Iron Man (2008)

Director: Jon Favreau

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

To really get a party started, you don’t hire a clown. No, you call upon a rock n’ roll superstar. As a young actor, Robert Downey Jr. showed promise, but his career got sidetracked in the late 1990’s thanks to his drug addiction, which led to numerous arrests and court appearances. By that time, he’d become more well-known for his performances in front of a judge than for his movies, the best of which up to that point had been 1992’s “Chaplin.” Flash forward a few years, where the superhero film is gaining popularity thanks to the “Spider-Man” franchise, “Batman Begins,” and others. Marvel Comics, setting its sights skyward, shoots for a long-term goal of an ongoing franchise of films, leading to an unprecedented crossover (achieved with 2012’s “The Avengers”) and continuing on from there. But if they’d crashed and burned coming out of the gate, none of it would ever come to pass. One way that could have happened is if they’d hired the wrong guy to star in the first film of the series, 2008’s “Iron Man.” Fortunately, Robert Downey Jr. happened to be available, and the rest is history.

When first we meet Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), we see a man so full of himself… so assured of his own genius… that he has lost sight of how the world around him works. As the head of Stark Industries, chiefly a weapons manufacturing company, Tony would be appalled if his creations were to fall into the wrong hands. He’s about to learn that this is exactly what has been happening. A terrorist group calling itself “The Ten Rings,” already armed with a cache of weapons they’ve acquired from Stark Industries, is very interested in Tony’s latest project, the Jericho missile. Tony and his military escort are ambushed. The next thing that Tony knows, he’s in a cave somewhere in the deserts of Afghanistan with a near-fatal chest wound. Only two things keep him alive now: 1) The car battery he’s hooked up to is magnetically preventing shrapnel from entering his heart, 2) his engineering know-how is of considerable use to his captors. Knowing that neither of these leases on his life will last more than a couple of days, Tony enlists the aid of fellow captive Yinsen to help him escape.

First devising a more efficient replacement for the chest implant, Tony then builds an iron suit, which not only has the capability to smash, shoot, and fry anyone in his path , but is also great at repelling enemy fire. It can fly, too. Of course, this is just a prototype, and so any flight will only last long enough to get Tony clear of danger. Rescued by a search party led by his good friend, Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard), Tony returns to the States with a new perspective. He no longer wants Stark Industries to be about destruction and war-profiteering. His colleague Obadiah Stain (Jeff Bridges), who helped build the company alongside Tony’s father, has other ideas. While Tony retreats to his lab to perfect the iron suit design, now made with a titanium-based compound, Obadiah has been double-dealing with the terrorists. Eventually, it becomes clear to Tony that his worst enemy is not the one halfway around the globe, but the one pretending to pat him on the back while secretly looking for a good place to stick a knife.

“Iron Man” isn’t all about Downey Jr., whose personality lends the film the sense of humor it needs. It just happens that it’s MOSTLY all about him. Terrence Howard is good, if expendable (as it turned out), as Rhodey. Gwyneth Paltrow provides some of the movie’s sweeter moments as Tony’s assistant and will they?/won’t they? love interest, Pepper Potts. Still the best villain of the “Iron Man” franchise, Jeff Bridges turns in a strong performance as Obadiah Stain. It’s a shame that he’s only good for the one movie, because he’s a lot of fun to watch here. But the real surprise among the supporting cast is Clark Gregg, making the first of four MCU (Marvel Comics Universe) film appearances as Agent Phil Coulson. Gregg took this side character and has unexpectedly made the man Thor refers to as “Son of Coul” as popular as his super-powered friends, a role Gregg has since reprised as one of the stars of ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” now nearing the end of its second season.

Although 2008 also saw the release of the genre-eclipsing second entry in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, a movie displaying a vast array of acting talent, I would argue that “Iron Man” is of even greater importance to film history. So much hinged on Marvel getting this one movie right, on introducing Tony Stark/Iron Man in a way that could get the audience involved instantly, regardless of whether or not they are familiar at all with the comic series. If it failed, there would have been no “Avengers,” (Thor, Captain America, etc.) and I seriously doubt that anyone would have dared try to film “Guardians of the Galaxy” or any of the soon-to-be released titles like “Ant-Man,” “Doctor Strange” and “Black Panther.” With Marvel finding both the perfect actor to play the part and an appropriate song to play during his first scene, Tony Stark/Iron Man got the perfect introduction, the MCU got its rock star… and Robert Downey Jr. proved that he was indeed “back.”

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    You did indeed make the case that this movie’s success tremendously helped pave the way for other Marvel characters and other super hero/space opera films that we are now enjoying so much.

  2. gloganwriter says:

    seems silly now to think that I had no interest in this movie when it was first announced…nice review!

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