The Savy Super Anti-Hero

Iron Man

The superbly versatile character actor, Robert Downey Jnr has made a big screen comeback in the summer blockbuster Marvel comics’ film adaptation of Iron Man bringing a fresh twist on the superhero role. In recent years, we have seen numerous film trilogies about super heroes, from the X-Men to Spiderman become box office successes.

Downey returns to form with a Money Spinner

Iron Man opens promisingly with Downey Jnr playing Tony Stark a weapons manufacturer on a visit to Afghanistan. He is chatting boisterously with American soldiers in the back of an armoured vehicle, while sipping on a fine whisky, a decadent contrast to the passing landscape of the bleak Afghan province of Kunar. Stark poses for photographs and does not to take life seriously even though he is responsible for inheriting an empire that builds weapons of apparently mass destruction. Portrayed as somewhat of a playboy, as seen in flashbacks whereby Stark goes from gambling at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas while missing his own awards ceremony to seducing a blonde reporter at his immense Malibu mansion. All the while, drinks in hand, he casually races to his private Californian airstrip to board a luxury jet en route to Afghanistan, where he is due to present the latest product from Stark industries, Jericho, a rocket launcher with magnificent destructive capacities.

The self-indulgent Tony Stark is soon captured by a militant group of rebels, living in the Afghan mountains, certainly suggestive of the Taliban. There he is forced to build another weapon for this guerilla group, but aided by a mysterious fellow prisoner, he builds an iron suit, which is powered by a flashy blue battery that keeps shrapnel from entering his heart. The film follows similar superhero plots whereby the hero returns to his native California after annihilating his captives and finds that his very newly acquired powers are being undermined by those closest to him.

Besides the inconsistencies in storyline, evident of a group of screenwriters marrying diverging plot points, Iron Man follows most superhero storylines, from Spiderman to the more recent Ghost Rider, always ultimately rescuing the female lead, in this case, Stark’s efficient assistant Pepper Pots played with a surprising subtlety by Gwyneth Paltrow. What was so attractive in this film was this standard plot being treated with a subverted and ironically mature undertone, given that the hero is a middle-aged millionaire who draws on his own emotional vulnerabilities to eventually fuel his physical transformation from careless warmonger to conscientious saviour. Iron Man, the super hero, almost is an anti-hero, defeating the villain and saving the distressed damsel, while still retaining his own personal insecurities.

Thus, Downey’s performance fits perfectly with this subversion of a traditional superhero, as he smirks and delights in a clearly comic role, with significantly relevant undertones; especially enhanced by the fact that Iron Man doesn’t actually possess any supernatural powers, his ironclad flying suit is entirely his own creation.

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