RELEASED: May 2nd 2008
DISTRIBUTED BY: Paramount Pictures
DIRECTED BY: Jon Favreau
WRITTEN BY: Mark Fergus, Hawk Otsby, Art Marcum & Matt Holloway
PRODUCED BY: Avi Arad & Kevin Feige
MUSIC BY: Ramin Djawadi
STARRING: Robert Downey Jr., Gwenyth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Jon Favreau, Shaun Toub, Clark Gregg & Jeff Bridges
Looking back at the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you can see a big change between this and later films like The First Avenger and what came after. While films like The First Avenger, Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok would fully embrace their comic-book roots, Iron Man was still taking steps to truly establish the superhero genre as its own thing seperate from general science-fiction. As such, it feels more real and serious, not unlike films like The Dark Knight (and to a lesser degree, the leather-bound X-Men). And while there are those signature Tony Stark quips being thrown out every now and then, the film is much more somber, and unlike the films that would follow, pretty dark.
I think this is particularly interesting, as in later years, audiences would complain that the MCU lacked stakes and that everything was too jovial. But if you go back to the beginning, you find a film about a war profiteer who kills terrorists after being held hostage and tortured for the beginning of the film’s run-time.
Iron Man follows Tony Stark after the aforementioned kidnapping, as he comes to realise that his legacy will be one of death and destruction. Seeking to craft a better future for both himself and the world, he steps away from the weapon designer business, to craft new models of the armored suit that helped him escape captivity, so he can take the fight to those who willingly endanger innocents and revel in death and destruction.
Like The First Avenger, the character for this work is really good – especially the character of Tony Stark. Between the writing and the immortal portrayal by Robert Downey Jr., the film takes quick steps to establish who this formerly B-List hero is, to the extent that within a couple of minutes and a few lines of dialogue, you already have a pretty solid idea of who Tony Stark is. Similarly, when the character later suits up into his costumed alter-ego, the panning shots of the suit coming together accentuated by the heavy rock music confirms what the film has been telling you since the start. While the likes of Superman and Spider-Man were fun, and Batman and Daredevil were serious, Iron Man establishes himself as the cool superhero.
Seriously, just so cool. And that’s why it’s a shame when the film moves towards the third act and just starts to lull. While I love Jeff Bridges, and think he delivers a solid performance as Obidiah Stane / the Iron Monger, when the film switches focus, trading in the hardcore, heavy metal feel for the build-up to a more traditional super-hero vs super-villain finale, the film starts to feel lacking. The reason this film seems so good – the reason everyone remembers it – is because of the evolution of the character of Tony Stark and the way he, utilizing his incredible technology – becomes an active combatant in war zones. He’s an international hero, trying to do good by the people he’s previously wronged.
Cramming in an insane jealous businessman as a villain is unnecessary, especially when the film could have just done an interpretation of the Mandarin as the main antagonist (minus the comic-book ‘power-rings’, most probably) and have Bridges’ Stane scheming in the background as he prepares to make his move in the sequel (Armor Wars, anyone?)
Still, that lull and that misjudged change of direction still works out in the end, with an enjoyable final battle and the unforgettable press conference in which Tony Stark once again establishes that he’s not like any hero you’ve seen before at the film’s climax. And the fact that so much of the first two thirds of the film is so freaking cool will probably make you forget the dull bit that comes after.
All-in-all, I give it: