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The Biggest Surprise…

The Biggest Surprise… May 19, 2008

While it is certainly too early to declare the best summer blockbuster (has summer even begun yet?), it might not be too early to talk about what is surely the biggest surprise of the year. Over two weeks have passed since the release of Iron Man, and it has retained an over 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and taken in significantly more millions in ticket sales, not to mention merchandise. With Marvel Studios banking on a “second-tier” superhero for their first independent release, and a heroic re-do for their second, the cards seemed to be stacked against them. Director John Favreau, however, pulled it off with a clear vision and the most intuitive casting in film history. I exaggerate, but only a little.The film begins at the beginning, which is a great thing for new and old Iron Man fans and film-goers who couldn’t tell Iron Man from one of the X-Men. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a billionaire weapons dealer on a visit to Afghanistan to display his newest, most powerful weapons in the war on terror. After a display in the middle of the desert, Stark and his military escorts are attacked by insurgents who capture the arms dealer and force him to make weapons for them. He does make a weapon, but it’s not what they had in mind.

In the attack, Stark suffered numerous shrapnel wounds that slowly gravitated to his heart. A fellow prisoner and engineer created a battery/magnet that kept the shrapnel from piercing his heart and kept his heart running. Stark enhanced the concept to fuel his most powerful weapon, a suit of armor with weapons and flight capabilities, with which he frees himself. Returning home, the brilliant engineer perfects the suit into a one-man army and goes on an armed peace-keeping mission against the “terrorists” who have his weapons and his business partner, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), who sells them to them.

On the surface this might seem like a typical summer superhero blockbuster with loads of explosives and little character or plot development. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the special effects are truly amazing, they service the plot and character development rather than a twisted up vice-versa. Tony Stark/Iron Man’s failings are just as entertaining, and perhaps more so, than his successes. Rather than giving us a qualified super-villain against which the superhero must spend the entire film battling wits and strength, Favreau keeps his focus on the development of Iron Man and the changes that Tony Stark/Iron Man undergoes, both political and technological.

As such, Iron Man can be seen as a conversion film. Having visited the destination of his weapons, Stark sees the flaws of war profiteering. Moreover, having had his weapons used against him, he also sees the threat that they pose on civilians. Rather than remaining in his high-tech tower, he steps out and takes on the forces that are wreaking havoc on the world. One might see this as a vendetta against terrorists; however, his conversion to Iron Man also affects the American military (he will no longer make weapons for them either) and his business partner, he can no longer profit from the sale of these weapons.

Iron Man does not represent a simple conversion from militarism to pacifism. The world is simply too complex for such a change. While Iron Man is one powerful killing machine, Stark’s use of this weapon of mass destruction to stop other weapons of mass destruction is a step in the right direction…as is the film for the superhero genre.

Iron Man (126 mins) is in theaters everywhere and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence and brief suggestive content.

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