Iron Man (2008): Marvel First In-House Production

Iron Man, Marvel Studios first in-house production, is not as completely marvelous as one would hope, but it offers a supremely mounted production that kicks off the summer season on a high note.
The movie is vastly entertaining, largely due to the special effects and particularly the spectacular performance by Robert Downey Jr., who proves that he can certainly hold the movie on his solid frame.

Inevitable comparisons will be made with the Spider-Man franchise, also owned by Marvel Studios, whose last segment was rather weak, suggesting that the series may run out of steam; of the three Spidey pictures, for me the second was the best. Textually and stylistically, Iron Man is both similar to and different from Spider Man, though both are popular f/x driven comic-strip creations, made into movies that are also released at the same time (early May).

If my reading is valid, due to the storys nature and its hero, not to mention that the two lead actors (Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges) are more mature in age, Iron Man may appeal to older viewers than the Spidey flicks, though it will benefit from being the first potential blockbuster to bowthe Wachowskis Speed Racer, an all-family fare, and Lucas-Spielbergs new Indiana Jones picture, will be released May 9 and May 22– respectively, which should give it time to yield major profits domestically and internationally. Officially, the world premiere of Iron Man was Thursday, April 24, in London.

The production is not flawless-the storytelling is not as fluent and smooth as it should be, and the integration of the slick special effects into the narrative is often rough. Yet considering the potential pitfalls that the movie faced, overall, its artistic merits more than compensate for the shortcomings.

For starters, there was nothing in the resume of helmer Jon Favreau (Made, the popular but simpler Will Ferrell vehicle Elf, the mediocre adventure Zathura) that indicated he could handle such a big-budget, technically-driven picture. Its therefore a pleasure to report that despite some problems, Favreau proves capable of the assignment. For another thing, Robert Downey Jr. is not a bankable actor or movie star, and though extremely gifted, over the past decade, most of the publicity he generated was about his off-screen activities: drugs, DUI, arrests, and rehabs.

Yet the risks taken in casting Downey Jr., who has never toplined a big-budget action-adventure, by the producers Avi Arad and Kevin Feige and Favreau (also credited as one of the exec-producers) prove to be rational and worthy. At 43, Downey Jr. brings maturity, experience and considerable dramatic chops to the comic-strip role, interpreting the part as a fully fleshed individual, a flawed hero but hero nonetheless. Downey is not playing the part in the vein plastic mode that pretty boys like Tobey Maguire have done in similar comic-strip adaptations like the Spider-Man franchise.

Director Jon Favreau, his four credited writers (Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway), and Downey Jr. should be commended for trying to enliven Stan Lee’s old, popular series with contemporary socio-political issues, and enrich it with secondary characters that have lives of their own (the only exception is Gwyneth Paltrows part, which is too narrowly conceived).

Its almost impossible to perceive Tony Stark/Iron Man as a screen character without bearing in mind Downeys personal life and problems, since the story centers on moral and identity crises of a man who decides to become more responsive to others and more responsible to himself. I will elaborate on the roles biographical and autobiographical dimensions in a later piece.

As most of the fans know, Iron Man is an action-adventure about Tony Stark (Downey, Jr.), a genius inventor and billionaire industrialist, both blessed and cursed with a carefree lifestyle. A handsome, charismatic man, he possesses what the French call Savoir Faire and “Savoir Vivre; he loves good booze, fast cars, beautiful women, suave parties. Downey Jr., having been sent to the gym, looks gorgeous, in and out of the famed costume, which is a marvel to the eyes with its shiny gold and red colors.

Four scribes share credit for the scenario, but my understanding is that the first duo, Marcum and Holloway, worked on the first drafts, and the second couple, Fergus and Ostby, polished and shaped the final yarn. (You may recognize their names for their Oscar-nominated script for Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men”).

As a team, the filmmakers have decided to focus on the origins of Iron Man, his birth and evolution as a hero, how and what forces accounted for the development of his socio-political awareness and use of his powers for a greater cause than moneymaking. Unlike the creators of “Spider-Man,” they have admirably resisted the temptation to rush quickly into action, dress the hero in the famous suit and send him to fight.

Its quickly established that, as CEO of the Stark Industries, Tony is the top weapons contractor of the administration. As such, he has achieved fame, celebrity, and riches, while persuading himself that he has done all of that to protect U.S. policy and interests around the globes.

Things change radically in the first reel, when Tonys convoy is attacked after a weapons test he had overseen, leading to his captivity and being held hostage by some scary insurgents. Moreover, hes severely injured by life-threatening shrapnel, which is embedded near his already weakened heart. (Pay attention to this glossy metallic part for it features prominently in the plot and offers two of the films most outrageous scenesliterally and figuratively.)

Worse yet, Tony is forced to build a devastating, destructive machine for the insurgents leader, a tough, mysterious man named Raza (Faran Tahir). Tony being Tony, and here the movie flaunts its strong, chauvinistic ideology, he disregards his captors demands, and uses his intellect, ingenuity and other resources to build a suit of armor that not only keeps him alive but also miraculously enables him to escape captivity.

The experience precipitates a moral and identity crisis, with pragmatic implications. Upon return to homeland, Tony vows to change direction of the Stark Industries. Unable to do it alone, he relies on the assistance of two aides, Obadiah Shane (Jeff Bridges, with a belly and shaven head a la Bruce Willis), his right-hand man, and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), his longtime, endlessly loyal assistant, who occasionally glances romantically at her boss. Both individuals are at first resistant. As top executive, during Tonys absence, Obadiah has taken over the management of the company, presumably for the units best interests, but we know better.

Several subplots kick in during the films second part, which describes how Tony selflessly and industriously spends days and night in his workshop (a colorful site) dedicated to the goal of developing and refining an advance armor suit that gives him superhuman strength and protective physical vigor.

From this point on, the text proceeds rather predictably, allowing us to marvel at the sight of the shiny armor and shiny knight who inhabits it and uses it to the max.

Throughout, periodically, Tony communicates with Rhodey (Terrence Howard, clad in handsome uniform), who for a change in American movies, plays a trusted, benevolent military liaison.

The movies last reel feels rushed, giving the impression of footage that has been trimmed. But it brings all the strands of the yarn together in depicting a conspiracy and how Tony, with major help from Rhodey and especially Pepper, uncovers a dangerously nefarious plot with global implications, offering in the process a direct link to the opening geopolitical scene.

Though marketed as a summer blockbuster, with all the baggage that comes with slickly-produced popcorn entertainment, Iron Man is not mindless as most of above fare. A shrewd director, Favreau knows that his expensive picture must deliver the goods for the fans and thus he contains enough sequences in which Tonys alter-ego dons his powerful red and gold armor, vowing to protect the world from evil and injustice. Nonetheless, Iron Man is always an intelligent film, highly aware of the troubled times in which we live, and grounded in current, relevant issues.

Ironically, a comic-strip adventure like Iron Man may prove to be the only American movie to benefit commercially from its explicit political overtones and use of Afghanistan setting in a major subplot, while serious dramas, such as Mighty Heart, In the Valley of Elah, and most recently Stop-Loss, have failed to find audiences and ignite the box-office, despite honorable intentions.

Iron Man is released in an election year, during the height of political campaigning, and it remains to be seen what kind of effect this very pro-American feature would have on the (low) morale of the country and its citizenship.


Tony Stark – Robert Downey Jr.
Rhodey – Terrence Howard
Obadiah Stane – Jeff Bridges
Pepper Potts – Gwyneth Paltrow
Christine Everhart – Leslie Bibb
Yinsen – Shaun Toub
Raza – Faran Tahir
Agent Coulson – Clark Gregg
General Gabriel – Bill Smitrovich
Abu Bakaar – Sayed Badreya


Paramount release of a Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment presentation of a Marvel Studios production in association with Fairview Entertainment.
Produced by Avi Arad, Kevin Feige.
Executive producers, Louis D’Esposito, Peter Billingsley, Jon Favreau, Arad, Stan Lee, David Maisel.
Co-producer, Victoria Alonso.
Directed by Jon Favreau.
Screenplay, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway, based on the Marvel comicbook by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby.
Camera: Matthew Libatique.
Editor: Dan Lebental
Music: Ramin Djawadi; music supervisor, Dave Jordan.
Production designer: J. Michael Riva. supervising art director: David Klassen.
Art directors: Richard F. Mays, Suzan Wexler.
Set designers: Ernie Avila, Noelle King.
Set decorator: Lauri Gaffin.
Costume designer: Laura Jean Shannon.
Sound: Mark Ulano; supervising sound editor, Frank Eulner.
Sound designer: Christopher Boyes; re-recording mixers, Boyes, Lora Hirschberg.
Senior visual effects supervisor: John Nelson. ILM visual effects supervisor: Ben Snow.
Visual effects and animation: Industrial Light & Magic.
Visual effects: Pixel Liberation Front, the Orphanage.
Special effects coordinator: Dan Sudick.
Suit effects supervisor: Shane Patrick Mahan.
Stunt coordinator: Thomas Robinson Harper.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 125 Minutes.