After first hearing that Robert Downey Jr. was set to portray the body-armored superhero Ironman, my reaction was mildly cynical. Downey has the wit and charisma to pull off the role, but I kept wondering: was he cast for the roll because he has a passing resemblance to Ironman’s fictional alter-ego, weapons tycoon, Tony Stark (Stark, mind you, also had his own battles with alcoholism, which is not too dissimilar from Downey’s own real-life battles-but I digress).
Now that I’ve seen the film, I must admit that there was really no one else who could have done it as well. As the film opens Stark, who is a sort of the Bill Gates of the arms industry, is entertaining a military vehicle filled with army forces during social unrest in Afghanistan. He just intrigued a battalion of troops with a presentation on his new Jericho missile, designed by his company Stark Enterprises. But on his ride back to his plane, the convoy is attacked by Afghan soldiers and Stark is taken hostage. The terrorists want him to build them a new weapon. Realizing he will probably die at the behest of the group’s leader, Raza (Faran Tahir) as soon as the weapon is completed, Stark decides to build an armored suit that he’ll use to escape.
His captivity and daring escape inspires him to decry the weapons manufacturing of his own company. Ironically, his company made the same weapons that were used during the attack on his convoy. Stark’s unilateral decision segues into his attempt to perfect the weapon he created to escape, leading him to become Ironman.
Downey plays Starks perfectly. He has several wonderful scenes with Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays his office assistant, Virginia “Pepper” Potts. She stands by her boss even after his career-threatening decision to stop selling arms.
The film, however, is not without a few flaws.
While the film is largely fast-paced audiences might become restless at the length of time it takes for Stark to finally wear the Ironman suit. A more problematic issue I had with the film is the use of the Afghanistan war footage for the benefit of minor plot points. I’m not implying that the social unrest occurring overseas cannot fit into what is essentially a benign comic-book adventure. But if you’re going to include footage that looks more appropriate for an entirely different kind of movie, you might as well follow through on the obvious political allusions or just leave these scenes out.
Once the film introduces a second plot to the stew, I felt as though they were short changing a serious, real life issue. After he arrives back home after his near-death experience Starks says, “Things I have seen make it impossible for me to sell arms again.” If the film had delved more into those words it truly might have been onto something.
Director Jon Favreau and his battalion of screenwriters (six in all) fashioned the film’s ending in a way that left me feeling a bit let down. With all the advances in CGI and computer animation, this film’s last scene repudiates the theory that today’s special effects look more believable. There is a moment here atop a roof that would have Sir Isaac Newton chocking on his apple as every law of physics is violated.
Nevertheless, the film works, thanks to its great cast, which also includes Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges, and its often sharp-witted script.