberating villagers like some kind of American saviour, it would almost work. Yet shady politics are not lingered on for long, and Downey Jnr steals the show and saves the day. His Stark is essentially an extension of the fast-talking, quick quipping persona we all recognize, but the knowing humour and fun he brings to the role is a refreshing change from the angst-ridden teenagers that usually populate the genre. Sardonic one-liners, self-depreciation and deadpan timing, Downey’s Stark is a joy to spend two hours to with.

The process of building the Iron Man armoured suit, the first version in the Afghan cave, the second in his Californian retreat, is good fun and a real thrill. Favreau’s limitations as an action director are evident; there are actually only two short action set pieces, but Stark fine-tuning the suit, crashing about his lab and eventually soaring over the L.A. skyline to the thrashing guitar soundtrack was a delight. The occasional dip into the capitalist turn humanitarian character arc can be a little po faced, but Downey sells it.

The supporting cast and their actions can be, as with most origin stories, a little dull. Jeff Bridge’s nefarious Obadiah Stane is a little too Lex Luthor, although there is some small joy to be had seeing The Dude as a nasty consumerist, shrugging off Stark Industries renewable energy programmes as “something to appease those damn hippies.” Terrence Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow are solid as the standard best friend and secretary respectively. But we’re never allowed to forget this is the Tony Stark show, and for the brief periods he is off screen the films wilts a little.

It’s far from a perfect film, but if anything it’ll leave to looking forward to the inevitable sequel, which won’t be hamstrung by having to tell you how Stark became Iron Man and can be a little looser with the story. The risk for Marvel Studios has seemingly paid off, and without the constraints of appeasing big studios like Fox and Sony, they have even allowed this film to hint at the wider Marvel Universe including references to S.H.I.E.L.D. and the upcoming Hulk reboot. After a truly dire summer season in 2007, Iron Man and sees that 2008 is off to a much better start.

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