Monday, May 12, 2008

Iron Man

Jon Favreau's Iron Man (2008) begins in Afghanistan and ends with the resolution of its hero's daddy issues. In between, it spends a lot of time in the basement.

The film is based on an old comic book I've never read, and in all likelihood, I never will. Its hero, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), is a bazillionaire playboy whose company makes weapons for the U.S. government. In Afghanistan, he's kidnapped by terrorists armed with his own merchandise, who want him to build a missle for them. Instead he builds himself an iron suit to escape in.

As if raised in a South Korean PC room, Stark is both light-sensitive and anti-social. After spending most of the film's first hour in a cave building an Iron Man suit, he spends most of the second hour in the basement of his Malibu mansion building an Iron Man suit. Although he could have his assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow), if only he'd notice her, Stark has more meaningful conversations with his computer (voiced by Paul Bettany).

The movie is too ahistorical to qualify as a political statement, either liberal or conservative. There's no mention of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in which the U.S. backed the Taliban--possibly because the word "Taliban" doesn't appear in the screenplay. The six or so terrorists we see in the film have no connections to al-Qaeda and no discernable motives.

The real meat of the movie is the Oedipal struggle between Stark and Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), who was Stark's father's business partner. One word that does appear in the screenplay, frequently, is "legacy." Stark wants to protect his father's legacy by only selling weapons to the right people (i.e., America). Stane is more of a free market type.

The movie's super weakness is a lack of creativity. As a director, Favreau can cover a scene but he can't direct. We get too many close-ups and too much camera movement. Even the soundtrack is boring. The first thing we hear is the "quiet" of the desert followed by AC/DC's "Back in Black."

Even the in-jokes are lame. Are comic book fans really that excited to see a cameo by Stan Lee?

Iron Man is not, I suppose, a terrible movie, but I can't think of a single compelling reason to see it. Everything about it--from the use of terrorists as stock villains to the resolution of Oedipal conflicts--is terminally familiar, as if nobody involved could be bothered to do something creative. On every level, it's undistinguished hack work.

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