Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2008:
#3: Iron Man Rocks

By David Mumpower

January 14, 2009

The armor is actually more of a titanium alloy.

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Favreau did something that sadly all too few comic book directors do. He took the time to familiarize himself with the source material and he expended a tremendous amount of effort in determining what made the character of Tony Stark relatable to comic book fans. After all, on the surface, he seemed more like a male fantasy than an everyman. Stark was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth as the son of an uber-wealthy government weapons dealer. The character also has a rare intellect that allows him to invent and improve even the highest tech gadgets. And, oh yes, he's a ladies' man who gets a level of women that would make Hugh Hefner Incredible Hulk-green with envy. In short, there isn't much there that is identifiable for movie goers who probably don't know the character. Somehow, Favreau found a workaround. The key was in the genesis of the character and his victimization.

Rather than start the movie in some glamorous mansion or corporate headquarters where Tony Stark was the master of his domain, Favreau decided to show how Tony Stark would be Tony Stark anywhere in the world, even in the middle of the desert as he showed off new weapons technology. Having the character nurture a beverage, blow up cliff facing with a shameless amount of missiles and relish the moment all the while instantly gave the viewer an idea of who Tony Stark was and why he was so charismatic and engaging. Immediately having him kidnapped and tormented by terrorists was just the sort of shock needed to humanize him and give the audience a rooting interest in his escape from captivity. Of course, the key to all of this was Robert Downey Jr.


Anyone who has followed the career of Robert Downey Jr. knows him to be an acting savant. He has received comparisons to Johnny Depp due to the fact that both of them were hanging out in the bowels of the moviemaking world right before they stumbled into parts that would prove to be career defining for them. The difference is that Downey somehow managed to make his lower tier projects more engaging than Nick of Time and The Astronaut's Wife. I should acknowledge going in that I am biased here since I have loved Robert Downey Jr. since Tuff Turf (note: not a joke) and have always rooted for him to find redemption and peace in his career. The former Saturday Night Live cast member (why does everyone forget this?) has shown an innate ability throughout his career to take even the most pointless of lines and spice it up through his natural charisma.

After his all-too-public firing from Ally McBeal, Downey was forced to take on more conventional work in titles such as Gothika and The Shaggy Dog in order to keep his name out there. Even so, the quirky actor maintained a stubborn need for diversity by choosing alternative projects such as The Singing Detective and A Scanner Darkly to keep his edge. Oddly, this probably played in his favor as he followed up a career turnaround role as a journalist married to a possible communist in Good Night, and Good Luck with another strange role. He took on the title role in the always unconventional Shane Black's latest work, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. In portraying a thief forced into acting and a bit of detective work, Downey Jr. reminded the world that while he could be comfortable in a group setting in Good Night, and Good Luck, he was so much more engaging when he did almost all of the work in a movie. I picked this performance to be among the three best of that year, and I was not alone in this regard. Upon seeing his work, Favreau risked $186 million by making a man one arrest away from significant jail time Iron Man.

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