Iron Man (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content
Grade: B+CBB+=B+
Length: 126 minutes
Budget: $135-185 million
Box Office: $572 million (318 US, 254 Intl.)

Written by: Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, whose only notable previous work was the science fiction film, Children of Men.
Directed by: Jon Favreau, who previously made Zathura, Elf, and Made, also writing and producing Swingers.
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

After being captured by cave-dwelling terrorists and forced to build them an advanced weapon system, Tony Stark instead creates the prototype for his Iron Man suit. After discovering that his own company is the source of most of the evil in the world, Stark dedicates himself to turning his technical genius toward nobler pursuits. But not everyone is in agreement with his plan.

Entertainment Value: B+
Okay. I know I’m going to get a lot of grief for this one, but this movie was not the tightly wrapped work of genius that most everyone seems to think it is. It’s very good. And it’s in the long tradition of excellent adaptations of Marvel comic books to the big screen (ignoring Fantastic Four 2 Rise of the Silver Surfer). The problem is that it starts us off with sex scenes and playboy living, which is fine in the grand scheme of character development but annoying for a movie that kids should be able to watch. Then the entire first Act revolves around a ridiculously implausible scenario of virtually unsupervised work on the suit while he’s supposed to be building a missile. Plus, as later plot details show, the guys didn’t know they were getting Stark in the first place, but they still have this excellent plan for using him? All that being said, the action sequences and the rest of the movie are generally very entertaining. Downey Jr and Jeff Bridges are both brilliant in their respective roles, and the robot has comedic timing with machinelike precision.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity B-, Violence C, Language C , Illegality C
Lots of alcohol, a couple of unexpected sexual scenes in the beginning, comic book mayhem violence including people being killed, a smattering of minor vulgarities, and plenty of destruction of property in the fight scenes. In other words, it’s an Iron Man comic book. PG-13 is probably a bit high. PG-10 perhaps. We let Spencer watched the second hour or so. He likes jets and flames. However, be aware that the DVD deleted scenes have two much more sexually suggestive scenes included.

Significant Content: B
The worldview here is simultaneously dark and yet optimistic. The weapons manufacturers are evil, but the government is basically good. Even reckless playboy billionaire geniuses can learn to adopt decent values and take the world more seriously. It’s a shame to find that you’ve lived like Solomon but not lived for anything meaningful. Even tremendously flawed people can be superheroes.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+
First of all, this movie got right what the Transformers got completely wrong. The gadgetry wound up being mystifyingly cool without being so over-technologized visually that it couldn’t really be comprehended. One very interesting line of thinking here is the idea (not new) that innovators of weapons (such as Oppenheimer) wind up making the world worse even though they’re trying to make the world better. This is because the weapons they give in one generation to the good guys wind up being used to devastating effect in the next generation by everybody. This strikes me as a powerful example of the corrupting effects of worldly solutions. If that’s the progression, Jesus’s quiet admonition to turn the other cheek and to lay down your life for others winds up looking like a powerful preemptive rejection of the arms race.

Discussion Questions:
~In what sense is this a redemption story? Does Tony Stark succeed at redeeming himself from his own guilt and past? Does he do this by fixing all his character flaws or by transcending them? Do you think it’s possible to redeem yourself before God? What about before man?
~What’s your definition of a superhero? Why do all the modern incarnations of comic book heroes have serious flaws? Does this make them more or less believable? Does it make them more or less ideal as cultural icons? Does it make them more or less like Biblical heroes? What would you say to someone who complained that heroes should be pure and thoroughly heroic? Why the shift do you think? Is it a good one for our culture? What’s the main difference between the new breed of comic book movie heroes and Biblical heroes? What is the source of their success?
~In what sense would you say that Stark’s reform of his business principles is connected logically with his reform regarding women? Was Pepper a cause of his reform or just the natural corollary of it? In what sense would you describe her as the ideal wife even when she was just his secretary? Is it fair to describe secretaries as surrogate wives? In what ways is the secretary a good and in what ways a bad model for a wife? What insights about adultery does this line of thinking give you? Consider shared projects, competence, admiration, respect, and power in your answer.
~Although Stark changes in principle, business, and women, he doesn’t seem to become more humble after his ordeal. Does his arrogance and pride bother you?
~If developing weapons only makes the world worse eventually, should we simply abandon the project? Does it only make the world worse? What would happen if we invested a fraction of the money we spend on military R&D on political, social, or ethical R&D? Is this even a realistic or meaningful question?
Overall Grade: B+
Solid. Entertaining. Robert Downey Jr. might just be my favorite super-hero casting choice yet.

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