Thursday, 15 May 2008


Some bigscreen comicbook adaptations are great. A lot of them are awful. So I wasn't expecting much when I went to see the latest Marvel offering, "Ironman".

The movie brings Iron Man to life using all manner of computer wizardry, and a spot-on performance from Robert Downey Jr. Heavy-drinking, womanising, arrogant-but-brilliant weapons designer Tony Stark is captured in Afghanistan and ordered to build an advanced missile for terrorists. He is also injured, and has to wear an electromagnet to prevent shards of shrapnel slicing into his heart.

While held captive, Stark is confronted with the destruction his weapons cause. And so he is driven to build a suit of armour, which he uses first to escape, and then to destroy the terrorists' weapon stockpile. Stark becomes 'Ironman' for the first time. Back in the USA, he announces his intention to cease trading weapons and concentrate instead on less harmful alternatives. But weapons are big business, and his associates aren't easily convinced. In secret, Stark refines the Ironman suit and continues a private mission to repair some of the damage done by his own weapons. The rest of the film sees Stark struggling with double-crossing 'friends', suspicious colleagues, and his own personal weaknesses.

The film works where so many other comic classics have failes, and there are lots of reasons why. The main one is Robert Downey Jr, who manages to become a character we disapprove of, but still kind of like (and maybe even feel sorry for). The script is stronger than you'd expect, and there are some genuinely funny moments. Mercifully, the CGI fighting is used with some restraint so it doesn't get boring. And there are some great subversive moments which remind us this isn't the usual clean-cut hero (the best on being the final line of the movie, when Stark tells a press conference, in a very un-Supermanly way, "I am Ironman").

The movie asks lots of questions about war and peach and the place violence plays in maintaining peace. Can there be peace and freedom without weapons? Does the arms race ever have a finish line? Is it better to have weapons you never have to fire, or weapons you only have to fire once (a very different kind of threat).

But the key theme of the movie is redemption. When Stark is captured and sees real people suffer and die as a result of his choices, he has a change of heart. Much of the film is about him making amends for past mistakes. He is challenged by the man who saved his life, "don't waste it." And for the rest of the film he tries to do what is right.

As I watched, two things struck me about Stark. One is that his attitude and desire to be good is something we can all identify with. Even before he becomes Ironman, he sincerely believes he is serving the itnerestes of peace and freedom. And as he attemptsto stand up for peace and justice, you end up rooting for him. There's something in us that knows what he's doing is commendable and right.

But it's also obvious that Tony Stark is a deeply flawed hero. He carries around a physical weakness, but the magnet which protects his heart is a reminder of the weaknesses in his character. His arrogance is obvious right up to the end of the film. And, although he tries, he can never really deal with the pain and misery he has caused. In the end, it is painfully obvious that it is impossible for him to make things right himself.

And that, as a Christian watching this film, is what stood out for me. Whether we realise it or not, we are deeply guilty. We are all as guilty of self-interested screw-ups as Tony Stark. The biggest one of all is our rejection of God, which is so much worse than the horrific things we do to each other. Maybe we experience a traumatic realisation of that fact, maybe not. But we will never be able to deal with it ourselves. However good we are, we can never deal with our rejection of the Almighty Creator of the universe. We can't rescue ourselves. We have to trust someone else to do it - Jesus Christ. It's only through his death and resurrection that we can be made right with God and live the life we are supposed to live.

It's only when we've got that sorted out, when we've realised that we can't redeem ourselved, that the challenge to Ironman applies to us too - don't waste your life!

1 comment:

peterdray said...

Agree with much of your review. It's very interesting that for the past 10 years all 'heroes' are deeply flawed - morally as well as physically (a combination of postmodernism and a reaction to 9/11 I think). Daniel Craig's 'James Bond' is a great case in point of this. We admire heroes but want them to be 'realistic' as well.

I also liked the way that the film showed that we have to live with the consequences of our actions, even after we have realised that they are wrong.