Film Review – Iron Man (2008)

by Nick Kush

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.

Iron Man


Directed by: Jon Favreau

Written by: Arthur Marcum, Matthew Hollaway, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, and Jeff Bridges

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

The film itself still manages to entertain mightily, coasting off of Robert Downey Jr.’s unmatched charm and wit.  It gets an A-.  This movie will remain unbelievably rewatchable until the end of time.


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Steve October 11, 2017 - 12:53 pm

Re: RDJ is Iron Man […] Tell all that to Jack “The Joker” Nicholson ;-) Time moves on eventually for all of us whether we like it or not. As for Iron Man, you’ve hit the nail on the head for what made it work – a sense of realism sorely lacking in a lot of superhero films. It feels like real life, *almost.

Nick Kush October 11, 2017 - 1:17 pm

I dont fault you for thinking that way! I personally grew up with the Ledger Joker so he’s mine, but its just one of those things where theres been a few to play the character that it has turned into a generational thing

Steve October 11, 2017 - 11:52 pm

You calling me old? ;-)

Korlis October 12, 2017 - 6:22 am

“Tell all that to Jack “The Joker” Nicholson” – my thought exactly! RDJ is undoubtedly a fantastic Tony Stark, and until/unless someone steps into the role he will remain unchallenged, but there’s always the opportunity for new actors to bring something different.

coolcomix0221 October 10, 2017 - 12:57 pm

Hard to believe that it’s been nearly a full decade since this film kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Man, has the series come a long way since then. Let us not forget that this and The Dark Knight both came out in 2008. That year officially marked the end of a five-year growing pains period for the superhero movie genre and brought it to a whole new level of story-telling. After Spider-Man made this action sub-genre relevant again, good films in that period were few and far between. Sure, we had the sheer awesomeness of Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins during that frame, but we also had epic misfires with Ang Lee’s Hulk, Daredevil (watch the far-better Director’s Cut over the jumbled theatrical version), Catwoman, Elektra, FOX’s first two Fantastic Four films, Ghost Rider, Underdog and even (if you can believe this) My Super Ex-Girlfriend. 2005’s Constantine wasn’t half-bad, but not too many people talk about it, especially with Matt Ryan’s recent portrayal. To wrap my comment up, what the MCU succeeded at while others (Amazing Spider-Man films, Dark Universe & especially the DC Extended Universe, even though they’ve weathered the tide of criticism) is that if you want to have your own cinematic universe, that’s fine. However, you have to slowly build it up with several stand-alone stories. You’re permitted to place a few elements that you can pay off in later installments, especially since we can look back and see how they were wonderfully established. However, what those other films series are doing is that they feel the need to catch up to the MCU in one fell swoop. This makes their narratives clunky and the singular pieces fall flat with no genuine weight to them. Anyway, RBJ was awesome here and I’ve adapted his voice in some capacity when I read a comic book involving Iron Man these days. Keep up the good work, Nicky!

Nick Kush October 10, 2017 - 1:06 pm

Spot on there! Iron Man is its own story. Does it leave the possibility for more stories? Obviously, but it doesn’t come at the detriment of this film’s story. Films like The Mummy are literally an hour and half ling commercials for future films. Where’s the fun in that? lol

coolcomix0221 October 10, 2017 - 1:21 pm

Same thing with what ultimately doomed Marc Webb’s version of Amazing Spider-Man. Yes, we can blame studio interference from Sony for ultimately condemning this second attempt at the web-slinger. However, that doesn’t change the fact that it kept shoving “Secret Six is coming” down our throats. Funny since Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have this film, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (though that pile of vomit can be blamed more on Michael Bay, due to the Writer’s Strike that went on at the time), the somewhat-hated by fans Star Trek Into Darkness and even (well, what do you know) The Mummy connected to them!

Nick Kush October 10, 2017 - 3:42 pm

Lol yes! I never really understand how Kurtzman still gets work when he’s had such high profile misses

coolcomix0221 October 11, 2017 - 11:52 am

Must be the same level of stupidity (maybe even a pact with Satan) that allows Michael Bay to keep directing, which is: “If it’s broke but makes a butt-load of money, why bother to fix it?”

Nick Kush October 11, 2017 - 12:34 pm

Alex Kurtzmann’s work doesn’t even make that much money! lol

coolcomix0221 October 13, 2017 - 12:51 pm

Nice! Getting back to the main article at hand, Iron Man also has an awesome soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi. My personal favorite tracks are “Riding with the Top Down”, “Merchant of Death” and “Mark I”, though I also dig the Iron Man song from the casino (which introduces our main character) as a snazzy version of the old school theme (which is also on the album). I’ve rented it from my local library several times and it’s awesome. No wonder why the guy also worked on awesome things like Game Of Thrones.

Nick Kush October 13, 2017 - 1:35 pm

Absolutely! That’s the type of thing that gets forgotten in the Marvel movies. They don’t seem to like to continue on with the same themes for characters.

OlaG October 10, 2017 - 10:37 am

Thanks for the review! I still consider the first Iron Man as the best of the Iron Man franchise – in my opinion it has what the subsequent films lack, i.e. a ton of heart and freshness, rare in today’s rehashed movie industry.

Nick Kush October 10, 2017 - 11:03 am

I’d have to agree there! Although I think Iron Man 3 gets some unnecessary hate for its twist which, although it doesn’t pay homage to the comics, work perfectly well within the story.


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