Bright Lights Film Journal

Iron Man Takes the “Reigns”: Robert Downey, Jr., Lookin’ Healthy

Yes, Bob has put down the crack pipe or whatever it was he was workin’ just long enough to put together the first summer blockbuster of the ’08 season as Iron Man Tony Stark, which is just a bit racist from time to time, and a bit slow-moving a lot of the time, and lexically challenged on occasion,1 but with some cool shit as well.

Reading Marvel Comics never worked for me – reading about adolescent neuroses when I was up to my earlobes in post-adolescent neuroses just didn’t make any sense – but Iron Man is the first Marvel movie that I’ve liked, because Tony Stark, thank the Lord, is not a typical Marvel Comics hero. He isn’t conflicted. He doesn’t have a pathetic, dying aunt, who should, you should pardon the expression, just die and get the hell out of his life, and he isn’t nursing a hopeless crush on some gorgeous, unobtainable goddess. He’s the opposite of all that. He’s the man who’s got it all, he’s the man who gets it all. He’s a movie star.

Movie stars love to play movie stars, love to star in movies whose premise is that movie stars are cool! Yes, I’m impossibly conceited and self-centered, but I’m also outlandishly gorgeous and can do things that other people can’t do. Plus, I’ve even got a heart of gold, somewhere. I’ll find it eventually! So in the meantime just shut up and get naked, sweetheart.

The film begins with Tony attending some kind of gala, which is obviously not the Oscars except that it’s just like the Oscars except that only Tony is getting one, which is how all movie stars think the Oscars ought to go down. (Okay, actually it begins with Tony getting kidnapped in Afghanistan, but that’s just the teaser.) Some broad from Vanity Fair (“Christine Everhart,” played by total babe Leslie Bibb) tries to ask Tony some tough questions, like isn’t it a sin to be an arms dealer, but after two minutes of listening to Tony’s bad boy rap she’s fit to be tied, by Tony – proving, I guess, that Dominick Dunne isn’t the only whore at Vanity Fair. ((Or, in the alternative, that not all the whores at Vanity Fair are ugly.))2

In the morning poor Christine is rather smugly sent packing by the über-efficient and über-prim and proper Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Tony’s PA, who’s obviously mad about the boy but far too tightly wrapped to do anything about it. And Tony’s off to Afghanistan, letting us catch up with where we started, with poor Tony getting slapped around by some sleazy, greasy Al Qaeda types, though, in keeping with Hollywood’s preference for generic villains, we don’t really know what they’re pushing. They don’t talk about Allah very much, but they do have brown skins and bad accents, and they’re mean to white people, and that’s pretty much all you need to know.

Tony gets kicked around pretty bad, and then there’s this fade and he wakes up and there’s this dude “Yinsen” (Shaun Tomb, right) taking care of him. Yinsen is vaguely European, and I thought he might be Chechen, though that isn’t clear.3 Yinsen feeds Tony this intriguing rap about metallic particles floating in Tony’s blood that will collect in his heart and kill him, except for this electromagnet that Yinsen has installed in his chest.

Now that Tony is functional, the terrorists return and tell Tony they want him to build a “Jericho” missile for them, which I forgot to tell you we saw earlier. It’s supposed to be this totally cool missile. You shoot it off and it goes up in the air and it comes down and it explodes. Well, that is cool, but it isn’t, you know, new.

Anyway, eventually Tony tells the terrorists that he’ll build the Jericho missile, but if you ever saw the old Flash Gordon serials, like when Ming the Merciless would put Dr. Zarkov to work in his lab, you know what is going to happen next. Tony doesn’t build the Jericho missile. Instead, he builds this suit that will help him escape.4

About this time a seriously mean dude shows up (Faran Tazir as “Raza.”), with a big nose and wearing a skirt, looking quite a bit like Ming the Merciless, as a matter of fact, which is totally not a good sign.5 Raza says the Jericho has to be ready the next day or Tony dies. Well, the suit is totally not ready, but, hey, it’s showtime.

As you might guess, Tony does get away, but sadly Yinsen does not. Because if Tony is going to learn the true meaning of life, well, other people have to die. It’s the only way that a movie star can learn things. Books just don’t help.

Once Tony gets back to the States, he gets down with JARVIS, this robot disembodied intelligence who runs things in Tony’s pad. JARVIS is pretty cool, sort of a cross of Alfred from Batman and Kit from Night Rider, but not so faggy. Naturally, Tony and JARVIS get together to put together this totally bitchin’ Iron Man outfit, with this totally, totally bitchin’ servo-assisted robot assembly team that puts the Iron Man outfit on Tony (this is the cool part). Ultimately, Tony has a showdown with Jeff Bridges (right), totally not looking like a Baker Boy, as Tony’s turncoat right-hand man, in another Iron Man outfit, much bigger but (of course) much less cooler than Tony’s, very much as the Hulk has a showdown with an anti-Hulk in the newHulk flick.6

As denouements go, well, it is a denouement,7 I will say that, but, like so many denouements these days, it isn’t all that. Since special effects can do anything these days, you need a series of nice, hard twists to bring off a denouement that really makes your neck snap, and the one twist in Iron Man just doesn’t have much kick.8  It’s cool when Iron Man puts his suit on; but once he’s got it on, not so much.

What about when he takes it off? Well, we’re going to have to wait for the sequel to see Tony get into Pepper Potts’ pepper pot, if you know what I mean, but the odds are awfully good that there’s going to be one. Both Bob and Gwyneth9  seem to be looking for a cash cow, and with receipts headed for the half-billion mark, this is one flick that knows how to say MOO!

  1. During a magazine cover montage early in the film we see the headline “Tony takes the reigns.” Nice quality control, Hollywood! Just because it gets past Word doesn’t mean it’s right! []
  2. During a magazine cover montage early in the film we see the headline “Tony takes the reigns.” Nice quality control, Hollywood! Just because it gets past Word doesn’t mean it’s right! []
  3. Or, if it was clear, it wasn’t clear to me. []
  4. The terrorists, obviously, did not see the old Flash Gordon serials, because they don’t bother to keep an eye on Tony. Because it would be so much trouble to put someone in the same room with him. []
  5. I assumed Raza was supposed to be Russian, because totally bad guys tend to be Russian these days – the idea being that only white guys are smart enough to be totally evil – but maybe not. In real life, Faran has a master’s from the Harvard Institute of Advanced Theatre Training (gag me with a spoon) and it totally shows. []
  6. In fact, exactly like the new Hulk flick. Well, plots are hard. []
  7. Word can spell “denouement.” Bill Gates, you are officially cool. []
  8. Where’s a denouement that does rock? Well, Mission Impossible 3. Yeah, you know what they say about Scientologists–smart and gay! []
  9. Also Samuel L. Jackson, who shows up as Nick Fury, though I guess I didn’t notice. []