Get your self a snack from the fridge or I’ll punch your chin out!
There, I’ve done it. Since movies always begin with threats these days, and nobody seems to mind, I thought I’d begin a blog post the same way and see if it works. But I’m a good-hearted fellow, so I threaten you into doing something enjoyable. Which means it’s not a crime, right?
The kind of threats I mean are the ones that warn you against video-recording a movie at the cinema, promising terrible legal repercussions if you should walk out of the theatre with some lasting evidence of your experience. IRON MAN is the latest attempt to scupper the movie pirates, as it’s a movie that literally erases itself from your brain as you watch it. I want to write something about it but I have to be quick or there’ll be nothing left — it was pneumatically blasted into my skull through my eye and ear sockets, but now it’s just leaking out my back-brain like a lactulose O.D. My spine is wet with bits of Terrence Howard.
Not that it’s a bad film, it is actually very entertaining, and has a far better set-up than most summer blockbusters/buckblowers. And main dude Jon Favreau did a beautiful thing by casting Robert Downey Jnr., who’s “riddled with charisma” as Fiona puts it. All that chemistry Downey has poured into his bloodstream over the years is still evaporating from his skin and appearing onscreen — he has great chemistry with everybody: Gwyneth Paltry, who CAN be something of a no-joy zone but here is rather fun: a large mammal called Jeff Bridges, who brings the world’s largest private collection of affability to bear on the bad guy role; Shaun Toub, who’s a very nice actor indeed — I ducked out of seeing the Haggis CRASH and THE KITE RUNNER so this was my first exposure. Downey even has great chemistry with a robot arm carrying a fire extinguisher which, through deft writing and the personality lent it by Downey, acquires the best character arc of anyone in the film.
(Downey can’t do as much with Terrence Howard, who’s stuck in a thankless, sexless, meaningless best friend role. As a thought experiment, try cutting him out of the film in your mind, and watch in awe as NOTHING HAPPENS.)
Enjoyable as the film is, it crucially lacks resonance, which is why I’m struggling to recall most of it, one hour after the screening. I do remember enjoying it. There are good lines (RD Jnr: “Give me a whiskey, I’m starving”) and a very nice initial flying sequence, but the film’s reluctance to carry through the themes it set up (loud and clear, with big tags on them saying “THEME”) in the first section robs it of any mental staying-power. It comes down to a conflict between all-out capitalism — Stark Industries sell arms to the highest bidder, because that’s what they’re in business for — and, what? Enlightened capitalism? Or just fantasy super-heroics? Downey’s hero tries to stop his company making weapons, but never explains how he’s going to keep his business afloat and his staff employed.
Contrast this with ROBOCOP, which this movie evokes frequently (Verhoeven’s festival of irony and guts pre-empted so many comic book adaptations, from Batman to Judge Dredd, it’s unbelievable). While the Verhoeven was a rock ‘n’ roll speedball of dark wit and graphic bodily mayhem, it also set up numerous dialectics. Paul Weller’s cyborg policeman is a real public servant (the words on the side of his car, “To protect and serve” are given strong emphasis) in conflict both with social chaos and rampant capitalism, which are shown to be hand in glove.
Bridges, as “Obadiah Stane”, at one point rides on of those wheelie things that George W Bush fell off — you know, the things you’re not supposed to be able to fall off? — but isn’t set up to embody neo-con evil or hawkish militarism or anything but basic greed, and by the end of the movie he doesn’t even have a masterplan. Corporate bad guys don’t smush secret agents and punch superheroes through walls with their big metal fists, even metaphorically. Where’s the profit in that? He’s not an evocative bad guy because he’s mutated from a character into a bare plot function. As soon as he suits up and starts walloping, he’s a fugitive from justice who isn’t going to be selling arms to anyone, so it doesn’t much matter if he’s defeated by Gwyneth pulling levers to make Something Happen That Will Work.
BUT, the film, as I say, is entertaining, and does have one good stick-in-the-mind moment, when Paltrow inserts her hand into her leading man’s body. The scene is queasily funny, frightening, and perversely romantic, and I award extra points because it isn’t the kind of scene you’d automatically think necessary in a comic book action adventure. I hope she does it again in the sequel. Use both hands next time, Gwyneth!