Does Iron Man Deliver?

That TV is taking over the world, is cemented by the recent slew of comic book and series adaptations on the big screen. Last week saw two of the biggest movies of the summer release to grand openings, and grander closings.

Iron Man – the story of the amoral billionaire engineer Tony Spark (Robert Downey Jr.) suffering a conscience attack after being kidnapped by militants in Afghanistan – came out as the bigger winner, leaving Speed Racer and his quest for racing glory stalled in second gear.

Iron Man is a refreshing movie with the idea that the super hero being spoken of is not a dweeby teen, and that putting a Marvel superhero in the war torn Middle East might be the only way to make money out of a movie based on the theme. The movie is slick and fun and all that jazz, but it lacks the conviction that came with Spiderman, and the depth of being a morality based personal hell-drama that made Sin City so sweet.

In a nutshell, super scientist and weapons manufacturer wakes up to realize that his toys are being used by the bad boys so he invents his own RoboCop suit, although the gold and red is a lot more snazzy than the drab silver.

Praised as a technological Da Vinci and reviled as “the merchant of death”, this is a man who always gets what he wants, Tony Sparks beds Vanity Fair writers, carries his own drinks cabinet to a U.S. Army weapons exhibition in Afghanistan and hobnobs with the crème de la crème. All hunky dory, until he is kidnapped by them darned militants! A fellow prisoner fixes him up to a car battery to keep the shrapnel in his body from reaching his heart, and he starts work on becoming the metal messiah, and escapes from captivity.

There begins the saga of Tony Sparks becoming a changed man, and his feud with Obadiah Stone (Jeff Bridges). But, to watch them fight at the end – the Iron Man vs. Iron Monger – is hardly fun. It smacks too much of the Transformers and does not really match up.

The movie is all about one man – Robert Downey Jr. Yes, he reminds you of a younger Al Pacino, and maybe he does copy, but hey, I do not really mind. He is funny and sarcastic, and has amazing comic timing. And the few moments that Spark and his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) are amazingly well done. The soundtrack is heavenly, and the score is pretty easy on the ear too.

Strictly as a film, Iron Man is good enough, great even. The issues begin when you think of what it wants to say – the shallowness of a man, and the ease with which the cup fills up is just too amateurishly thought of. There is no kinetic dramatic force of the father-son dilemma – Tony Sparks’ father was a scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project – and the entire burden of the company that he inherited is too easily borne. The moral thinness of the conversation between Potts and Sparks – “You stood by my side all these years while I reaped the benefits of destruction. Now that I’m trying to protect the people I’ve put in harm’s way, you’re going to walk out?” – is putting it way too simply and crudely for it to make any real sense or have any impact. If this was an effort on director Jon Favreau’s part to improve this genre of junk filmmaking, he misses the mark, by a few miles.

On the surface, and as a film, Iron Man delivers, and does it well. But, using the comic book hero medium to deliver a dialogue on the Middle East situation is stretching the medium a bit too thin. Iron Man’s conscientious pretense weighs down any comic-book-movie thrill with self-conscious liberal guilt.

Vineet Kanabar

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