Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway
Full Credits from IMDb
For an ostensible action picture, Iron Man, the latest in the ongoing string of comic book superhero adaptations, features little fighting, chasing or exploding until its third act. That’s fine, I’m all for character-driven summer blockbusters—if only that were Iron Man.
Despite boasting four screenwriters—and, according to Wikipedia, a rewrite from a fifth—including one of the writing teams that helped pen the aughties’ hitherto masterpiece, Children of Men, Iron Man operates on “flick of the switch” character development: sure, characters change—Robert Downey, Jr., as the eponymous metal warrior, readjusts his worldview and Gwyneth Paltrow, as his librarian-type love interest, switches up her hairstyle—but only because it’s narratively expedient or passably conventional. Jeff Bridges is a good guy and then he’s a bad guy. (With that shaved-head-and-beard combo, as well as the character name “Obadiah Stane,” who would’ve guessed?) Paltrow is frumpy and then she’s sexy. Just take the filmmakers’ word for it.
And yet, I did. How is Iron Man so engaging when it’s so conspicuously sloppy? Director Favreau’s sly sense of humor helps, as does Bridges’ supervillainary gusto, but the film lives or dies on Downey’s performance; it’s his sardonic charm, his success in keeping us captivated, especially during the small-scale, human moments—flirting with Paltrow, shooting the shit with Shaun Toub while holed up in an Afghanistan cave, or interacting with his dog-like, quasi-sentient robotic assistant—that saves the film from descending into Daredevil depths.
Downey plays Tony Stark, the man beneath the iron suit, as a gambler, a drunk, a womanizer, a cad, a playboy, a manufacturer of WMDs and an avid art collector with no knowledge of art history. In short, he is Americanness at its worst—its wealth, power, irresponsibility and arrogant disregard—taken to absurdity and then personified. (He is introduced to us early on not only as a scientific genius but also as an “American patriot”.) Iron Man opens in the Afghanistan desert to the ringing chords and hot licks of “Back in Black” because for Downey, sipping Scotch in a war zone, the War on Terror is a gas, a rocking affair on the rocks. That is, until Afghan fighters fire rockets he designed at his car and point guns he made at his face.
Downey is taken hostage but, before he’s forced to build the terrorists any weapons that could be turned on Americans, he breaks out of his three-month-long captivity in a scene that serves as an excessive revenge fantasy in which Downey, in a crude prototype of the Iron Man suit, sets a score of Afghans on fire. (America? Fuck yeah.) When he gets back to the States, he informs his handlers not only that he wants a cheeseburger—he wants a motherfuckin American cheeseburger.
That ingested, Downey tells a room full of reporters that his time in an Afghan cave has changed him and that he will no longer be manufacturing weapons. (Afterwards, many of his friends, like Terrence Howard, spurn him, as though he registered Democrat.) The first thing Downey does after that is get to work on building a new weapon, the suit that will turn him from a man of flesh into a Man of Steel, er, Iron. I’ve read a handful of reviews that claim Iron Man is a work of pacifism, a sly, liberalist attack on the military-industrial complex smuggled into multiplexes. But such a reading is superficial.
The problem, for Downey, is not that he once made weapons, but that he lost control over those weapons and allowed them to fall into the “wrong hands”—the hands of Afghans. The villain in Iron Man is neither war nor weaponry; it’s terrorists and colluding American corporations. How to defeat them? With a literal American fighting machine—a lone wolf, the John Wayne archetype. Fight fire with fire! Make peace at the end of a muzzle! No allies necessary! At this point in The War on Terror, such filmmaking is irresponsible. Iron Man’s problems extend beyond a poor script—it’s downright immoral.
Watch the trailer: