With Thor: Ragnarok due out in a few weeks, now is a perfect time to sift through and review every MCU film that isn’t already reviewed on the site. We’ll start at the beginning with the film that changed the course of cinema and franchising opportunities, 2008’s Iron Man. Although many fail to realize it now, this motion picture was a serious risk for Marvel Studios. The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Arthur Marcum, Matthew Hollaway, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby
On a trip to display his latest array of weapons to the armed forces in the Middle East, Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) is caught in an ambush and is badly injured. Upon his capture, he is forced to build weapons of mass destruction. However, Stark builds a protective, high-powered suit that allows him to escape his confines and travel back safely to the states. But, Tony can’t stand to work at Stark Industries knowing that it provides weapons for terrorists. As a result, he perfects his initial suit design and becomes Iron Man, a force for good in the world.
Back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, Marvel Studios was struggling just to survive. Facing bankruptcy, the studio sold most of the rights to other companies, including that of the character of Iron Man. Pitches for the film went through many different iterations as the property bounced from studio to studio with people like Nic Cage and Tom Cruise in talks for the leading role. Executives even approached Quentin Tarantino to direct the film in 1999. However, for a multitude of reasons, an Iron Man film never came to fruition, allowing the rights to come back to Marvel Studios.
The shift back to Marvel allowed for Robert Downey Jr. to get the part as the hero. Many fail to realize that this choice was unbelievably risky at the time as RDJ was in and out of rehab in the early 2000’s and was considered taboo in Hollywood. He always had the skill as an actor, but he could never completely put it together due to his abuse problems.
RDJ is Iron Man. Period.
Every so often, an actor comes around and does such a great job in an iconic role that you simply can’t see another actor taking his or her place. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man is one of the best modern examples of this idea. Not only does he put in a great performance, he becomes the character that people have wanted to see onscreen for ages.
He adds all the Stark-isms you would expect: sarcasm, charm, and a whole lot of wit. These traits are abundantly apparent the story progresses. However, what makes RDJ so magnetic is that you simply can’t take your eyes off of him. Every single movement adds to his character. Even pouring himself another drink is tantalizing.
With another actor in this role, Iron Man just wouldn’t work. In fact, everything around RDJ is pretty average as currently constructed. You just don’t think about it because Tony Stark is just so charming.
The Backdrop of Terror Adds Suitable Stakes
Iron Man benefits from a great first act that feeds off of our post-9/11 fears of Middle Eastern culture and terror. Within this opening, we come to a complete understanding of Tony as a character. We see his charm and persona, but then we see how he reacts in the face of death as we are given a true motivation for change. After about thirty minutes, it’s like we’ve spent a lifetime with Stark.
The action is dirty, using practical effects that later Marvel films have ditched for CGI as the studio has become more profitable. Gunfire from the terrorists has a visceral punch that’s incredibly edgy and realistic. Jon Favreau does what he can to allow the film to remain grounded in some manner of plausibility. You can’t quite put your finger on the explanation, but there’s something about it all that makes you wonder, “wait, did this actually happen?”
Soon after, you snap back to reality and sit back and relax and watch Iron Man beat up some baddies.
A Lack of Solid Escalation Keeps Iron Man from Being Great
But that’s not to say that Iron Man is all great. After a great setup and growth of Tony as a hero, Iron Man succumbs to the typical shortcomings of any superhero origin story. Two-thirds of the running time is devoted to the beginnings of the character as he discovers how to use his abilities. Then, in order for the film to have some type of third act, a bad guy with mixed motivations has to come forward and be evil because…reasons?
The final act of Iron Man is a bit of a dud. There doesn’t have to be a crazy CGI-fest of colors and explosions for a third act to work, but there needs to be some type of cathartic ending that leaves you on a suitable high or low note. Does that occur here? Ehh.
Luckily, Iron Man builds up enough goodwill from its set up to be thoroughly enjoyed.
Iron Man is a very, very important in the history of cinema. Not only did it entertain with the story of a flawed superhero, but it’s the main reason for all these attempts at interconnected universes that we hear of from money-hungry production studios in recent years. Whatever side of the conversation you may lie on in this seemingly never-ending quest for franchises, there’s no doubt that Iron Man is a monumental film.
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