This movie is a love letter to blowing things up. It’s not unusual that way. American movies are mostly about explosions. Think of Bruce Willis in Die Hard 4, taking out a helicopter with a car (because he was “out of bullets”). Iron Man has a lot of that spirit; that hell yeah!-enthusiasm when it comes to guns. It’s a fun movie that wants to say no to war, but finds itself led astray by bright lights and loud noises. Robert Downey Jr (playing Iron Man wryly) is like a lot of us in his response to the movie’s jingoistic bombast, figuring irony makes him less culpable. Like a lot of us, he winds up enjoying the explosions. It’s hard to be ethical when you’re a vigilante robot.
Somewhere in Afghanistan, billionaire Tony Stark begins the movie selling weapons. He’s your average genius/playboy/devil-may-care industrialist, a bit like Bruce Wayne after a few drinks and good conscience bypass. But the deal he’s working on goes wrong. His “fun-vee” is ambushed and a group of bad guys capture and torture Stark. After escaping, Stark claims to have had an epiphany. He’ll no longer build weapons… he’ll build himself a robot suit! And kill the guys who stole his weapons! And fight for peace by literally fighting people! Okay, so maybe “epiphany” is the wrong word for what Tony has. Instead, Tony Stark has a Marvel Comics-moment, and realises arms dealing is no fun unless you get to use the arms yourself.
After Johnny Depp became a success (finally) it was never going to be long before fellow louche, success-shy recidivist Robert Downey Jr plumped for a franchise. He plays Iron Man the way he plays most characters, like a smart man thinking: “I’ve come a long way from Weird Science to this.” The movie makes quite a few references to Downey’s past. His line to Gwyneth Paltrow, after she catches him putting on his suit (“Let’s be honest, this isn’t the worst thing you’ve caught me doing”) works double for having Downey say it. He’s the epitome of the guy who isn’t bad so much as not trying to be good.
Gwyneth P, playing Downey’s Girl Friday, is sexy when she wears a backless dress and not quite so Andie MacDowell Jr. as she used to be. She gets a bit lost in the background for much of the movie, but with Robert Downey Jr going head-to-head with Jeff Bridges – that’s hardly surprising.
Even Downey has a fight on his hands trying to stop Bridges hogging scenes. With a shaved head, a walrus-beard, a big cigar and a hidden agenda, Bridges would be a match for Brando in The Missouri Breaks. He plays Obadiah Stane, a man with a name that could only come from a comic book. Like the big friendly bullies Bridges has played in umpteen movies, Stane is a man who says “hi” the way other men threaten murder. He’s an old bastard, someone who’s made their peace with evil. We’re not supposed to know he’s bad at the start, but with a name like Stane, he’s hardly likely to be paternal.
You can’t apply ethics to Die Hard. The best American popcorn movies defy you to think about the real world. So if Iron Man throws in some War on Terror motifs and a group of Afghan terrorists for Tony Stark to fight… it’s no use thinking: but he’s an arms dealer, for Christ’s sake!! This movie wasn’t made to tackle the iniquities of the global arms trade. It was made because the title Iron Man sounds cool… because there’s something about muzzle flashes that’s inherently exciting… for the same reason small boys have bought comic books for eighty years: we want heroes who hit people.