Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Iron Man

I have a sneaking suspicion that Jon Favreau and the other folks behind Iron Man think the high point of the movie is the scene in which Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) eludes two fighter pilots just after thwarting terrorists' efforts to kidnap all the men in an Afghani village. (The men were no doubt preparing to celebrate democracy.) In the dogfight sequence, we're treated to shots of the digitized Iron Man streaking through the sky intercut with a close-up of Downey "inside" the suit. This is high geekery.

There are quite a number of scenes of Stark building things in Iron Man, first after he's captured by terrorists who want him to build a missile system. Instead, with the help of a kindly doctor (Shaun Toub), Stark constructs the first version of the Iron Man suit and escapes. Back in the comfort of his California laboratory, Stark improves upon his creation with plenty of comic relief from his troupe of robot sidekicks and loyal personal assistant Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow).

All of the popular mechanics cover a plot that's politically confused to say nothing of dramatically inert. A prologue explains that Stark is a celebrity defense contractor (?) living the high life while designing a new breed of "smart" weapons. Stark apparently has no knowledge of American foreign policy (and has never seen Charlie Wilson's War), because the big eye-opening moment comes when Stark realizes that his own weapons are being used by the terrorists who are holding him captive. There's a lunatic press conference scene where a post-captivity Stark, eating a Whopper in a particularly unfortunate bit of product placement, renounces his hawkish past and proclaims his desire to "protect the people." Protecting the people involves building a weaponized while allowing his surrogate father/partner (Jeff Bridges) to cut him out of his own company. Iron Man operates divorced from any recognizable reality; the military (represented by a dull Terrence Howard) has nothing to do except chauffeur Stark around and the plot about corporate backstabbing somehow ends up with the star of Fearless and The Last Picture Show fighting Robert Downey in a giant robot suit.

There has been a blitz of stories about another Downey "comeback" recently, and while it's difficult not to wish him well I must confess that I've never really found him a compelling leading man. The irreverence that has critics swooning about Downey's performance comes off here like someone who doesn't care very much about what they're doing; Downey speaks throughout in a stentorian whisper that quickly grows tiresome. The performance needed a broader sense of self-mockery. In the end, Iron Man doesn't deserve all the high-end coverage it has been getting on the blogs; it's a film about guys with toys that's badly in need of a stardom injection.


Craig said...

I didn't like it either, Simon. (That's you, me and Armond White, right?) I can't believe the good reviews this mediocrity has gotten. Ken Turan (okay, four people didn't like it) is the only one who's pointed out that the odd disconnect from scene to scene is likely the result of two separate sets of screenwriters. Downey is amusing in spots, but the rest of the movie is awfully threadbare.

Simon Crowe said...

I'm no comic book reader, which may put me outside the core audience for IM. Movies like this spend so much time on getting the mythology right and on justifying their budgets that time and again they end up being more boring than simply bad. By the way, David Denby wasn't wild about it either.