Iron Man is to Marvel what Batman Begins is to DC, but with one difference: Iron Man isn’t one of Marvel’s flagship superheroes. In fact, when I was growing up, I knew nothing about Tony Stark and his indestructible suit of metal. For me, Marvel was Spider-Man and the X-Men. All other superheroes were but words and thoughts, fleeting images and fuzzy people. They popped up from time to time, and even though I knew their names and abilities, I wasn’t about to write a thesis on them.
Iron Man changes all that. It takes a superhero that many people know, and transforms him into an icon that everyone cannot forget. Because now, kids and adults alike know all about him. Some will even say he’s their favourite superhero. But the question is: Is he their favourite superhero because he’s Iron Man? Or is he their favourite because he’s played by Robert Downey Jr? After watching the movie many times, I’m inclined to go with the Downey Jr option.
He is a good looking man. I don’t remember Tony Stark ever being that good looking in the comics. Then again, when are comic characters ever attractive? They’re usually just block figures with hair — unless you take the more recent incarnations into account. Besides, comic characters aren’t supposed to be attractive. Their main appeal is their alter ego; the part of them that does fantastical things. But movies make them attractive; they have to. Their appeal can no longer be restricted by their powers. So that’s where Downey Jr comes in, and he is great.
He is great mainly because he is attractive. He looks like how I would imagine Tony Stark to look, and he brings this snippy quality that makes Tony unbearable and likable all at the same time. He’s also very quick in speech and in thought, which is something you rarely find in a superhero. Clark Kent is quick in speech, but his mind works backwards — or at least that’s how he plays it. Bruce Wayne speaks as if he’s reciting parables. The X-Men is a collective, and Peter Parker relies on his wit and humour. Tony is smart. Really smart. And the way he speaks conveys this. In an early scene, we are shown photoshopped pictures of a teenage Tony graduating from MIT, crouching next to a self-made robot, and posing next to Bill Gates. We know the pictures are fake, but we can certainly accept the possibility of Tony actually being there.
But of course, the movie isn’t just about him. It’s also about the actual Iron Man, which I must say is a marvelous machine. It is the perfect embodiment of aggression, fear, stylishness, and cool. When we see it for the first time, being drilled into place over Tony’s body, we are really in awe. It moves and whizzes like a real thing, and when we see Tony’s heads-up display, we are envious of what he can see. And then when it flies like the wind into supersonic airspace, we are left behind in its wake. What is important about this Iron Man is the fact that it has a genuine reason for existing. It isn’t just a machine that’s built to look impressive and shoot down some bad guys; it has purpose. And the way we discover this purpose is probably what makes the movie just that much better than many others.
We are taken back in time, before Tony invents the suit. He is on his way to Afghanistan to demonstrate his latest creation: The Jericho missile. While there, his convoy is attacked by terrorists, and a missile explodes right in front of him, sending all kinds of nasty shrapnel shooting through his veins and threatening to puncture his heart. He wakes up as a guest on a terrorist broadcast, and then he begins to recuperate in captivity with a man named Yinsen (Shaun Toub) — Yinsen is the one responsible for attaching a battery to Tony’s heart in order to stop the shrapnel from reaching it. To cut a long story short, the terrorists want him to make many Jericho missiles for them, but he uses the time to make his first, very primitive Iron Man suit instead. This rough clunky piece of crudely welded metal is the thing that busts him out of the joint and back into freedom, where he then decides it’s prudent to shut down the weapons division of his company to focus instead on changing his lifestyle.
This is where Iron Man gets its points. Not in the effects, not in the exposition or the dialogue, but in the transformation of Tony Stark. He witnesses horrible things when he’s a captive, so horrible that he vows never to let any such thing happen again. He adopts the Iron Man persona as a means to end injustice. He has purpose. He has drive. And he has the resources at his disposal to make his endeavor happen. It is all handled with an ounce of realism. His story cannot be fully believed, but at least it makes sense. In fact, in many ways, it is not unlike the story of Batman. Both Tony and Bruce are wealthy beyond belief. They both lead empty lives shrouded in their wealth. Their large mansions are impressive, sure, but inside there is nothing except for empty corridors and hallways. They probably spend a lot of their time talking to their echoes. They both have companions, and they both choose to become heroes after going through torturous ordeals. Their superhero gig becomes their redemption, their saving grace from a lifetime of careless selfishness. What separates them is how they deal with their newfound fame. Batman treats the welfare of Gotham as a burden that he must carry alone in secret; Iron Man treats his responsibility as a show, and everyone is invited to watch.
Best Moment | Seeing the Iron Man suit for the first time.
Worst Moment | Pepper Potts being a naggy hag in some scenes.