Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges
Writers: Mark Ferguson, Hawk Otsby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
Director: Jon Favreau
Review by Cameron Kieffer
It may feel like a thousand years ago to some, but it’s been just over a decade since the release of the first IRON MAN and with it the introduction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU. This stylish origin story was a real game-changer, not just for comic book films but for films in general. Its success led to a shared universe that has endured for over a decade with no sign of stopping. It also established the superhero film as its own genre, and elevated Marvel to a global empire, with Marvel Studios at the helm of nearly every theatrical release. And after eleven years and almost twenty-two films, IRON MAN still stands as one of the MCU’s strongest entries.
This is the story of Tony Stark, billionaire philanthropist and head of the world’s largest weapons manufacturer. Stark has a crisis of conscience, however, when he is abducted and nearly killed by a terrorist group that forces him to build his newest weapon for them. With the assistance of fellow abductee Yinsin, Stark defies his captors, building instead of a suit of tricked-out armor that allows him to escape. Stark returns to the US with a newfound purpose and wages a one-man war against the very organization that sought to exploit him. It’s a surprisingly faithful origin story that pays respect to the source material while updating it to reflect our current climate and focusing on a very character-centric arc, no pun intended.
Apart from the occasional dated reference (“I don’t want to see this on your MySpace page”), the film holds up surprisingly well, even if not all of the visual effects match today’s standards. The practical effects, however, still look great, particularly during Stark’s escape in the Mark I armor. It’s a thrilling sequence that manages to be fun, suspenseful, and even emotional, as with the death of Yinsin. That may be a tough combination to crack, but the crew managed to strike a great balance throughout the film. Director Jon Favreau really stepped up his game and proved he was capable of helming a big budget action film, without sacrificing character or emotion.
One of the brightest aspects of the film is the cast. Robert Downey Jr rejuvenated his career with his portrayal of the snarky billionaire and basically ruined the character for any future re-casting. He owns every scene and brings a level of energy that demands the audience’s attention. The rest of the cast help keep the film a little more grounded but are no less engaging. Gwyneth Paltrow brings real emotion and pathos to Stark’s put-upon assistant Pepper Potts and elevates the material from being what could have been another damsel-in-distress role. The two actors have great chemistry, and she easily matches Downey’s energy.
Jeff Bridges delivers a humorous but menacing performance as Obadiah Stane, Stark’s mentor, friend, and eventual antagonist. Lastly, as Rhodey, Terrence Howard gives an understated performance that plays out well in contrast to Downey. It’s a shame he didn’t get to put on the suit like he promised (“Next time, baby”) but them’s the breaks.
The Verdict: Watch it!
If you’re new to the MCU or you’re planning a re-watch, IRON MAN is the place to start. Not only does it set the tone for many of the films that follow but it establishes the universe is much bigger than we ever could have guessed. Not to mention it has arguably the best (and most important) post-credit scene in the entire MCU with the introduction of Nicky Fury and a line that still give me chills: “I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative.”