Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges
“I am Iron Man.”
Has it been almost a decade already? Back in 2008, Marvel Studios finally planted an emphatic flag in the cinematic dirt, laying the foundation for what would become one of the most gripping, exciting and entertaining “shared universes” in the history of cinema. And with the conclusion to the first decade of Marvel movies – Avengers: Infinity War – set to hit cinemas this coming April, we’ve decided to take a look back at the 18 movies that will have led us there.
Up first, we have Iron Man, the movie that pretty much single-handedly resurrected Robert Downey Jr’s career while simultaneously cementing the Marvel Cinematic Universe as something incredibly exciting for comic book and movie fans alike.
Directed by Jon Favreau, Iron Man grabs your attention from the opening scene with a clink of ice cubes and an onslaught of roguish charm from RDJ’s Tony Stark. Smarmy without being irritating, confident without coming across as arrogant, RDJ effortlessly slips into Stark’s goatee and tailored suit, giving us just enough of a taste for the man himself before the (Stark-manufactured) bombs and bullets start flying and he ends up captured by terrorists in an Afghanistan cave.
The first act of the movie is, in my opinion, one of the strongest in the entire first decade of the MCU, with Stark and fellow captive Yinsen (played by Shaun Toub) conspiring to escape the clutches of their captors. Faran Tahir’s terrorist leader Raza is played with genuine menace, and the payoff – Stark staging a bold escape with his cobbled-together “Golden Age” Iron Man suit – is both incredibly rewarding and genuinely existing.
Unfortunately, the strength of the opening only serves to highlight just how underwhelming the conclusion of the film is. Sure, there’s a slight dip in the second act, as Tony renounces his company’s arms dealing ways and sets about making a souped-up version of the suit, but it’s still an enjoyable watch for the most part. The third act, however, where long-time business partner and de facto father figure Obadiah Stane creates his own suit, leading to a flat, CGI-heavy showdown between the pair, is far less memorable.
It has since become a bit of a recurring theme for Marvel movies, but Iron Man delivers the first instance of the MCU’s assembly line of flat, one-dimensional villains. Oscar winning Jeff Bridges does his best with what he’s given, and some of his scenes – particularly the one where he monologues his nefarious plan to a paralysed Stark – do give him an opportunity to flex some of his acting chops. That said, the finale sees him regress to a giant CGI obstacle to be blown up en route to glory, and while the final scene in the movie is again one of the most memorable in the MCU (the aforementioned “I am Iron Man”), Bridges’ ‘big bad’ seems fairly inconsequential for the most part.
One thing that definitely stands out (with the benefit of hindsight) is the balance of humour, with Favreau’s direction managing to keep things quirky, fun and packed with RDJ sass while still managing to take things seriously enough for his storyline beats to land. This is a Marvel movie before they started veering into out-and-out comedy, becoming almost ashamed to be taking their own storylines seriously and feeling the need to follow every emotional beat with a “don’t worry guys, we know this is all just silly” punchline.
With the “shared universe” aspect being confined to Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson and an air-punching post-credit scene, it’s also allowed to stand on its own two feet, benefiting both from a lack of prior expectation (Iron Man was hardly a household superhero name prior to this, after all) and from not having to shoehorn in plot threads for other movies at the studio’s behest.
Even a decade down the line, Iron Man is still one of my favourite Marvel Studios movies, and features a refreshingly balanced tone, a stellar opening act and an absolutely career-defining performance from Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.
You can check out the rest of our Road To Infinity War reviews by CLICKING HERE.