Reviewed by: Michael Karounos
|Featuring||Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Samuel L. Jackson, Hilary Swank, Leslie Bibb, Clark Gregg, Stan Lee, Shaun Toub, Nazanin Boniadi, Bill Smitrovich, Ghostface Killah, Faran Tahir, Sahar Bibiyan, Sayed Badreya, Fahim Fazli, Micah A. Hauptman|
“Elf,” “Made,” “Zathura”
|Producer||Victoria Alonso, Ari Arad, Avi Arad, Peter Billingsley, Louis D'Esposito, Jon Favreau, Kevin Feige, Eric Heffron, Michael A. Helfant, Jeremy Latcham, Stan Lee|
“Heroes aren't born, they're built”
Prequel to “Iron Man” (2008)
The central myth of the movie “Iron Man” is that of a billionaire playboy whose experience as an incarcerated hostage causes him to transform from an economic and social predator into a born-again pacifist. Stark sees the error of his ways, returns home to confront his personal (and business) demons, and spends the rest of the movie trying to do good, home and abroad. In portraying this action, the writers brilliantly mimic the narrative arc of Robert Downey Jr.’s life as his character, Tony Stark, opens the movie with a glass of scotch on the rocks while bouncing along a dirt road in Afghanistan in a humvee.
In short order, Stark is wounded and captured; his life is saved by an imprisoned Afghani doctor; and in one of the more effective metaphors of the movie, the doctor has to remove bits of Stark Industries shrapnel, remnants of the shards of his professional life, that are threatening his heart. The doctor tells Stark that shrapnel victims are called “the walking dead” because of how the shrapnel migrates through the body and belatedly kills them a week later. When Stark questions why he should do anything to prolong his life if he only has a week to live, the doctor responds (paraphrasing), “Well, it’s the most important week of your life. Don’t waste it.”
That is Tony Stark’s born-again moment and it compels him to create a new heart for himself. For Christian viewers, this new-heart metaphor will resonate with Ezekiel 26:36:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
This is what happens to Stark and from that point he is determined to correct the predatory aspects of his life, whether it concerns conquering financial markets or seducing beautiful women. He shows little concern for his wealth, for his reputation as an industrialist, or for his company’s stock value. He is truly changed and sees the world through an ethical lens that encompasses not just financial and political issues but moral ones as well. We see a biographical montage of how he progresses from a boy genius to a decadent industrialist to the conscience-stricken inventor who desires to create something to benefit mankind. He indeed has acquired a new heart and a new spirit and his life mimics the pattern of creation (boy genius), fall (decadent industrialist), and redemption (conscience-stricken inventor) that is illustrated so frequently in the Bible through the lives of David, Paul, and Peter, and in the parable of the Prodigal Son, to name a few.
As Robert Downey Jr. states in an interview concerning his own personal problems: “You can’t go from a $2,000-a-night suite at La Mirage to a penitentiary and really understand it and come out a liberal.” [reference]
It is an interesting statement from several perspectives, because “Iron Man” is a blend of liberal and conservative trade-offs. There is an indictment of American arms manufacturing—American soldiers are shown being killed with American weapons to illustrate the consequences of American “crimes” overseas, and Tony Stark renounces the military-industrial complex that is in in his own mind. Conservative viewers will be gratified that American soldiers are at least not demonized, that terrorism is a reality, and that Stark undergoes the kind of personal conversion, renouncing sex and drugs, that is characteristic of a conservative ethos which emphasizes personal responsibility. In that regard, the movie brilliantly succeeds in walking the political tight rope of the age and is able to insert a subtle anti-war message where clumsy, anti-war films like “Rendition,” “Lions for Lambs,” “Grace Is Gone,” and “Stop-Loss”—to name only a few of many movies—failed because they were just anti-American propaganda in disguise.
Finally, that which powers Tony Stark, and by extension, “Iron Man,” is the new heart which demonstrates love on a personal level and compassion on a global level. As a metaphor, it is elegant; as a line of reasoning to inform something as complicated as foreign policy, it naturally falls apart. In their effort to offend no one and name no names, the writers describe the Afghani terrorists as “foreigners,” completely ignoring the home-grown Taliban who terrorized the country for decades and who just last week tried to assassinate President Karzai, killing three people. The terrorists are called the “ten rings,” because they come from ten foreign countries, and, in one especially ludicrous moment, one of the terrorists is identified as an Hungarian. Clearly, it is such white Europeans who are to blame for the nameless acts of terror committed in the name of a nameless god which bedevils Afghanistan.
This is not a trivial detail, because, were it not for the American invasion of Afghanistan in a post-9/11 world, Afghanis today would still be living in a medieval world that forbids soccer, kite-flying, music, movies, and, most importantly, education and medical treatment for women. The movie is profoundly dishonest in that regard and exhibits an ideological hangover that blinds people to the enormous good that American military might has accomplished in freeing and keeping free entire nations, including the whole of Europe, South Korea, and Afghanistan from the totalitarian ideologies of Communism, Nazism, and Wahabbism. For a more accurate portrayal of the home-grown terrorism of Afghanistan, see “The Kite Runner” or, better yet, read the book.
In conclusion, “Iron Man” is a triumph of collaborative film making. Although Robert Downey Jr.’s performance has gotten most of the credit for the movie’s success, Jon Favreau’s nearly flawless pacing and the snappy screenplay are responsible for giving Downey a frame in which he doesn’t have to act so much as just be. The perception that Downey’s performance is superb rests more on his comedic timing than it does on his acting chops. This allowed an understated performance to appear nuanced instead of, pardon the pun, mechanical. It is the kind of performance which in the hands of an actor less pitch-perfect (Keanu Reeves) would have resulted in a rotoscoped (“A Scanner Darkly”) performance.
Gwynneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts was sensitive, sweet, and principled, doing as much with her uninspired lines as a charming personality could. Regrettably, Terrence Howard was stiff and Jeff Bridges was unbelievable as a scientist, mad or otherwise. Downey carries the movie, but it is Favreau’s direction that frames him in such a way that even the sequences where Downey says nothing provide visual descriptions of character that are eloquent and convincing.
There is a moment of brief nudity, but there is nothing that should offend even the most sensitive church-goers. While there is no unifying message in the movie as in the recent “Live Free, Die Hard” film which makes a direct appeal to all Americans to band together, “Iron Man” is nonetheless a brilliant success because it appeals to so many different audiences in a time when those audiences are so much at variance with one another.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: Minor
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.