Iron Man

I finally watched Iron Man. And because of it, I am writing the AO response. It was cool. Very cool. I do not know if Tony Stark was ever that cool in the comic book since I never picked it up. My version of the Iron Man origin comes from a kiddie book on tape and accompanying storybook which also featured the origin of Victor Von Doom, aka Dr Doom.

In the brief origin I read, there was not any room for Tony to be the Bruce Wayne on steroids playboy that he apparently is, just enough space for him to get injured, get saved by the Vietnamese doctor (this was an earlier version) and blast his way out of the cave in his going-out version of the Iron Man suit. The sound effects on the audio tape were fun. And honestly, I always remember Tony Stark having that creepy Steve Buscemi/John Waters style pencil thin mustache. Definitely not so cool.

That said, enter Iron Man director Jon Favreau who scripted and starred with Vince Vaughn in one of the coolest movies ever, Doug Liman’s Swingers (1996). Smooth talking, sharp dressing, Rat Pack loving and cool car-driving (one of them at least), the slicksters in Swingers had the kind of nonchalant confidence that my friends and I only could dream of and aspire to. Fast forward to 2006 and Favreau and Vaughn are still trucking along, albeit Vaughn as an anchor of the “Frat Pack,” the unofficial comedy troupe that stamps out comedies ranging from hilarious to very funny.

Other members include Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller. Favreau on the other hand has made a couple of films, notably the mafia-satire Made and the relentlessly witty holiday comedy Elf, which starred Ferrell and the ethereal looking Zooey Deschanel. I had great respect for Favreau, since Swingers is one of my favorite movies and I thought Elf was ingenious so I joined the Iron Man MySpace fan group run by Favreau. I thought that I’d give him a shot in properly translating Iron Man. I visited the group regularly and then in an effort not to spoil the movie for myself, I stopped visiting except for the occasional suit design pictures that crept up.

With that in mind, this is by no means an “I told you so” article because I had no idea Iron Man would be this good. I am not going to tell you that I was sure that Favreau’s Iron Man would be a critical hit because honestly I wasn’t. I was excited when I read that Robert Downey Jr was cast as Tony Stark, sans creepy mustache thankfully, because, frankly a substance abusing, egotistical filthy rich actor is perfect for playing the substance abusing, egotistical, filthy rich Tony Stark. Robert Downey Jr in addition to all of those things also has one characteristic in common with Favreau: they are cool.

From the time you see a slimmed down Favreau as Hogan, Tony Stark’s driver and one of his many partners in crime accompanying him during a game of craps – a certain homage to the casino fun of Swingers – to the previous flawlessly executed montage of the history of Tony Stark to the racing his Audi R8 to his private jet, to the impromptu party in the jet a few minutes later, he is at once the guy guys want to be and the guy girls want to be with.

All of that comes to a crashing end as Stark is blown up by one of his own WMDs in the hands of you guessed it, brown terrorists. One of my Pakistani-American friends took offense to the use of brown terrorists but I told him that it was simply an update to current events. When Iron Man was originally created, the war-zone hot spot was Vietnam and lo and behold, Stark’s captors were Vietnamese. I am also Pakistani-American and did not take offense at all though the script given to the terrorists in Urdu (a language I understand well) was not as campy as that in Pakistani movies that my mom watches but I could not help smirking because normally the delivery in those movies is ultra heavy handed and laden with the entire Steve Miller Band special effects toy-box circa 1974.

Aside from Robert Downey Jr, the supporting cast is stellar as well, featuring Jeff Bridges as Stark mentor Obadiah Stane, Terrence Howard as a very grounded and career minded James Rhodes, military confidant to Stark and Gwenyth Paltrow as the similarly career oriented assistant Pepper Potts, the book-wormishly sexy red-headed shy closet-crush of Stark. Bridges has the most badass shaved head/beard combo this side of Akimbo Slice. Paltrow, whose natural freckles make for a visually believable redhead, is not as physically delectable as Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man, but you never care since the former comes across as genuinely smart and is undeniably a better actress. Not that this is by any means an Oscar worthy performance, but in case you have forgotten, Paltrow did win one and the Academy does not give those out to anyone. Well sometimes they don’t.

Strong casting, bad pun not intended, is not Iron Man‘s only strength. Both the cave-hewn Mark I (first version) and those designed on Tony’s personal PC look authentic and not in the least cheesy and lame. Stan Winston Studios did an amazing job in making the effects look seamless and thrilling. It shows if you happen to sit through the entire credits to watch the bonus scene at the very end of the reel since the number of special effects artists who worked seems like more than the 3,000 individual population of the small town in which I reside in.

And lastly, I applaud the script writers for making a final battle scene which did not involve most of the surrounding town and keeping the plot personal. This is a movie about the plight of Tony Stark, once a billionaire genius without a care in the world whose conscience is attached, not un-Cupid like to one of his own arrows, in this case a deadly Stark Enterprises munition. This not a movie about saving the innocent residents of Malibu via a big silly catastrophic out of control train. Take that, Batman Begins and Spider-Man I! The final fight scene involves Stark, his rival and his girl, ends on his property, and may be the most satisfying Iron Man aspect of all.