Favreau’s Iron Man Blasts Off
by Ryan Faughnder


It’s hard to speculate what possessed Black Sabbath to pen a song based on a conflicted superhero in a metal suit, but from the very first scene of the sharp and action-packed Iron Man, it is clear that director Jon Favreau knows exactly what he wanted to accomplish.

A caravan of Humvees drives through Afghanistan, one transporting Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the mind behind and namesake of the most powerful weapons manufacturer in the world.
Guerillas ambush the entourage, managing to knock Stark unconscious with his very own Stark Industries mortar shell.

Stark then becomes the captive of a crazed warlord who wants him to build a missile, but the weapons tycoon has a plan. To the surprise of his captors, Stark emerges from his prison in a suit of iron, armed with flame throwers, small missiles, rocket boosters, looking less than perfect.  In fact, he slightly resembles a villain straight out of a Power Rangers episode. Fortunately, the camera shakes and the footage switches between dark and grainy, so you never really see it in all its ridiculous glory. The suit is clunky, but gets the job done.

After Stark returns to his multimillion-dollar, UFO-like mansion, he builds a more efficient and better looking suit with the help of a sardonic artificial intelligence named Jarvis and fiercely loyal assistant Pepper Potts. With his new creation, Stark also plans to clean up the worldwide mess that his company created.
Stark’s longtime business partner Obadiah Stane, however, is not happy about his friend’s new turn toward humanitarianism. Stane, played by Jeff Bridges – one of the best character actors out there – uses whatever means he can to keep Stark from undermining his lucrative business, including Stark’s newly created suit.
Stark, the protagonist, is naturally the film’s most fascinating character that intensified by Downey Jr.’s gripping performance. In the beginning, he’s a cocky, silver-tongued spin-doctor who is somewhat inexplicably popular with the mainstream media, giving press statements reminiscent of Stephen Colbert’s witty quips, albeit not as comical.

Seeming surprised that his wares have fallen into the hands of terrorists, Stark appears strangely naive despite being aware that his company willingly arms anyone with adequate financial means.  The rest of us watching, however, might borrow a line from Ozzy Osbourne and ask, “Is he deaf, or is he blind?”

“They say the best weapon is one you never have to fire,” he tells a crowd in Afghanistan. “I say, the best weapon is the one you only have to fire once.” He is as unapologetic as Nicholas Cage’s character in Lord of War, but with way, way more charisma. The humor works better here as well.

After his accident, Stark’s anxieties parallel narratives ranging from the Acts of the Apostles to the Wizard of Oz.  Besides the obvious physical similarity, Stark is similar to the Tin Man in that his chief character flaw is symbolized by a literal dysfunctional heart. He is also the Man Behind the Curtain of the institution of war. Due to his former career as what one reporter calls a “merchant of death,” his chief motivator is guilt.

The themes evoked in Iron Man are nothing new, but Favreau renders them here with a keen eye for pacing (at barely over two hours, this film rips by like it has its own jetpack). It has some of the moral ambiguity of Charlie Wilson’s War along with the epic explosions of Transformers (whose screenplay makes Iron Man look like Tony Kushner). Despite its flaws, this film is more effective than either movie. More importantly, it is more entertaining.