There are few films that have left a bigger impact on the term “blockbuster” more than the 2008 movie, Iron Man. The first film in the now well-established Marvel Cinematic Universe, it opened audiences’ eyes to a new kind of superhero movie. After it premiered, there was a resurgence in the genre, and it’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since the beginning of the MCU. With the 19th movie in the franchise, Avengers: Infinity War arriving in May, it’s time to go back and revisit the first two “Phases” of the MCU.
Iron Man begins with one of the best opening scenes in a superhero movie, and it makes a smart decision by not giving us all of the information right off the bat. We simply see Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in Afghanistan, traveling in a Humvee with some soldiers when they are attacked and Stark is wounded by one of his company’s weapons. This does everything an opening scene should. It gives us a pretty simplistic outlook on the main character, showing his flair and charm, but also not being too much of an exposition bomb, giving us too much to comprehend at once. One of Iron Man‘s strengths is that it gives the viewer information when it has to and doesn’t waste time building up to something that’s been shoved down their throat.
It’s safe to say that Downey Jr.’s Stark is one of the most charismatic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes. He’s still doing good deeds but isn’t a complete bore. He has fun with his suit and just goes crazy with it. Not only that, though, but he’s a mysterious personality because, underneath the “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” moniker, he’s just a guy wanting to do the right thing. Jeff Bridges’ villain, named Obadiah Stane, is also a really great character, and one of the best villains in the MCU. Not only is his character written well, but his motive is undeniably questionable. While he kills people and is willing to put weapons into the hands of terrorists, it’s his jealousy of Stark’s success that makes him a really great foe. When he comes on the scene and confronts somebody, it’s extremely tense.
The action sequences in Iron Man are, for the most part, enjoyable. They have all the qualities that make good action sequences great, and the film’s focus on substance over style is much appreciated. That right there makes them all the more enjoyable when they last. The fight in Gulmira is the best example. It’s fun, fast-paced, the camerawork is good, and the CGI is convincing. You get to watch Stark be a badass, but there’s also heart here, with a little extra humor. After saving all these innocent lives, he gives them the chance to get back at their head captor, remarking “He’s all yours.” Ramin Djawadi’s intense, guitar-heavy score also gives these scenes an extra boost.
The final action sequence between Tony and Obadiah is ultimately not as fun. The lighting is bad, the writing is, unfortunately, cringe-worthy, and it basically looks like you’re dangling a couple of action figures from above and smashing them into each other. There’s not that much fun found. It’s a bit too serious and isn’t as breathtaking as it’s meant to be. There are some great moments, however, like when Tony fools Obadiah into flying so high his suit beings to freeze over and shut down. Also noteworthy is the moment where Stane falls into the arc reactor, bringing his hungriness for power to an end.
Worth mentioning is the terrorism subplot, which is one of the more interesting aspects of the movie. Considering the first half of the movie is set there, seeing the story not end after Tony escapes is a relief. It provides a more grounded approach to a superhero movie, something not seen often nowadays.
Iron Man is an evenly paced, well-written movie with a plethora of strong elements that make it more than your typical superhero film. Strong visual effects and a well-rounded sense of humor save it from becoming too formulaic and characters with great amounts of development become the film’s strong suits. While it’s not a flawless film by any means, it’s truly held up well considering the standards set by later entries in the franchise.
Iron Man stars Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Clark Gregg. Directed by Jon Favreau.