Iron Man

January 10, 2009 at 3:54 am (Movies and TV)

(Reviewed summer, 2008)

It was another comic book superhero movie, but an excellent comic book superhero movie which will no doubt raise the bar for this genre. Nobody could have pulled this role off better than Robert Downey, Jr., whose life has not been unlike the rollercoaster ride of his playboy character, Tony Stark. We needed his sarcasm, his world-weariness, and his introspection to help us see a man who, after years of self-involvement, wrestles with the consequences of his inaction and transforms himself.

Just as he finds his human heart, Stark must cut it out and replace it with a mechanized one, to save his life. He uses this new technology to put right the injustices that sometimes occur when you are an indescriminate weapons manufacturer out to make a buck. The perennially perky Gwyneth Paltrow is nearly superfluous here, as is Hustle and Flow’s Terence Howard, though I caught myself wishing we could SEE Jude Law rather than simply hearing him as the voice of the computer.

The true conflict in the movie is greed versus humanitarianism, personified here by Jeff Bridges and Downey. Bridges is a nice surprise as the villain and the two have a good chemistry…certainly more than that with Paltrow. The action sequences are perfectly handled with not too much CGI to be believed.  This is not merely a movie meant to entertain teenagers during the summertime, but one that examines higher questions about war and peace: Do we need weapons to enforce peace, or can we only obtain peace by destroying our weapons? Is everyone entitled to weapons? Interesting issues, to be sure, in a 21st-Century world where the balance of power sometimes seems as fluid as the desert itself.

My husband and I were discussing the difference between this, and say, Spider-Man 2 or X-Men 3, our favorite comic movies in recent years. We decided that while those movies are stories of certain people in certain circumstances, Iron Man rises above its one narrative to mirror the issues inherent in our times and our various responses to them. Oscar-nominated movies generally are those which entertain, provoke thought, ask important questions, and act as a barometer for the human situation…and Iron Man is truly the first of the comic book superhero movies that does all these things. It would not surprise me to see this named in many “Best of 2008” lists at year’s end, as it is the first worthy entry of the year.

Fellow ComicCON enthusiasts will be pleased to learn of an Easter Egg after the credits which ties Iron Man to upcoming efforts, and with no less than Samuel L. Jackson.

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