Summary: A fantastic and dramatically credible way to set up Marvel’s ironclad hero.
Review: The superhero genre on film seems to be in the middle of a Renaissance. Rival companies Marvel and DC, both plagued by bad renditions of their characters, seem to be trying harder and mustering greater creative forces to realize their iconography on screen. ‘Iron Man’ could be considered, after a mixed third ‘Spider-Man’ and two disliked ‘X-Men’ installments, to be Marvel’s comeback. It has invigorated mainstream interest into Marvel’s great selection of “unknown” characters, and is the first in a series of films to set up 2012’s destruction of the world via Joss Whedon crossover extravaganza ‘The Avengers’.
So here’s why it works. The heart of it is a redemption story. Billionaire genius Tony Stark, played with originality by Robert Downey, Jr. in a comeback role, is a real jerkass who follows a mythic story arc into a modern hell — a cave in Afghanistan — where he is confronted with the knowledge that his company’s weapons are being used by terrorists. They try to force him to build them a WMD, but he instead builds himself a suit of armor and escapes with extreme prejudice. Because of his ordeal, he is being kept alive by a power core, which is analogous to his new heart. His new appreciation for life and sense of responsibility clash with his company’s double-dealing. The classic path into hell and subsequent rebirth is a story as old as humanity. A confrontation with suffering, one’s own sins, and a need for empathy is setup for a successful hero, both in fiction and in true life. The film never loses steam, per se, but the strength of the picture is in Stark’s metaphorical resurrection as a hero, and when it diverts from this in the second and third acts it loses some of its punch.
From an Orthodox Christian perspective, the film works brilliantly because it taps into the redemptive relationship between God and man. Contrary to popular and misguided opinion in Christian circles, the point of the faith is not to escape hell, but to confront it directly. The human race is inexorably tied into an ontological relationship with Christ. By this I mean, where He goes, we ought to go. This is what Christians (should) mean when they say salvation is in Christ. It’s not only in His name, like “Here’s your membership card with Christ’s signature on it”, but directly united with His specific actions. Namely, death and resurrection. Through and after his ordeal, Tony Stark acts as, in the best sense of the word, a Christian. Like the Christ. That’s not to say he’s a perfect character — that was never the question. The question was whether he would go through hell and emerge a different man. In a broad sense, we all go through the fire, and we all have a choice: Refuse it and be destroyed, or accept it and change it into a vehicle of metamorphosis.
A great film with a few weak points. Here’s to Marvel’s Renaissance.