Friday, May 02, 2008

'Iron Man' Comes out Swinging

Sometime ago I wrote a poem which began--
'ashes to ashes,
dust to dust,
the men of iron,
have turned to rust.'----

I must confess that Iron Man was not my favorite of the many Marvel Comics of my youth. I enjoyed reading it once in a while, but Iron Man (no, not the one in the Black Sabbath song, though that is the end theme of the movie), had largely faded into dust in my memory. Then comes this movie which frankly, blew me away. No rust on this Iron Man for sure. Let me explain why.

First of all, there are some really good actors and acting in this movie, capped by the performance of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, but ably assisted by Jeff Bridges as Josiah Stane, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, and the every present Terrence Howard playing yet another military officer. All four of these actors make the most of their roles, and the script is not bad either. There is some repartee, there are a few zwingers, and very few mis-steps.

This film is in some ways like the old Mission Impossible TV shows where the real hero was the technology, and it is on full display in this movie. Very little of anything in this movie looks like cheap CG. Even the Iron Man costume looks real, or at least believable. And the director and producer of this film resisted the temptation to flex the muscles of the technology too soon, or throw in too many gratuitous chases and the like. Good for them.

The story drives and dictates the scenes, not the other way around. And the interaction between the major actors in this drama is especially good-- I particularly enjoyed the interaction between Downey and Paltrow. When is the last time you saw several Oscar worthy actors and actresses in a comic book movie? There is a reason why this movie is the best reviewed movie of the year thus far (clicking in at a 94% approval rating at the moment at

For those of you who do not know the storyline a brief synopsis is in order. Tony Stark is a billionaire head of a major weapons manufacturing company called Stark Industries. He is also a major league playboy. He is certainly not your prototypical squeaky clean super hero. And unlike a character like Spiderman, this is not something that he becomes as a youth, but rather in mid-life. Call it his mid-life crisis. What precipitates the change from play boy to brave man is a wake up call while he is visiting the troops in Afghanistan and is kidnapped by insurgents there, only to discover that they are some of the biggest fans and purchasers of his weapons, for his company has been selling to everyone, and thereby selling out his own country, not to mention most of the free world.

This experience both transforms, and literally galvanizes Stark to do something about this situation, as he escapes from his captors by building a proto-type Iron Man suit in the bowels of an Afghan mountain. When Tony returns to civilization (aka his killer pad hanging on a cliff over Malibu) he concludes he must do something to change 'business as usual'. of course the part of this story which rings painfully and ironically true is that the United States is indeed one of the biggest if not the biggest arms dealer in the world, and not just arming the good guys either.

The two hour and a bit movie with the PG-13 rating (a quotient of violence, one rather awkward and silly sex scene) concentrates on making the main story the main thing, and there are not a lot of distractions or subplots, which is befitting a comic book story. What there is, is a not too subtle message about technology, including even military technology being used for human good and benefit, not for human destruction. There are a few twists and turns to the story line, but we know who the real villain is long before we get to the end of the film. By the end of the film the only real mystery is whether the professional/ personal boundary between Stark and Potts will be shattered by a steamy ending, like so many Bond flicks (think 'Moonraker' for example). I will not spoil the ending here, but will simply say, that it is-- a surprise :)

This Marvel movie is frankly better than all its Marvel predecessors in many ways, with the possible exception of some moments in the Spiderman movies, and it certainly excels them all in the level of acting and dialogue. At the center of it all is Robert Downey Jr. who I could never have predicted would make a good Marvel super hero good guy (maybe a villain, but not a hero), but he pulls it off with panache. In fact, this may be the first Marvel movie that gets a marvelous nomination at Oscar time.

Whatever else one can say, one thing is sure. This movie has set the bar very high for the run of summer popcorn movies, and I doubt few if any will leap over it as a genuine and genuinely entertaining film which is not pure fluff. Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones better put on some power boots like Ironman's if they want to be remembered as the best film of this summer.


Dusty said...

I'm excited to see it. As a fan of comics I'm sure I would like it regardless but it's nice to know going in it's going to be good one.
Doc this is the second time in about as many days that you've mentioned comics. I've got a few digital comics that could be read via computer on that long trip of yours. If you would like some it would be my pleasure to send them.

Shaylin said...

I saw it at the Kentucky last night with some friends, and had much the same impression you did. I thought it was a fantastic movie. I went in expecting to like it, but I didn't expect to like it nearly as much as I did (which is always a nice experience). Robert Downey Jr. would certainly not have been my first choice for a superhero, but there was an authenticity in the way he played the part that was extremely impressive. Great movie.

Ben Witherington said...

Thank you very much Dusty for your kind offer. I will be reading books alright, theology books, but I'm only taking my jump drives with me.


James Garth said...

Right, that's the clincher! You've convinced me to go see it. After all, 94% fresh can't be wrong!

The Reverend of Rock and Roll said...


As a fan of comics myself, I couldn't wait to see this. Dusty and I took our wives last night, and I have to concur. If Indiana Jones and Prince Caspian want to blow us away, they better have something really good up their sleeves.

Perhaps I could find a way to turn this into a theology on tap topic?


Michael said...

Best part of the movie? The cameo appearance of the old game "Operation".

SJBedard said...

One of the best parts was the short segment after the credits and the hint of what is to come.

Raffi Shahinian said...

Completely off topic, I know, but for anyone who wants to win a free DVD of I Am Legend, play the "I Am Legend/Gospel of Jesus Christ compare/contrast"-game here.

Grace and Peace,
Raffi Shahinian
Parables of a Prodigal World

JMS said...

I believe it was "Obadiah" rather than "Josiah" that Jeff Bridges played, wasn't it?

But you're an NT guy, so I expect you to get the OT names mixed up occassionally... ;)

totally kidding. Great review. I agree it's Marvel's best since Spider-Man.


Anonymous said...


All I can say is where were you when I was going through grad school? Professor of NT talking about movies like Ironman and Bart Ehrman in the same breath. Didn't have any of those at Princeton Seminary!

Michael said...

My wife and I just watched "Welcome to Paradise", a 2007 "B" movie. It was a great movie, one of the better I've seen in a while. Thought you might like to check it out, if you haven't already.

Michael Metts

dexterslab1976 said...

i havent seen the movie, and i am not a fan of marvel movies. from what i have heard the true fans hated it but the other people liked it. i am saving my money for the dark knight. i am a fan of batman, and with the new director, batman has taked comic book movies to an entire new level, especially with the new joker.
i am just happy to here that there are other people who study theology who also like comics. i'm glad i'm not alone