Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Heavy Metal Lite

Funny how some people were clapping like schoolkids during the preview when Robert Downey Jr gets fully suited up for the first time as Iron Man. But the again, Iron Man is a movie that's very calculated in its every move - rock music to pump up the mood, slapstick moments and one-liners to get the audience laughing, sneering bad guys to get the audience hissing. Stuff like that.

So it's no surprise how the summer-blockbuster audience would react. In that sense, Iron Man does its job well. A calculated job. Even so, what little seriousness it tries to convey, in particular how Tony Stark becomes a changed man after witnessing the weapons of his making causing mass destruction, comes across as just another tactical move in providing us non-challenging entertainment.

Still, this component of the movie is a crucial element. This is because the Iron Man of the comicbooks is a jingoistic, flag-waving superhero, albeit a troubled one. The movie's titanium-clad superhero is a man with a newfound conscience, after learning things the hard way, getting kidnapped by Afghan insurgents. He learns that the weapons his Stark Enterprises is making is falling into the wrong hands. Yes, "wrong hands." In the real world, no weapons should be in any hands. But in this fantasy world, not only do the weapons fall into the hands of one-dimensional "evil" insurgents, they do so because of unpatriotic and capitalist elements back home in America. Learning that he shouldn't be making weapons that would kill people, Stark then builds the Iron Man suit, and dons it to go back to Afghanistan to, well, kill some insurgents.

Funny, isn't it?

While its politics is pretty muddled, as a popcorn fare, Iron Man has wit and excitement, and is watchable owing, in very large parts, to Robert Downey Jr's charisma and on-screen presence. Replace him with any other actor, and I believe you would have another run-of-the-mill superhero picture. But even Downey becomes ineffective when the movie decides to turn into juvenile robot mayhem territory towards the end.

Unlike Batman Begins, which had a real emotional core to its story and a complex character, Iron Man is a pretty straightforward action-adventure movie that doesn't concern itself too much with striking originality nor a mature take on a comicbook hero.

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