When it was announced that the Marvel Studios was going to adapt one of the audience’s most beloved stories into a major feature length movie, the audience was hyped. Everyone wanted to see Iron Man on the big screen, and, one must admit, Jon Favreau did not upset people’s expectations.
Iron Man was huge not only because of the special effects, but also because of its likeable characters, the story arc of the lead hero, Tony Stark, and the complex ethical issues that the movie handled.
While the key theme of the movie clearly revolves around Tony Stark, the millionaire, Favreau also renders a range of ethical and philosophical issues. Among the key ones, a man’s role in society should be named.
Although Tony Stark seems to have all the power and money that a man may dream of, his story arc is clearly geared towards recognizing his place under the sun and changing from an arrogant snob into a hero in every meaning of the word.
Personal evolution, however, is not the only issue that the movie touches upon; Favreau offers his own take on political problems, including civil–military cooperation, terrorism in the Middle East, weapon trade, etc. Though widely considered misleading, the given interpretation of the current political issues is rather engaging and thought provoking.
Adapting a comic book into a movie is not an easy task for two reasons, the first one being the necessity to keep the original content intact, at the same time fitting several volumes into ninety minutes of running time, and the second one being the need to translate a comic book story, that is, a primarily visual narration, into a complex virtual world, in which visual and acoustic elements are combined.
Therefore, unlike in a comic book, in a movie, soundtracks play a huge role, which can be illustrated by taking the Iron Man soundtracks as an example.
There is no secret that taking the original story of the Iron Man without changing a few elements to add more credibility to it would have meant to shrink the range of the movie audience to the amount of the Iron Man diehard fans. The movie clearly needed a more mature character and a more serious atmosphere to it to look less goofy and at the same time retain its unique style.
Seeing how very little could be added to the story to make the idea of a man building a suit for flying more realistic, it was decided to use music to make people believe that the characters are real and, more importantly, want them to be real. The results were stunning, with literally every single lighthearted moment balanced out with a heavy soundtrack.
While the movie admittedly is too smart to take itself too seriously, the music adds the weight that the original story lacks to appeal to an average viewer, seeing how the number of soundtracks amounts to nineteen in the original release, and to twenty-seven in a DVD with extra scenes and director cuts.
The soundtracks are remarkably versatile; instead of recycling one and the same concept by putting the emphasis on action scenes, the movie allows for a number of quiet and, honestly, very sincere moments.
For instance, when Colonel Rhodes saves Stark’s life and the latter returns home, the first few seconds of the soundtrack actually land on a very peculiar note, leaving the feeling that the lead character experiences doubt and, perhaps, even fear.
The first few notes of the “Vacation’s over,” therefore, open a set of ethical questions to the audience, making it clear that the leading character doubts whether the Iron Man should resume his rescue mission or let the state defense forces do their job.
Not only does the theme make the character more humane and, therefore, more complex, but also raises the question whether becoming a vigilante is actually an ethically sober thing to do.
“Vacation’s over” feels like the character is actually starting to breathe and live on his own; however, the very next second, a powerful orchestral motif makes it clear that the movie does not have the time to explore the character’s doubts – the reluctantly heroic chords show that a major blockbuster did not dare to venture into the depth of a complex drama.
Nevertheless, the music does render the movie’s major themes successfully – it is just that the themes could have been explored in a much better way. To Ramin Djawadi’s credit, he does manage to address the major theme of the movie, the conflict of a rebel in the high class society, in a very impressive way.
“Institutionalized,” with its aggressive beat and intense lyrics manages to render the emotions of a rebel who is restricted by the social boundaries:
Sometimes I try to do things and it just doesn’t work out the way I wanted to. I get real frustrated and I try hard to do it and I take my time and it doesn’t work out the way I wanted to. (Marco Cárdenas Soler 0:17–0:33)
The seriousness of the issue raised in the movie, however, is often reduced by adding more laid-back music elements. For instance, the “Back in black/I hit the sack/It’s been too long I’m glad to be back” line from AC/DC’s “Back in Black” (Iron Man 1:04–1:07) is supposed to mark the first stage of the character’s evolution and define him as a self-assured million-dollar playboy.
As the movie progresses and the character evolves, however, the soundtrack is becoming heavier, still lending Tony Stark a unique air of nonchalance and affording being ironic towards the latter, as the “Are Those Bullet Holes?” (Iron Man 126:01) shows.
Speaking of music as a background for the characters to interact in, a number of movie directors seem to forget about the necessity to let the key film scenes breathe. As much as a movie needs music to create a specific mood, it is still required to have a couple of silent moments to let the atmosphere build up and to prepare the audience for another twist of the plot.
Luckily, Iron Man is one of the few movies that actually invites the audience to sink into its atmosphere and offers a decent payoff by using music as the means to put the emphasis on the climax. As the movie approaches the end credits and the leading character takes the floor at the conference, there is no soundtrack, and the entire scene seems rather ordinary and even mundane part of a life of a public person.
However, after Tony Stark confesses to be the Iron Man, the next scene explodes with music, doubtlessly leaving a big impact. The music, therefore, serves as the means to render the characters’ emotions, as well as to create a specific atmosphere, like music should.
Marco Cárdenas SolerSuicidal Tendencies. “Institutionalized.” YouTube. Iron Man. Dir. Jon Favreau. Perf. Robert Downey, Jr., Terrence Howard & Jeff Bridges. Marvel Studios, 2008. Film.