The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Tony Stark Lives: Iron Man

Written by: Alan Hawkins, special to CC2K

ImageCC2K's Alan Hawkins returns with an unmitigated rave for the film adaptation of one of his all-time favorite comics: Iron Man

Tony Stark – brilliant inventor, billionaire playboy, raging alcoholic, man with a bum ticker – lives.

Jon Favreau's Iron Man succeeds on virtually every level, but wait – I have to pace myself here, because I'm an old-schol Iron Man fan. I read the comic for years and remained loyal even when my friends smirked at my affection for it. So let me give the uninitiated some background on Tony Stark and Iron Man.

Iron Man: A Primer

As with any Marvel Comics creation, Iron Man is a flawed hero. The man in the suit is a brilliant inventor and weapons dealer that gets caught in enemy fire while on a trip to Veit Nam. Wounded, he finds that he has a chunk of shrapnel embedded near his heart. Plus, the enemy captures him and forces him to build a weapon. Instead, he and a fellow prisoner build a suit of iron – the only metal they have at the time – to save Stark's failing heart. Stark then uses the suit to escape and return home, but he still has to wear the chest plate to keep his heart pumping. As time goes on, Stark gets a new heart and refines his suit and continues to be a superhero. But he has problems. He's still a ninth-degree alcoholic, and as such he's quite good at alienating his friends and associates.

The Movie, The Casting

So now that I've given you a basic Iron Man primer, let's talk about the movie. Jon Favreau puts a more modern spin on the story. Our hero is wounded in Afghanistan, not Viet Nam, but otherwise the story sticks to the original recipe as cooked up by Marvel Comics. When it comes to the reality that the U.S. consistently provides the entertainment industry with empire graveyards to set their stories, I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. If Iron Man had emerged from the comics world of the 1980s Soviet Union, I suspect he would have been injured in Afghanistan, too.

That said, let's talk about the casting, which is stellar. Over the years, various Iron Man projects came and went in Hollywood, with various names attached to play Stark, Tom Cruise being the biggest, but none of the names bandied about struck me right. Seriously, Cast this role wrong and you might as well not make the movie. Whoever plays Stark needs to be good – and that's when I heard that Robert Downey Jr. might get the part. Holy shit. He's a high-living Hollywood star who spent a good part of his career in rehab, including a stint in prison, all before cleaning up his act and running off a killer series of roles that stretches back to (roughly) 2004? And he's one of the most gifted actors of our time? And he looks like Stark?

Downey delivers everything in Stark that the fans ever wanted to see, and his performance is complemented by some tasty chemistry between him and Gwyneth Paltrow and her brilliant turn as Stark's personal secretary. I was worried that Terrence Howard was playing his role with a stick up his ass until about a quarter of the way in, and then he uncorked some of the skill and charm on display in Hustle and Flow, which I just saw. I'm looking forward to seeing him suit up himself in future installments.

The bad guy – or as I like to call him, The Dude


The Dude, before his morning White Russian.


Jeff Bridges will scare the shit out of you. He takes a standard villain role and injects it with pizzaz. No kidding, this is the best villain I've seen since Die Hard – Bridges' character has style and charm and that uncanny ability to make you really wonder who's going to die next. I honestly feared for anyone in a scene with him. That's a villain!

The Suit

Now the suit. It's the reason we're here. I was sure Hollywood would fuck it up. Remember the Power Ranger get-up they put the Green Goblin in? There's no way they'd nail Iron Man's suit – which I say is the key to any good Iron Man story. Let me explain:

There are different kinds of drunks. Happy, angry, goofy, luv-ee, sad – the list goes on and on. The booze makes you more of what you already are. Now what if a drunk straps himself into a Mark 3 battle-suit and acts all huggy and keeps saying "You know what? You know what? I LUUUUV you man! No, really I LUUUV you man!" And then that drunk proceeds to give said guy a noogie.

Or what if an angry drunk is Iron Man? Look folks, Tony is a drunk that can blow up tanks. So the suit needs to be convincingly dangerous. And we do. Watching the suit onscreen is like being on a roller coaster. It feels like you have a wild animal in the room with you, and you don't know whether to cover up your face or your balls.


Iron Man vs. Iron Monger vs. Family in Range Rover … who wins?


And on top of all this goodness is the fact that the suit looks like the suit from the comics. After the ongoing parade of all-black superhero costumes in the wake of X-Men, I was ready for a Hollywood-ized "interpretation" of the Iron Man suit, but instead it looks like the suit from the books, it works in a way that's plausible, and it is very, very scary – in its own way. At one point it gets pressed in such a manner that Stark almost cant get out. The movie also shows that Stark doesn't have full control of his new toy. Some of Stark's early scenes in the suit play like a driver's ed class – he keeps turning on the windshield wipers when he wants to signal left, except in this case the "windshield wipers" are "ballistic missiles." Looking back at Spider-Man, it really bugs me that Peter Parker was able to construct his suit out of some super-advanced material in his room. It didn't feel right, it didn't feel real. Iron Man does.

But …

That brings me to my one beef with the movie: The lack of focus on why. Why does Stark transform from the Merchant of Death to butt-kicking superhero? Don't get me wrong – Favreau's movie admirably touches on this character change, but I hope that in future sequels, we'll get to see more of Stark at his worst: Drunk, in the gutter and almost dead, all so he can rebuild himself and conquer his inner demons at the same time he conquers evil.

I can only hope. For now, I'm still on a high from seeing one of the best superhero movies since Batman Begins.

By the way …

Do yourself a favor. Wait until all the credits roll – get me?