Iron Man (2008)
I have loved superheroes since I was a child. Introduced to the wonderful world of caped crusaders by my brother, I quickly became obsessed with the likes of Spider-Man, Batman and the X-Men, and the wonderful worlds of which they were a part.
Despite my saying this, I knew little to nothing of Iron Man when taking my seat at the cinema upon the film’s release (a weird concept to wrap my head around in this day and age). A somewhat lesser character in Marvel’s catalogue of super powered people, it’s interesting that this was the first port of call for Kevin Feige’s grand Marvel Cinematic Universe vision. Baby steps.
It had been a minute since watching Marvel’s first outing, and I have the immediate realisation that I have now been spoilt. More recent MCU outings have raised the bar to an exceptionally high level, and initially, I’m thrown by how quaint this movie seems; a toe in the water of a much larger world.
Still, it’s origin story wasn’t something we’d seen before - there are no radioactive spiders here. Ambushed in Afghanistan after demonstrating Stark Industries’ new Jericho missiles, Tony Stark wakes in a cave with an electromagnet in his chest, keeping shards of shrapnel from hitting his heart. Upon seeing his weapons in the hands of the terrorists who captured him, the now disillusioned man escapes and builds a suit to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
The first thing I notice is how cool this movie is shot - look at all his cool gadgets, the cool cars, the cool lifestyle - and I’m almost put-off. Bordering on consumerist porn, the beginning of the movie shares more DNA with 2005’s Fantastic Four and the behaviour of its Human Torch than the MCU we now have, with its fast cars, private jets, and, bizarrely, flight attendants that turn into strippers. All of this can get old fast, so it’s with much relief that the film smartly makes this short and sweet before getting to the meat of the story.
It perhaps isn’t the most inventive story-telling wise; origin stories rarely are. Jeff Bridge’s Obadiah Stane is perhaps the most obvious villain this side of Palpatine, and is essentially an evil version of our protagonist - an idea which Marvel seems to run into again and again. Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark’s often put-upon assistant Pepper Pots and Terence Howard as Best Friend James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes have too little to do in this movie to make much of an impact, and you might wonder why they’re there at all. But perhaps this isn’t the point, Marvel’s goal to make you fall in love with Iron Man himself more apparent. Baby steps.
Robert Downey Jr. was made for this part. Once considered a risk, he easily flits between the facade of Tony Stark’s playboy personality and the genuine genius behind him with ease, and both sides are convincing. In the hands of any other actor on this world, the arrogance of the character would be less than charming, and the broken man underneath less heartbreaking. One of the rare moments of perfect Hollywood casting, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the metal suit.
Most of the action set pieces in the movie, are fine, if a little pedestrian. However, I dare anyone to say that did not get goosebumps when witnessing Iron Man in action for the first time. The protection of Gulmira, and the sequence with the fighter jets that follows after is thrilling, and a small taster of what can be achieved with characters such as these. It is only let down by its lacklustre third act, two metal suit banging into each other until one inevitably gives.
The movie is enjoyable, if not terribly original or fresh. Interestingly, it does more to separate itself from the rest of the pack with its final words than the rest of the movie combined. Maybe not as many baby steps were taken as I’d presumed…