Film: Jon Favreau: Iron Man (2008)

I concede, I have never seen Swingers. I’ve also never seen The Princess Bride, or The Grifters, and I really don’t remember Beautiful Girls. Missing a part of Rob Reiner’s ouevre – or Stephen Frears’, or the late Ted Demme’s – doesn’t seem to preclude me from catching enough references to pop culture to enjoy my social life, or from fully grasping the cavernous depths of When Harry Met Sally… or…whatever else Frears and Demme did (IMDB, currently decked out in fantastic Sex and the City garb, reminds me that they also did the respectable High Fidelity and the Boogie Nights wannabe Blow, respectively. What an adorable pink trim below the Flatiron Building beside the IMDB logo!).

I suspect the same holds true of Jon Favreau and his magnificent attention to Robert Downey, Jr’s outfit in Iron Man, which isn’t afraid to combine graphic contemporary war violence with the multilayered comic iconography of its star. Oh, and there’s Gywneth Paltrow too. No, really. She’s in this, but you might miss her behind the glare coming off Jeff Bridges’ bald pate. If you care. You might. Some do. I’m told. There’s nothing really wrong with this film, in the sense of causing offense, or failing to satisfy the thematic demands it establishes, or in not providing the necessary scene coverage so that you think the characters have suddenly, inexplicably moved from shot to reverse shot, causing a catastrophic rupture in your suspension of disbelief (unless you couldn’t care less, or if it’s raining on your wedding day), although it might come as a surprise how quickly Downey’s character goes through his Crisis, and how early on in the film. Or not.

No, Iron Man does exactly what it says it will, giving Downey a bright shiny red flying suit of impenetrable non-iron alloy packed with concealed weapons with which to kill bad weapons-smuggling Afghanis (weapons supplied by Tony Stark – Iron Man’s businessman alter ego – the implications of which frontload the movie with a curiously unsustained moral dilemma. Why not pursue that? In this dangerously hi-tek day and age of militant WMD-wielding cavemen, there’s no foreseeable end to the mileage Iron Man might have gotten from extended rape-like exploitation). There’s an energetic sex scene, plus the unbearable sexual tension between Paltrow and Downey, which, who knows, they could consummate onscreen. Suit optional. Thrusters recommended. Oh, and Peter Billingsley’s in this, and Terrence Howard. I don’t really remember either, but in fairness to the movie, I’d been working all day on a prison shoot in Georgia and entered into the movie exhausted and profoundly distracted by the nearby crunching of popcorn. Or the sipping of soda. Whichever.

A friend of a friend – not exactly a friend of mine, more like a second friend – observed that using RoDo, J in a film like Zodiac is cheap, essentially capitalizing on his iconic stature to lend prepackaged dynamic weight to his part. That you’re getting Robert Downey, Jr, as opposed to a performance in a role. I argued against this stance vigorously at the time, certainly over drinks in a bar-type atmosphere somewhere in Manhattan with other people I probably knew vicariously through friends, but now I think I missed her point. She denied it, but she CLEARLY HATES RODO, J. She hates his quirky mannerisms, his way of investing subpar lines of dialogue with legitimacy and fantastic lines with angel dust, and his near androgynous appeal as a screen presence. She HATES all this. Or she hates the star system. Honest to good sweet Jesus, if I find out she went to Sex and the City, or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Secret Realm of the Hidden Power of the Platinum Cock Ring, or Lord help me, shopped for designer footwear, I will track her down and defend RoDo’s honor with a swift beat. I swear. That kind of lazy pretension has no place in mass culture, and only serves to underscore the hateful, exclusive nature of High Art. In a movie like Iron Man, he binds us in a warm woolen comforter of familiarity, pacifying our deep-seated personal fears and anxieties, and lulling our sore strained minds into a preternatural calm, like Ambien, like weed, like a warm spring breeze in the park on a Saturday.

I can’t say how loyal Favreau is to the comic book source material, but I only recently got into the comics world. I just finished Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics”, a vastly entertaining and insightful analysis of the ways narrative operates in the frame-based visual media. I would bet my next income tax return that Favreau’s read it, loved it, digested its every observation, and distilled them into his filmmaking craft. I might not know for sure until I saw Swingers. Somebody lend me the DVD. Or VHS. I know you’ve got it.

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