This summer another comic superhero joins the pantheon of box office smashes. Tony Stark dons his slick mechanised armour and becomes the eponymous Iron Man. His outfit is a gleaming shell of metallic red and gold that transforms its human resident into a hurtling missile.
As a summer flick, Iron Man provides the requisite CGI bombast, and its hero, a weapon manufacturing magnate turned peace warrior, has more than the usual tally of one-liners, imbued with devilish fun by Robert Downey Jr. Thankfully, Jon Favreau's Iron Man isn't a clunky, mechanical, lifeless assembly, but a lively piece of work that flits entertainingly through the customary motions of the superhero narrative.
In this first entry (the date of the sequel has already been announced), perhaps an inordinate time is dedicated to the 'origins' of the character, in this case the development of Tony Stark's powered costume. As the billionaire magnate of weapons manufacturer Stark Enterprises, Stark enjoys a playboy jet-setting lifestyle before he is imprisoned in a cave by an ambitious warlord and has to show his true grit. Instructed to recreate his latest weapon, Stark instead constructs a mechanical suit which he uses to tank his way out, swiping aside or flaming down gun-wielding fighters.
Of course, the metamorphosis into a superhero is predicated by a more personal transformation. That is, from a conceited egotistical nihilist to a conceited egotistical humanitarian. The experience of seeing his weapon in the hand of the bad guys seems to show him the truth about the warmongering ways of his company and, conscience now firmly rooted, he publicly commits to ending Stark Enterprises' war-profiteering ways. He may have seen the light, but there are others who have plans of their own.
Stark is apparently unaware of the malicious machinations of his second in command Obadiah Stone, the burly regent to the Stark kingdom. Much has been made of Downing's performance-and indeed he is excellent as Tony Stark-but the real showstopper is Jeff Bridges as Stone, a beefed up Iago, all false paternalism and concealed envy.
Stark retreats to his workshop beneath his Malibu mansion, tinkering away at his new concept of a mechanised suit. He entertainingly tests the designs, intentionally and unintentionally demolishing parts of his mansion in the process. How his work may help the cause of peace is a question only partially answered when he flies to Afghanistan to rescue some refugees from the thuggish band that imprisoned him earlier in the movie. Eventually, he puts Stark Enterprises to replicate the first Iron Man which leads, unsurprisingly, to a final battle between two tin titans.
Comic book aficionados might be reminded of other superhero rivalries which have made it onto the big screen-Superman, Batman, Spiderman and X-Men to name a few. These titles represent very profitable movie franchises whose proceeds ironically eclipsed the profits from the comic book sales themselves.
But Marvel Comics (the progenitor of X-Men, Spiderman and Iron Man) is now undergoing a transformation of its own-geeky comic book publisher by day, Hollywood production powerhouse by night! Having fully funded Iron Man, they are set to reap the rewards of another promising franchise. All this can only mean we will be seeing plenty more superheroes on the screen, of both cape and non-cape varieties. Super!
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow
2008. PG-13. 2hr 6 min.