Wednesday, May 07, 2008

IRON MAN was okay, but it could've been so much more

They say the best weapon is one you never have to fire. I prefer the weapon you only need to fire once. That's how dad did it, that's how America does it, and it's worked out pretty well so far.Tony Stark is a super-rich, super-clever, super-funny, super-handsome forty-something who just happens to enjoy selling the US Army cool weapons. After seeing those weapons turned on himself in Afghanistan (our enemy du jour), Stark decides to repudiate the arms trade and make the world a better place a weapon-laden flying suit and blowing up terrorists and stockpiles of his old weapons. Stark's epiphany is manifested in his personal life too. Instead of being a sleazy womaniser, he's going to mack onto his secretary, Pepper Potts, who is ludicrously shy and goofy given that she's a thirty-something.

All this makes IRON MAN's politics a better disguised version of the violent, radical utopianism at the heart of NEVER BACK DOWN. The message seems to be that arms dealers are evil when they sell weapons to terrorists who want to reshape the world according to their personal vision. BUT IRON MAN is GOOD when he acts according to his vision of justice - when he feels "in his heart" that blowing shit up and leaving bad guys to vigilante justice is good. Frankly, I've had enough of people blowing shit up because of "what's in their heart" rather than what's in the intelligence transcripts.

Am I taking this all too seriously? Well, I'd argue that this movie asks the audience for serious consideration. After all, it follows the graphic novels in ret-conning Tony Stark's story for the post 9-11 era. It positively winces as it sits on the fence of touchy-feely liberalism and patriotism that verges on jingoism. To that extent, this film is a perfect expression of the current American political divide.

So much for the flimsy politics, how about the actual entertainment? Jon Favreau has created a common or garden superhero summer blockbuster. The CGI special effects are suitably big and noisy. There's lots of product placement for fast cars and mobile phones. Robert Downey Junior is 100% fun to watch as Tony Stark and I wasn't bored.

On the other hand, I'm not particularly excited about the inevitable sequel. First off, Favreau shows none of psychological insight of Christopher Nolan in BATMAN BEGINS. There's nothing in his direction or script choices that make me think he's going to handle Tony Stark's descent into alcoholism sensitively. Second, I hate the way the script-writers short-changed pretty much every character bar Stark. Where's the flirting between Potts and Happy Hogan? And where was the substance to Stark's enemy, Obadiah Stone? Poor old Jeff Bridges was left to chew up the scenery. There was none of the conflicted psychology or back story we got in the comics. His motivations are thin - simply that "greed is good". Well, frankly, a super-hero needs a worthy opponent. Similarly, Terrence Howard is given absolutely nothing to do as Stark's best friend Colonel Jim Rhodes and there's no inkling that he'll become a character who'll question the Iron Man's vigilante actions and eventually don the suit.....

Basically, I'm annoyed. I love IRON MAN. This was one of the films I was most looking forward to this summer. Favreau's movie isn't a disaster. It's fun as far as it goes. But it could've been so much more.

IRON MAN is on release in Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, the UK, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Ukraine, Venezuela, Australia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, the UAE, Canada, India, Pakistan and Turkey. It goes on release in Japan on September 20th.

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