It seems strange in the era of a successfully rebooted Batman, Spiderman and Superman that the first really hugely-anticipated movie of the summer is Iron Man, a comparatively minor superhero. Although part of Marvel’s The Avengers series (super-rich Tony Stark bankrolls the project in certain incarnations) Iron Man’s appeal seems to hover somewhere around the cult level of a popular indie (say Spawn for comparisons sake). Whilst distinctly more popular in the U.S, over here in Blightly it seems that Iron Man’s meteoric box office success has been more down to film fans than comic fans. What then is its appeal? Why, other than a typically saturated media-onslaught from, in particular, Robert Downey Junior, has Iron Man been such a success?
The reasons for this, I am sure, are extremely varied and multiple but one becomes clear about an hour or so into the film. Terrence Howard watches Downey Junior fly off in the Mark 3 suit before turning and looking at the Mark 2 and, with a wry smile, mouthing ‘next time’. It is here that Howard sums up the feeling of everybody sitting in the cinema, and I don’t just mean the fan boys. This is the flying suit you dreamed of as a kid, the fighting suit you dreamed of as a kid, the do-anything, go-anywhere suit you still dream of as an adult! It’s the ultimate boys (and girls) toy!
Of course, terrific source material and the nous to bring it to the screen in such an appealing way isn’t the only reason Iron Man works so well. Director Jon Favreau brings a light, humour to proceedings ensuring the film is never afraid to poke a bit of fun at its own fictionality. Stark, for example, fights a running battle with his own robots who aren’t quite technologically advanced enough to clearly understand his own voice commands. Elsewhere there’s the barely controlled bubbling romance of Stark and his secretary, Pepper Potts, played here by Gwyneth Paltrow who obviously wasn’t willing to let Renee Zellwegger walk off with the award for most impossibly named, alliterative, love interest (Lexie Littleton in Leatherheads). Even though the two actors are ostensibly not doing anything they haven’t before, they do have an on-screen chemistry that bubbles between shy giggles and moody glances.
There’s plenty here for the fan-boy in you to. The appearance of Agent Coulson and his agency which isn’t quite sure what to call itself runs along nicely parallel to the main event and comic devotees won’t be particularly surprised to find out just who it is that makes a post-credits cameo (stay in your seats, it’s well worth a watch). There are apparently plenty more of these little ‘Easter eggs’ subtly hidden within the make-up of the picture and whether this is just wishful thinking by people who have too much time on their hands or not it certainly makes repeat viewing a tad more interesting.
Despite the fact that you can’t help but leave the cinema on a wave of euphoria, the type of which will transform your mundane Ford into the Batmobile, Iron Man isn’t quite an 100% success. The inevitable final battle between Jeff Bridges’ thinly disguised villain and Stark’s Iron Man doesn’t quite have the punch one expects after the film has built up to it so impressively. It’s a real disappointment, especially considering how tactfully Favreau handles the ‘damsel-in-distress’ element of the tale, managing to (just) avoid superhero cliché. Personally I find origin tales enthralling and I would have liked to have seen a bit more of Iron Man’s personal and physical development whereas the studio obviously worried that this could turn it into another X-Men and therefore quickly paces through the use of the Mark 2 suit.
Despite these gripes however, Iron Man rises close to the heights of Batman Begins, without quite threatening to usurp it as probably one of, if not the, best comic book adaptation around. Rest assured however, it does provide Spiderman 3 with the trouncing it truly deserved, and it does it with a pretty wide grin on its face.