Pretentiousness and Pretentiosity Made Flesh
First things first, I have tried writing an exhaustive review for Iron Man, I really did. A convincing piece about what I really liked about the film (which is practically nothing) and why I hate it so much would be great, especially after my bitchy article about how hard it is to dissent from the consensus thought when it comes to immensely popular or notoriously uncool films, declared so by a soul-crushing majority. However, it wasn't long before I realized that nothing I was going to write would even closely match the simplicity, accuracy, shrewdness and -of course- hilarity of the related Onion News video. I have read tens of reviews on this year's hit blockbuster (not counting The Dark Knight - didn't have the chance to see that yet) and none of them was half as insightful and/or close to my own thoughts about this film. So for the first time in the rather short history of The Long Take, I am not ashamed to fully quote an external opinion in my own review.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the Onion News Network video.
That's what I call gift of foresight.
So, aside from all this, what exactly is the problem with Iron Man? Considering the fact that nothing seems right about it, this is a tough question to answer on my part. Should we take this film seriously? How possible is that when it's so shamelessly pretentious that almost all the time it fails to be credible? Do we really need to be slapped in the face with stripteasing flight attendants and exploding dust clouds in the backdrop of almighty Mr. Stark in order to be able to comprehend how incredibly cool he is? What about watching him give away prestigious awards to people he doesn't know, as if they are little bars of chocolate; or sleep with a journalist (who appears to be a part-time top model) merely a couple of minutes after a shallow political interview that somehow manages to cover both the status quo of the weapons industry and Tony Stark's bedtime rituals? Not to mention dumping her early in the morning, right after giving her a glimpse of the wonderful seaside view of his enormous mansion, in order to start working single-handedly on his company's next project (one wonders what all the other people in Stark Industries are doing, given that Tony handles all the R&D, sales management, demonstrations and public relations).
Independently, none of the things I have mentioned would've mattered, because stylized exaggeration is a central element in all modern superhero films to date. But with Iron Man, this tired convention declines to new limits. When you combine and compress all the examples I have listed (and unfortunately many more) into the first half hour of a film, the result is more disturbing than the sum of its parts. Like a schoolchild with a new wrist watch, Favreau tries too hard to impress with this new genre he has engaged himself that I'm guessing he would've secretly cried like one had the reviews and the box office numbers not been so favorable. Tony Stark's excessive cockiness is great as a small cameo in a 3rd class comic book adaptation but is overdose when he becomes the central character in another one. When you are constantly and helplessly exposed to his forced, ostentatious lines, his arrogance ceases to be a simple personality trait and becomes a tool that is overused by the writers Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby to enthrall the audience. Hiding behind their character the whole time, they punch you right in the face, one after another, and eventually blame the character for all the damage they have caused. The whole film is the pathetic showiness of Favreau and this writer duo, perfectly disguised as Tony Stark's.
If you look carefully enough and behave well enough one day, you can even read the screenplay right off the screen as every line as spoken, and vaguely see the praise-hungry smirks on its creators' faces as they were working on it.
Should I praise characters and performances? Especially Robert Downey Jr. seems to be quite popular among the fan and critic circles, while an overall praise is given for the whole cast. True, Downey Jr. puts a sincere effort to instill as much soul as possible in between every line he is given, which are normally bankrupt of any natural feel to themselves. For reasons not related to his talents, he fails - after all, at least half of any actor's performance is directly related to the quality of the screenplay he's given. The situation is much more dramatic with the side characters. On a brief analysis, you can realize that the film revolves around only three or four characters: the hero, the love interest and the villains. All the others are porcelain statuettes in a salon much bigger than themselves; immobile and invisible. Tony Stark would be upset if the blonde he slept with and the best friend he constantly mocked would not have any screen time in Iron Man, but the sad truth is, they don't contribute to anything in the film. Their presence stands as nothing but a proof that the creators have stayed true to the original material - at least most of the time. They don't function, they don't convince, therefore they don't exist.
The 'necessary' ones, on the other hand, are profoundly typical and cliche, beginning from the Afghan villain in the first half (who is convinced that a monologue about the evolution of modern warfare from bows and arrows would make him appear charismatic) through his 'friend' Yinsen (who, being fond of tired philosophical contradictions, attempts to appear wise when he declares "So [Tony Stark is] a man who has everything... but nothing") to Pepper Potts (who patiently tries to steal the heart of his boss by being cute, kind, loyal and -most importantly- patient). Last but not the least: Obadiah Stane (a.k.a. Iron Monger); if you have played a couple of arcade/video games in your childhood, I don't need to tell you how typical the 'boss villain' of Iron Man really is.
Should I look for serious, thought-provoking political undertones? I'm not really buying Stark's sudden change of mind about his family business after merely a couple of weeks spent as a captive in Afghan caves; a business that he seemed pretty proud of and defensive about prior to the incident. I don't see it reasonable that the number one man in the United States weapons industry should remain ignorant of the scope of the damage he has been causing and of the fact that unintended groups would be using their products. Naive genius won't get you anywhere as far as weapons and politics are concerned. What's worse is, the political messages of Iron Man (if any such thing exists) are not only shallow and unconvincing but are also disturbing. If anyone asserts that I should take the political aspects of this film seriously, I'll say that the whole film shamelessly excuses the viciousness and malignity of the weapons industry today by blaming irresponsible individuals instead of corporate policies. As a youngster, ignorant of world politics and military involvements, I would've concluded after watching Iron Man that people like Obadiah Stane are responsible for all the harm that is caused by modern warfare and that the idea of military investment is virtue. Depending on your political views, you might find it easier to accept and sympathize with this attitude but it still greatly disturbs me.
Or should I ignore all this and expect pure entertaintment from this film, fueled with breathtaking superhero action? I guess this is the point where even the most zealot fans of this film will agree, Iron Man is not an action film - some like to call it a character study but I don't see such depth. The whole action in this adaptation consists of Tony Stark's escape from Afghan caves, his flight back to middle east that appears to be done out of boredom rather than heroism and the eventual showdown between Iron Man and Iron Monger. Nothing you get to see in these sequences are irreplacable, nothing is original and most importantly, nothing is satisfying. This formula would've worked if the film itself was really a character study like Nolan's Batman interpretations are, or at least if Iron Man was a film with an impressive political stance like Blood Diamond is. In reality, Iron Man is stuck somewhere in between a cartoonish, action-based superhero film and a serious comic-book interpretation - since it fails to be either, it's a film that is most mediocre, even by the low standards set by numerous superhero films today.
This will be kind of a contraversial statement to make and I have to say I haven't really seen the worst examples of this genre such as Catwoman, Fantastic Four and Joel Schumacher Batman sequels (declared worst by fans and critics that is) but in my own criteria, Iron Man is simply the worst comic book adaptation I have ever seen in my life and is a film that tries to be everything and succeeds to be nothing. Whatever I argue here won't be enough to challenge the consensus thought, no matter how long this article is, so those of you loved the film for what it is: step forward and bring your arguements with you. If this is a film loved and praised by practically everyone around me, I would love my own opinions to be challenged by this majority.