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Kyle Smith (Twitter: @rkylesmith) is critic-at-large for National Review, theater critic for The New Criterion and the author of the novels Love Monkey and A Christmas Caroline. Type a title in the box above to locate a review.

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    Review: “Iron Man”

    By Kyle | May 2, 2008



    Kyle Smith review of “Iron Man”
    PG-13/126 minutes


    Like superheroes themselves, “Iron Man” has trouble reconciling a split personality. Despite a brilliant first hour–for a good long while, we’re almost in “Batman Begins” territory–“Iron Man” becomes like some bizarre legend of a Norse god who descended into the flaming pits of the earth’s core, swung his mighty hammer upon a great anvil and forged….a Crosby, Stills and Nash album. [See my review of “Batman Begins,” the finest superhero movie yet.]

    The movie’s got plenty of visual sizzle, top actors and a witty script, yet it could have been so much better if only it didn’t try to cobble together a pacifist warrior.

    We’re about five seconds in when director Jon Favreau announces there’s gonna be some ass-kicking fun by blaring AC/DC (“Back in Black”) as billionaire weapons contractor Tony Stark (a deadpan Robert Downey Jr.) travels with some US soldiers through Afghanistan. “Is it true you went 12 for 12 with last year’s Maxim cover models?” asks an awed grunt.

    Stark is a man who believes that peace comes with power: “ensuring freedom and protecting America and her interests” are his watchwords, and he doesn’t mind getting rich in the process. His latest weapon, a daisy-cutter called Jericho, promises to destroy a lot of villages in order to save them. When Tony banters with lefty reporters who call him a merchant of death, he’s got a cynical but wise answer for everything. He’s so funny and tough that the movie promises to be an unapologetic defense of the traditional American respect accorded to those who find bad guys and making them dead.

    Tony has a change of heart after he is captured by Taliban-type insurgents and ordered to make a Jericho for them. With the parts they give him–from his own weapons, which he realizes with a sickening feeling have fallen into enemy hands–he instead constructs a flamethrowing, bullet-repelling outfit: the Tin Man meets Rambo. Or, if you like, given that Tony is a wealthy playboy with a yen for gadgetry but no super powers, the movie becomes Batmanistan. The scenes in which Downey literally hammers away on an anvil suggest we’re going all Lee Marvin (if not Thor) instead of Tobey Maguire, with that cotton candy Spider-Man spins out of his palms. This turns out to be a false hope, though.

    Escaping from the guerillas, Tony finds his way back home to his L.A. headquarters, where his loyal but trash-talking assistant Pepper Potts (a freckled, redheaded Gwyneth Paltrow, never so approachable) wants to take him to the hospital right away. Nonsense, says Tony: he wants a cheeseburger first. Oh yeah, and a press conference at which he announces that he will no longer make any weapons. His second-in-command (Jeff Bridges) wants to know what exactly the company is supposed to do now. The world already has plenty of ploughshares. But Tony’s buddy and military liaison, an Air Force colonel (Terrence Howard) doesn’t seem too disturbed by the thought that his troops might have to make do with slingshots and spitballs in the near future.

    What Tony’s up to is a secret plan to make another Iron Man suit, this one with every high-tech gizmo he’s got. There are some very funny trial-and-error moments, and Tony’s robots take on an R2-D2-ish quality of implicit scolding as they clean up his messes. There are also not a few bright moments between Tony and Pepper, who actually seem to admire each other and value their working relationship above all else; casting grownups in a comic book movie has its pleasures. Pepper points out that Tony, for all his wealth, couldn’t tie his shoelaces without her.

    Once the new Iron Man getup is ready for action, though, the movie takes a turn for the unsatisfying. There are only two scenes (including the one with the first Iron Man costume) in which Iron Man blows away America’s enemies; he spends about as much time fighting the U.S. Air Force (destroying an F-22 and nearly killing a pilot in the process) and US industry.
    You would think that, in 2008, it wouldn’t be so difficult for a screenplay to imagine some villains for an American to fight, but according to this movie (really? again?) our deadliest enemies are domestic.

    Even assuming that were true (news flash: it isn’t), it weakens Iron Man, and the movie. The second half of it is guilt trip, and guilt isn’t fun. When Iron Man goes to rescue some Afghanistan villagers who have been endangered by his weapons, the stakes aren’t high since he’s (sort of) a third party to the dispute. His is some sort of prosaic U.N. mission, not an epic clash of good and evil.

    Worse, when it comes down to the end, a long stretch of a movie that, at its best, takes place in something teasingly close to reality lapses into a silly “Transformers” moment of two giant machines slugging it out like a game of Rock-Em-Sock-Em-Robots. Iron Man isn’t even the most important figure in the climactic moment, which anyway relies heavily on the dramatically inert and creatively lazy choice of having someone push a button. Sorry, Iron Man, but I’ll take the Caped Crusader.

    Topics: Movies, Politics | 27 Comments »

    27 Responses to “Review: “Iron Man””

    1. Fred Says:
      April 29th, 2008 at 1:54 am

      You lost me with the line: “Batman Begins, the finest superhero movie yet.”

      Puh-leeeze… Not even in the Top 5.

    2. Watch out for the Iron Man Says:
      April 29th, 2008 at 7:10 am

      […] See Full Review […]

    3. Petrillo Says:
      April 29th, 2008 at 9:03 am

      well The movie is a lot better than you make it out to be. You sound like your way to big of a Batman fan to even be reviewing this movie. Your constant comparisons to Batman get old. Oh and I assume you are referring to the CGI heavy final battle when you say “which anyway relies heavily on the dramatically inert and creatively lazy choice of having someone push a button.” well if you studied Computer Animation you would know that you just dont press a button and the scene animates. I am an animation student and it takes alot of hard work and creativity to get things to move and look good. Maybe you should brush up on your movie making techniques before you write something so stupid in your review. Why you are a top critic on rotten tomatoes is beyond me…

    4. Zak Says:
      April 29th, 2008 at 10:54 am

      Batman Begins isn’t the finest comicbook movie, the 3rd act is borderline terrible and the first act still isn’t perfect. Give me Spidey 1 and 2 anyday of the week. This review only makes me believe that Iron man will be great…unlike Batman’s overrated Begining.

    5. Daniel B Says:
      April 29th, 2008 at 2:01 pm

      I am SO disappointed to hear that this will be another ‘America sucks; pacifism magically works instead of leading to tyranny, and the UN is the greatest thing since sliced bread instead of the corrupt, evil, and inept organization we all know it to be’.

      I hope you’re exaggerating that aspect because I was really looking forward to this movie – the previews look great (and for once I thought we’d have an unapologetic pro-american protagonist)

      I’ll still see the movie, but I’m really tired of hollywood movies preaching anti-america hate.

      Unlike the comments posted before me, I think Batman Begins was excellent, and makes for a very good benchmark to compare other superhero movies to.

    6. James Says:
      April 29th, 2008 at 3:51 pm

      Save the politics, please… why would I care what your politics are to know if a movie is good?

      Not everything is a liberal conspiracy. Sometimes, a movie is just fun action and there’s no need to pore over subtext.

    7. amarr Says:
      April 29th, 2008 at 4:24 pm


      You need your head examined.

    8. Snuckles Says:
      April 29th, 2008 at 4:36 pm

      Petrillo, he’s referring to a scene in the movie where a character literally has to push an actual button.

    9. kyle Says:
      April 29th, 2008 at 5:22 pm

      @James, “save the politics, please” is my point exactly. It’s what the movie didn’t do. Did “Superman” try to sell you on a political platform?

      As for “subtext,” well, perhaps you’re not a very careful reader of films and if so I envy you your bubblegum joys. But there’s subtext, and then there’s text. The whole second half of the movie is meant to more or less villify the weapons industry.

    10. kyle Says:
      April 29th, 2008 at 5:22 pm

      @Amarr, this blog really isn’t aimed at children. If you’re a minor, please stay away. Thanks.

    11. pk Says:
      April 29th, 2008 at 7:42 pm

      i cant wait until they make a captain america movie and have captain america fighting obesity in american public schools! yay!

    12. deadotter Says:
      April 30th, 2008 at 8:50 am

      I have seen Iron Man and I have to say I enjoyed every minute of it! I didn’t read the comic it’s based on but it left me with no pre conceived ideas about the characters. Just watch it for the sheer entertainment value. In my opinion it was much better than the spiderman movies. The storyline is brilliant, the script is clever and witty.

      And if you want to compare with Transformers…(which I didn’t enjoy as much as Iron man) to me there is no comparison.

    13. Bill Says:
      April 30th, 2008 at 10:20 am

      the latter part of your first paragraph boggled me…even after ready the whole review could I make some sense out of it. Is it in direct reference to the soundtrack or just a metaphor for the deflated sense you had about Stark’s less than brutal and epic heroism?
      Just not 100% sure.

    14. kyle Says:
      April 30th, 2008 at 10:22 am

      @ Bill: it’s a metaphor. Stark becomes an anti-war, anti-corporate crusader.

    15. sean Says:
      May 4th, 2008 at 12:57 am


      Methinks your passionate dislike of “lefties” has blinded you to the movie’s point – there is no answer. It’s stance is “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. Stane even tells Stark how ironic it is that in his crusade to rid the world of weapons, he gave it the ultimate one. Ain’t that the truth? To save the villagers he sympathized with, he still needed a weapon- he still needed to kill people. He can’t prevent war without causing it. If you’re at all familiar with the character, this is his eventual downfall.

      The bad guys are terrorists and war profiteers….how much more centrist would you like it to be? It plays well to both sides of the aisles – dirty hippie lefties like me, and super manly “kill ’em all” righties like you. Cheers.

    16. Katie Says:
      May 7th, 2008 at 7:00 pm

      Really, I enjoyed this movie. Even though Stark got a conscience after the beginning, he’s still making a weapon to fight American enemies with – though they’re also the enemies of innocent Middle Easterns. I’m sure the sequel will have more bad guys for you to enjoy. 😉

      Of recent super hero movies, I think Iron Man is better than most but not as good as a few. Also looking foward to The Incredible Hulk Marvel is putting out after the last Hulk movie flopped.

    17. bob Says:
      May 27th, 2008 at 10:33 am

      Hi Kyle. I always read your reviews in the NY Post. Perhaps you can clear up a problem I have. I usually watch the credits at the end of every movie BUT this time I only stayed through half and then when I got home and read more about the movie on the Internet I see that there was a scene at the END of the credits showing Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury talking to Stark in his office. So many people must have missed this. Did Lawrence Fishburn have anything to do with this scene? Thanks

    18. kyle Says:
      May 27th, 2008 at 11:02 am

      @Bob, I heard that too…I think they just stuck that in there so word would get out and people would pay to see it twice, but I’m one of those who left at the start of the credits so I’m in the dark. (And I am planning to see it again, so it worked.)

    19. Dave Says:
      May 31st, 2008 at 1:46 pm

      Yeah, the comic character is troubled by the same Catch 22 as the movie character–he fights to preserve peace. It’s the same core philosophical contradiction that’s been plaguing America since, well, always.

    20. John Says:
      June 3rd, 2008 at 10:28 am

      I think saying that Stark becomes an “anti-war, anti-corporate crusader” is completely off-base and simply putting words in stript’s mouth.

      After Stark has his “eyes opened in the desert” he has a few remarks about his father:

      I would’ve asked him [my father] how he felt about what his company did, if he was conflicted, if he ever had doubts. Or maybe he was every inch of man we remember from the newsreels.

      Stark becomes a three-dimensional character, questioning whether his impact on the world has been on the right side of the fence. But Stark didn’t become some pacifist, he puts himself in a weapon of mass destruction, for goodness sake! The only reason he wants to shut down the weapons manufacturing division of Stark industries is because something he has created has gone to hurt something he is fighting for: American ideals, and American soldiers.

      He isn’t filled with doubt about making weapons; he’s pissed that his weapons are in the hands of people who want to advance their own interests. Hell, Stark ends up being the American poster boy for capitalism, excess, and “me, me, me” culture (demonstrated by the movie’s final line).

      I didn’t see any apologies for American war making, but good-ole’ fashioned Fist Full of Dollars “you hurt me and mine, I’ll hurt you and yours” retributivist stuff. The movie seems very self-aware.

      Further, a crooked weapons manufacturer makes a far more interesting and topical enemy than does the tired eco-terrorist thread that enjoined Batman Begins (ala Micheal Creighton, Tom Clancy).

      If you consider Iron Man political, you must consider Superman the same. Just because a superhero finds himself at odds with a corporate doesn’t mean he is anti-war or even anti-corporate; anti-American is a complete logical leap.

    21. Graves Says:
      June 3rd, 2008 at 6:17 pm

      The movie was great, bottom line. Forgoing politics, you can focus on the internal struggle a weapons dealer lives when he realizes, in captivity, that the weapons he creates have become tools of enslavement when placed in the wrong hands. Even more poignant is the realization, later on, that his own best friend and mentor is the one who placed those weapons in those hands. Granted, the movie doesn’t build this up well, and hits you with it all at once, but it’s still a very had pill to swallow.

      It’s also enjoyable to watch just how Stark attempts to save his business and, perhaps, his soul by building a suit that will provide people with a means to fly without jets. ‘The pilot without the plane.’ It is, however, after a benefit dinner he had to gatecrash that he realizes that peace is unattainable without weapons, and he must make modifications to his flight suit to become the Iron Man.

      Ignoring politics and focusing on the tongue-in-cheek humor, the clumsy attempts of a playboy bachelor to woo his assistant, and the comic-inspired battles make this a great movie for the summer, not to mention the allusion to a possible sequel with the ‘Ten Rings’ gang (look up the Mandarin on Google in conjunction with Iron Man).

      To note, however, the ‘Transformers’ reference in the first review. This is Iron Man. This isn’t Man Man. Iron Man doesn’t fight normal human beings to a standstill. He fights giant robots, supervillains, and runaway missiles. You wouldn’t pit Superman against Johnnie Terrorist and expect him to have an epic no-holds-barred battle. Why would you expect a man in a bulletproof supersuit to do so?

    22. moyez Says:
      June 12th, 2008 at 10:28 am


    23. moyez Says:
      June 12th, 2008 at 9:30 pm

      @”kyle”; I also am perplexed as to why you gain so much promotion from RT. Your ‘review’ is at best, filled with many weak, blatantly subjective opinions. And like someone else figured, a passion for Bruce Wayne.

      However I only have time to counter one point, that, funnily enough, shows itself in the first paragraph;

      “Iron Man becomes like some bizarre legend of a Norse god who descended into the flaming pits of the earth’s core, swung his mighty hammer upon a great anvil and forged….a Crosby, Stills and Nash album.”
      1. Norse mythology has nothing to do with the movie, perhaps the “Iron” in Iron Man got your imagination going (you have one?).

      2. Crosby Stills Nash and Young Album has nothing to do with the movie. Neither does Bob Dylan. ridiculous claim #2 refuted, check.

      3. Stark (a movie character) does not become “a pacifist”. I think to everyone who actually watched the movie what happens to Stark is something called ‘character development’ it’s important in film, literature and in real life.

      4. I know a lot of right wing people, however you seem to be one of those rare ones who actually speaks his paranoid mind;
      a. you dislike people who give little rather than take all (even though these “pacifists” don’t harm you, don’t even affect you! – and yet you will still throw your cynical balls of slime at us, any chance you get, over a movie with Iron Man in it). Because the movie shows America gets it wrong sometimes. Yes this happens in real life too. We all get it wrong sometimes…

      Iron Man has some moral. I think this is why it was so well liked – because it had brawn and brains.

      Most of the film is good old fashioned hollywood romp, however mixed in there is a small portion of thought. I’d say about 5%. Presumably it’s because of this you say “The second half of it is guilt trip”

      Stark does not become some “Norse god” he simply grows up and starts using his intelligence.

      Maybe you ought to do the same.

    24. Medvedev Says:
      June 21st, 2008 at 9:50 am

      “according to this movie…our deadliest enemies are domestic.

      Even assuming that were true (news flash: it isn’t)”

      Well, I was going to point and laugh at the puny size of your funny bone, but this part made me giggle. Guess you’re not such a lost cause after all…

      P.S. Review sucks.

    25. Numinous Says:
      June 24th, 2008 at 3:34 pm

      Kyle works for the New York Post, a Rupert Murdock owned paper. That’s the same guy who owns Fox News. You know, the War and NeoCon propagandists?

      That’s why he was on an angry rant about Iron Man’s message of responsibility when it comes to selling arms (last time I checked, selling arms to both sides in a war was still war profiteering). He’s basically part of a NeoCon message machine… you know, the kind of thing the character is the movie was AGAINST.

      I previous poster got it right… this review sucks. The writer is a hack.

    26. Katherine Says:
      September 21st, 2009 at 6:45 am

      @Moyez…As if having a deep and abiding passion for Bruce Wayne’s non-superpower-buttressed badassery is a bad thing.

    27. D.W. Says:
      April 12th, 2015 at 10:25 pm

      Re: Fred (first comment)

      You lost me with the line: “Batman Begins, the finest superhero movie yet.”
      Puh-leeeze… Not even in the Top 5.

      I love comments like this. Give us a list of YOUR favorite superhero movies, Fred, and you’ll have hundreds (if not thousands) of other people calling you a hack and a twit. Kyle voiced his OPINION, and if you read his BATMAN BEGINS review (which he asks you to do), you’ll find he makes a solid, personal case for that. It’s his POV, and he sticks by that. But it’s clear you have no interest in that.