By Allison Eckel
I am going to assume that all of you have seen Marvel Studios’ first release, Iron Man. It has been well-reviewed, even by usually high-brow sites like Salon.com. Plus, we can usually count on director Jon Favreau (Made, Zathura), who wrote Swingers, to bring real humor and poignancy to even the dorkiest script (witness Elf).
But then again, Iron Man is a live action super-hero movie. Many have tried to tame this beast, and few have done it remotely well. Although there are many I enjoy, I am hard pressed to find any I would consider “good movies.” Daredevil? Nope. Blade? Nope. Superman Returns? Not even close.
My husband and I just re-watched Batman Begins, which has garnered praise as a successful Batman movie. Roger Ebert wrote: “The movie works dramatically in addition to being an entertainment.” But I still winced with embarrassment at more than one lame line (most of which regarded the car).
And we all remember the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie, when the Green Goblin confronts Spidey during a parade on a crowded Manhattan street. Instead of being a dramatic confrontation with innocent lives in the balance, it became a pricey Power Rangers episode.
The live-action super-hero movie is an unattainable dream. We want to see buff, suave leading men playing out the characters we have read for decades, but actors have difficulty remaining suave when wearing spandex, rubber, masks, and capes.
Then along came Iron Man. This character wears a metal exosuit, not spandex and a rubber cowl, automatically making this movie easier for the filmmakers in the believability category. The styling of the suit is actually, dare I say, elegant. And on my first viewing, the effects blended seamlessly. I’m sure I will begin to see the flaws on repeated viewings in the comfort of my own living room, with the power of pause and rewind in my hand. You know, I don’t think I winced at all during Iron Man. Oh, no, wait. There was one moment. The Burger King product placement was shameful, though it was one of the best-handled of its kind, so that I almost didn’t see the commercial until it was too late.
I will admit that I am not familiar with the Iron Man comics; I grew up a DC girl. But as a comics reader, I know about hero origin stories, the gray areas of morality, the epiphanies that can send a billionaire playboy down a righteous path, etc. Actually, I found many parallels between Tony Stark’s story in the movie and the circumstances that send Oliver Queen (Green Arrow), another heir to a munitions powerhouse, to don a mask and fight injustice. Both are injured, separated from society, and learn that the munitions bearing their names are in the hands of “the bad guys.” That realization sends them both to renounce their playboy ways, step outside the bounds of society and the law, and pursue vigilante justice. That’s pretty much where the similarities end, though. Ollie becomes fixated on Robin Hood and takes from the power mongers to help the little guy, usually on city streets. Stark builds a bad-ass power suit and goes after the same bad guys who captured him, and then the guys who hired them. Stark’s story on the big screen is tight. He’s captured, he invents a suit to free himself from rebels that use his company’s munitions, he redesigns the suit to defeat the rebels, he discovers corporate corruption, and continues his new mission. We don’t get the sound-bite-sized moral lesson rammed down our throats as with Spider-Man (“With great power comes great responsibility”) or a theme pervading every aspect of the universe as with the notion of fear in Batman Begins.
Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Stark succeeds in sealing the deal. He is simply awesome. He plays a brilliant techno-geek (“at age six he built his first engine”) who looks amazing in a designer suit; equally at home in a ratty T-shirt, gold-titanium exosuit, or Armani. Those are not easy balls to balance. I thought his transformation from slick and bored to earnest and driven was convincing yet did not require long brooding moments to achieve. He emerged from each circumstance with a new plan, a new direction, and got it done. Boom. I am so enamored of him as Stark that it may cause me to see The Incredible Hulk (June 13) just to see his cameo. For certain, I will be seeing the Iron Man sequel in 2010.
My viewing partner for Iron Man was my six-year-old son. Iron Man is rated PG-13, and I am usually a staunch gate-keeper for the entertainment that reaches my kids. But I decided to take a chance, and he and I set out for adventure. We picked a Monday evening, so the few people there with us would not mind if I needed to explain plot details or “bad words” to my boy. The more mature material in the movie happens early in the film. Stark is kidnapped by Afghani rebels and tortured (briefly). My son is not used to seeing that much personal firepower on the screen at one time, nor that level of personal violence, but he weathered it okay. Oh, and there was one scene back in the U.S. between Stark and certain young lady through which I covered by boy’s eyes.
Once in the red and gold suit, the violence is mostly “fantasy violence” – a guy in a metal suit blowing stuff up, or two guys in metal suits fighting in the street. My son is more adjusted to this sort of spectacle from cartoons such as Ben 10 (Cartoon Network), the new Spectacular Spider-Man on CW, and anything rated Y-7. Actually, the filmmakers showed remarkable restraint with the blood-and-guts factor: it is almost non-existent, except for the wounds suffered by Stark himself.
My son is now all about Iron Man. He is convinced that he will be able to invent the crazy fuel cell that powers the exosuit. He wants to know where he can buy gold and titanium to put together the armor. For now, I hope he will be happy with books, comics, PJs, and action figures for inspiration. We will be popping into All Things Fun soon to see what we can find to keep the fandom going until April 2010.