Iron Man


Downey Jr's metal guru is pure comic-book class

You know you’re not settling down with Another po-faced superhero adap when, nestling among the usual special features fare, there’s a spoof news report from The Onion.

‘Wildly Popular Iron Man Trailer To Be Adapted Into Full-Length Movie’ is both the title and one-joke premise of the skit, which manages to mock fanboys, Hollywood and US entertainment reporting deftly in under three minutes.

It’s no less a self-deprecating nod than you’d expect from Iron Man’s hands-on director, Jon Favreau, who made his name in Swingers alongside Vince Vaughn, memorably guested on Friends (as a wealthy man not unlike Tony Stark, who longed to be an Ultimate Fighting champ) and became a fully fledged movie director with the little-seen but very funny Mob comedy Made.

Throughout the enthralling ‘I Am Iron Man’ documentary - only 15 minutes shorter than the film itself – he’s always central to the production, from six months before shooting starts, in the bowels of Marvel HQ, to a sandstorm shoot on location in California doubling for Afghanistan, to swanning along the red carpet.

Whatever he was paid - and be sure he’ll get waaaay more for the sequel, Iron Man having earned over $569 million worldwide at the time of writing - he earned every last penny. As too did the movie’s star, a sober, wiser, never-better Robert Downey Jr.

He’s maybe a decade older than the playboy arms dealer Tony Stark should be but his effervescent charisma, evident from the smallest snippet of screen-test, rehearsal or on-set footage, has a rejuvenating effect that no amount of Botox could replicate. He may be playing the part of a womanising, military-equipping, grade-A asshole... but somehow he’s never been more likeable.

Stark’s origin story, as outlined by creator Stan Lee and the comic-book writers, artists and colourists who came after him, most of whom contribute to ‘The Invincible Iron Man’ documentary, is simple. While in a war zone on business (originally Vietnam), Stark is wounded, captured and tortured until he agrees to build a version of his latest weapon, the Jericho Bomb, for Afghan insurgents.

Instead he uses the terrorists’ resources to build himself the ultimate suit of armour, which rather handily also flies, aiding his escape. And, due to the nature of his kidnap, he now has shrapnel in his heart that only a power source embedded in his chest can repel.

So he sounds like a jerk and he acts like a jerk but, somewhere between the Middle East and the West Coast (where Tony lives, in a futuristic home teetering atop a Malibu bluff) Stark’s magnetism (both animal and electro) draws you in. Sure, he’s slowly growing a conscience and has seen the error of Stark Industries’ ways but, more than that, he seems like a lot of fun.

And that’s all without the suit; that’s pure Downey Jr. It’s hard to imagine anyone else making such an impression in the part; no actors as accomplished have the same unforced charm to them and no one else as appealing could carry off the dramatic range, from captive to cad, from mad inventor to press-conference charmer. Well, maybe De Niro, sure, but he’s unlikely to be up for all the body casts and yoga the role requires...

In truth, Downey Jr’s personality is but the icing on Marvel’s half-billion-dollar cake - it’s a film crafted after meticulous storyboards, where the suit was fully formed before the lead had even shown up, where the hard part was in translating the look and feel of Adi Granov-era illustrations to a real, functioning suit.

Because while the film has the feel of a CGI extravaganza, much of the time there are real people inside the various versions of the suit (if most often stuntmen).

Favreau’s genius here was not only in overseeing every aspect of the production, but in merging real-life suits and shootouts with state-of-the art FX from three companies: ILM, The Orphanage and The Embassy (see the ‘Wired’ featurette for more).

There are instances of bendy CGI, but no giant, boring battles between bluescreen behemoths. So, back in Malibu, Stark renounces weapons and reworks his armour until it’s as sleek as his sports-car collection and running off his heart battery; to paraphrase Blade Runner, he’s no longer in the industry, he is the industry.

And that’s when it all kicks off, because not only does partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges, looking like a malevolent Michael Eavis) object to the plummet Stark shares take after Tony disowns arms, but the terrorists want their plutonium, er, Jericho Bomb back.

It’s just as well Stark has his suit - not to mention a virtual butler who’s a sarcastic cross between KITT and HAL, and a pair of AI robot arms with great comic timing - because his human allies are a wee bit ropey.

Terrence Howard’s airman Rhodey and Paltrow’s PA Pepper falter next to Downey Jr’s tour-de-force turn, making little more impression than their two-dimensional incarnations.

But then again: with such a killer wardrobe, who cares?

Written for DVD and Blu-Ray Review by Emma Morgan

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