Tuesday, May 06, 2008

seductions in the dark: Jon Favreau's "Iron Man" - The $100-Million Iraq War Movie


Jon Favreau, bless him, has been able to accomplish what no other contemporary filmmaker has been able to do, not even a master of Brian DePalma's stature.

With his shrewdly-made - and very well-made - new film, "Iron Man," Favreau has conjured up the first movie about the on-going wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the private contractors and profitteering that drive them, that moviegoers not only are willing sit through but are actually clamoring to see.

Favreau's film opened to $100.8 million in ticket sales over the weekend.

Unlike other CG-driven films, "Iron Man" is serious (rather than just somber), intelligent (instead of just glib) and leisurely-paced. Credited scenarists Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway have provided Favreau with material whose first hour is actually devoted to detailed exposition and character delineation. They've also penned some crackling, hugely literate dialogue.

As a result, the remarkable Robert Downey, Jr. is able to Method-Act his way into the role of filthy-rich (and often soddened) entrepreneur Tony Stark, whose Fortune 500 company, Stark Enterprises , provides the United States military (and, by extention, its enemies) with high-tech weaponry used in New Age wars.

That is, until Tony's own body is left wracked by his inventions and he is suddenly stricken with pangs of conscience.

Tony reinvents himself as Iron Man, the ultimate lethal weapon, as he mutters monologues and dialogue about the "accountability" of people in power. Sound familiar?

"Iron Man" may have the hard, handsome appearance of the super-hero flick, but there's a subtext here that's decidedly political.

Gwyneth Paltrow is an unexpected and refreshing presence as Pepper Potts, Tony's efficient but womanly assistant, and a near unrecognizable Jeff Bridges seems to be channeling Fred Thompson in the role of Obadiah Stane, Tony's duplicitious, hawk-like older partner. (I have no doubt that, had this film been made a decade ago, Thompson himself would have played this role.)

Favreau, who has come a long way as a filmmaker since "Made" (2001) and "Elf" (2003), two modest hits, has quite simply given us the best film of the year to date. That may not mean much to you, but the only other films this year that I've come even remotely close to admiring are Martin McDonagh's "In Bruges," George Clooney's "Leatherheads" and Woody Allen's "Cassandra's Dream."

What can I say? It's been that kind of year. For me, at least.

(Artwork: Robert Downey, Jr. as Marvel Comcis' Tony Stark, aka Iron Man; and his ever-maturing director, Favreau)

21 comments:

jeff k. said...

You nailed it. I also picked up on the Iraq thing and couldn't understand why the critics seemed to miss the connection.

fruslittleduckhouse said...

definitely nailed it. talked about this in my own blog. so glad i'm not alone.

Jason said...

Hehe, I don't understand why people always have to relate things to real life situations. They actually followed the origins of Iron Man quite well as far as the cave thing in the mid-east goes. And guys, that was over 30 years ago when this character was created... so that has nothing to do as far as being related to the current iraq war....

Drew said...

You really think kids are begging their parents to take them to see Ironman so they can see the connections made about war profiteering in Iraq and Afghanistan? Get with it!

Matthew Fitzgerald said...

Hmm. While I think that the subtext was certainly there, I thought it was far too shallow to really say anything of any weight. I loved that "oh shit!" moment at the beginning of the film, when Stark looks over and sees his own name on the bomb that is about to explode, and we see him bleeding out as the camera cranes into the sky, a look of fatalistic irony on his face. But there is not much meat to the whole thing beyond one man's change of heart.

The story, I know, is light summer cartoon-comic stuff, but it's politics are far too over-simplified to really be taken seriously, let alone lauded. Stark Enterprises and all it stands for is never questioned, the government pouring millions of dollars into Stark's company to make bigger guns isn't morally wrong, hell, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan are never even questioned or really challenged. Rather, it seems that one man, Bridges's Obadiah Stane, is the sole evil, a lone greedy individual that makes the whole thing go bad. One bad apple, apparently, spoils the military-industrial bunch.

I didn't go into Iron Man expecting a deep analysis of the arms industry, and I enjoyed the film for what it was. But I don't especially feel that the politics of the story were all that deep or engaging, or worth lauding. They were icing, window dressing, more a tool to make the film feel applicable and modern than a vehicle for any kind of statement. The opportunities for subtlety and commentary were many, but in the end the entire concept was brushed aside for a very simple big bad Iron man villain.

joe baltake said...

Jason-- Sorry but I disagree. Regardless of his history of "Iron Man," the incidents that take place in the new film clearly reflect aspects of the current wars waged by our administraton.

Drew-- Of course, kids won't pick up on the Iraq metaphors in "Iron Man," but their parents should - and will. The film works on a dual-level.

Matthew- Great post with really astute observations. I didn't "laud" the film for being political and, I agree, its politics are merely one aspect (admittedly a small one) of an otherwise summer escapist entertainment. The point I was making is that this is clearly the first successful film in which the wars are even obliquely referred to - the first film touching on Iraq which audiences will not only sit through but possibly see again and again. You can't say that about Kimberly Pierece's "Stop-Loss" or Brian DePalma's "Redacted."

Godard said...

Vietnam...the first gulf war...Afghanistan...now Iraq.

Iron Man has seen them all. Given the history of the character, it would be foolish to ignore any metaphors about America's occupation of Iraq.

(And curses to you for reminding me of the awful "Redacted". I could probably argue that "Snake Eyes" has more to say about the war than that piece of offensive crap.)

joe baltake said...

Mea Culpa, Godard, for my reference to "Redacted." I know exactly what you mean. Awful movie. Even for someone whole-heartedly against this war (count me in that group), it's impossible to sit through. "Offensive crap" says it all - although I think all the ninnies and sociopolitically deluded out there should be made to sit through it.

j kaiser said...

I hate to say this, but I agree with Jason. To paraphrase Frued, "Sometimes a war is just a war."
The war in Iraq is nothing more than a plot device.
Just as Vietnam was when the character of Iron Man was first created.

A.J. Machete said...

Great review. Comic books themselves have always been rather good at spinning in hot button political issues in interesting ways. Too bad more more Hollywood movies can't do it.

www.vigilantelabs.typepad.com

joe baltake said...

To John-- Yes, the use of the Iraq War in "Iron Man" may be a mere plot device, but it's the kind of plot device that the average moviegoer won't accept in a more serious movie. It's just further proof that one has to sugarcoat important issues for American moviegoers.

To a.j. machete-- Yep, historically, comics have always integrated sociopolitical issues into their plots. "Iron Man" is just another example of that.

j kaiser said...

It's not a matter of sugar-coating. Movies dealing seriously about Vietnam War were duds or were not made up until the late 70's when the war was over and done with. I say give it time, once Bush's Folly is over and done with people may show more of an interest in movies about it. Right, you can watch the war for free on TV.

ICER said...

*cough*Morons*cough*
Like a previous poster said (jason), this Iron Man movie follows the original Iron Man story - created well before the current war in the middle east. You people need to let go of the real world when you go into a movie theater to see SciFi movies... imaginations are the key!

joe baltake said...

My Dear Mr./Ms. Icer--

Takes a (cough) moron (cough) to know one. Thanks for sharing your, er, opinion, but please don't tell me how I should react to a movie. That's terribly arrogant. As far as leaving the real world behind when one goes to a film, I'm afraid that far too many American moviegoers already do that - and way too often. It may explain the imbecelic nature of most American studio films.

jbryant said...

icer - well, the movie doesn't follow the original story EXACTLY, or it would be set in early 60s Vietnam. Clearly, the filmmakers changed it so it would be more resonant to current events. So I guess they're the morons for not "let(ting) go of the real world." You should write them a snarky letter, too. Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

I can't figure if icer needs to chill or if he's chilled too much.

Anonymous said...

Another subtext of the film is one of energy resources. This is something I haven't read in any review--the fact that what Stark actually succeeds in building is not just a great and powerful new weapon, but a weapon that utilizes a revolutionary type of energy source: the arc reactor. It is very fitting that the wars of Iraq and Afganistan (truly wars over oil resources and not the 'war on terror') are the setting of this message about alternative energy sources. It's a shame no reviewer seem to have picked up on this.

Edward H. said...

Obviously "anonymous" failed to read Adam Hiblers review of "Iron Man" in the San Clemente High School Tritan or he would seen a critic mention it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Ed, the San Clemente High School Tritan just isn't on my radar.

Anonymous said...

I just watched this about two hours ago, personally I loved this movie, the best comic book based movie to date (from Marvel anyways). As far as reference to the war in Iraq, I'm kind of split about it. I can see where your coming from and I'm glad you presented your opinions in an intellgent manner, unlike every other conspiracy mongering critic hack out there. But really when one looks into potential subtext, one has to remember that sometimes a movie is a just movie. For example there were murmurings and accusations made against the movie 300 that the entire story was a parallel to the war in Iraq and potential followings into Iran, once again this would be looking too far into a movie. The graphic novel it was based on was written in 1999, way before any of this unpleasantness started. So maybe calling Iron Man "The $100 Million Iraq War Movie" is a little off base because as previously stated loking too far into it defeats the original purpose. I personally think there's more of a chance to draw a parallel to finding an alternate energy source (i.e. arch reactor) than the current war.

joe baltake said...

To Anon--

Thanks for the great post. Yes, both "Iron Man" and "300" come from distant sources, but that doesn't deny the fact that their respective filmmakers took the liberty of couching references to the current wars into their source material. Happens all the time in movies. "M*A*S*H," although clearly set during the Korean War, was inarguably a critique of the Vietnam situation.