Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has the world by the tail. He is a billionaire with a genius IQ. Stark Industries, his company, is a top weapons producer for the Department of Defense. Women fall into his bed with ease. Life is good.

“Iron Man,” now playing, is the story of how this self-centered bad boy becomes a hero by using his genius to create an armored suit strong enough to take down any weapon thrown at him. Based on the Marvel comic book, this film from Jon Favreau (“Elf,” “Zathura”) introduces us to the world of this hard-drinking, hard-living warmonger.


The film begins with Stark in Afghanistan demonstrating a new weapons system called Jericho. Traveling back to the base, his convoy is ambushed. Stark is hit in the chest, and it looks like he will die there. A captured doctor named Yinsen (Shaun Toub) saves him, however.


Those who hold Stark instruct him to re-create the Jericho system. These terrorists already have state-of-the-art Stark weapons; now they want the latest weapon. Stark instead escapes by building a suit of armor.


Returning home, Stark holds a press conference to announce that his company will no longer make weapons. This puts a panic into those around him, especially Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), the CFO of Stark Industries, who cares only about the bottom line.


In his home workshop, Stark constructs a new suit of armor—the best weapon ever built. But his reason for building it is not to shift the geopolitical power, but to destroy Stark Industries weapons that are in the wrong hands.


At the core of “Iron Man” is a clear question: What does one do with salvation? When Stark leaves his captivity, Yinsen reminds him that he has been saved and not to squander that salvation.  Stark says he knows he has been saved for a reason: “I should be dead already… It must be for a reason… I just finally know… what I have to do…”

Kathleen Norris writes that salvation is first a physical reality. She states that it comes in the here and now as something real and tangible. It is only later that we come to understand the spiritual side of what salvation means. Frederick Buechner says that salvation is a gift, not an achievement. Both Norris and Buechner’s observations are relevant here.


“Iron Man” tells the story of a man who finds the physical side of salvation in the form of a suit that helps him right the wrongs he feels he did to the world. He then discovers that the gift of life comes not because he is rich, but as an unmerited gift. “Iron Man” further shows us salvation not as an event, but as a process.   


As Stark grows into this process, he of course encounters forces of resistance. People come to question his sanity because of his epiphany. His relationships change because he wants to undo what has been done in his name, and these changes are threatening to many, including Stane.


A key relationship is the one between Stark and his assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who loves Stark in an unrequited way. When Stark moves forward with his campaign to eliminate those who use his weapons to harm others, Potts believes Stark is basically going to kill himself.


When Stark insists he has to do this, it has shades of Jesus’ words from John 12: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”


Whereas Stark was once focused on wine, women and song, he comes to believe in something worth giving his life for.


“Iron Man” is the comic book movie done right. It has all the sequences needed to tell us who this person is, why he becomes a hero and what the long-term consequences of that decision will be. If you don’t like comic book movies, see this one anyway. It gives you a vision of why so many people do.


Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence and brief suggestive content.

Director: Jon Favreau

Writers: Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway

Cast: Tony Stark/Iron Man: Robert Downey, Jr.; Obadiah Stane: Jeff Bridges; Pepper Potts: Gwyneth Paltrow; Yinsen: Shaun Toub; James Rhodes: Terrence Howard; Raza: Faran Tahir; Christine Everhart: Leslie Bibb.

The movie’s official Web site is here.

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