THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
With Avengers: Infinity War just over three weeks away (!!!), I have decided to rewatch all of the films that make up the most successful cinematic universe ever created. As such, I will be writing reviews (slightly shorter ones) for every film leading up to Infinity War.
Iron Man tells the story of billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who after being captured in Afghanistan, creates a unique weaponised suit that changes the world.
At the time of release in 2008, the character of Iron Man was almost completely unknown to casual audiences. However, Jon Favreau’s film changed not only the character’s popularity but the entire cinema industry. For one thing, the concept of a “cinematic universe”, where multiple different films told one inter-connected story, culminating in a crossover film bringing together all of the major characters, seemed ludicrous. Yet, Iron Man started that whole concept with a thirty-second scene that occurred at the end of the credits, introducing audiences (those few who were still in their seats) to Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D, portrayed by none other than Samuel L. Jackson. Not only did Iron Man start the cinematic universe idea, but it also created the trend of post-credit scenes as significant parts of the storytelling. Post-credit scenes had been around for decades, however, were mostly used as fun gags or to showcase bloopers from production. Iron Man utilised these scenes as a tool to tease the audience about what was to come next, with Nick Fury explaining to Stark that he is “here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative”.
During the casting process, Favreau had to put up a fight with Marvel to get Downey Jr in the role, as Marvel was concerned about Downey Jr’s past legal issues. Ultimately, Favreau got his man and the world now breathes a sigh of relief as it is hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Downey Jr gives a charismatic performance and proves that Favreau was absolutely right in taking a risk with his casting. The entire cast is excellent with Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays Stark’s assistant Pepper Potts, being a perfect match for Downey Jr, and their chemistry is still one of the strongest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard both give strong performances as villain Obadiah Stane and military man James Rhodes respectively. Its just unfortunate that this film was the end for both actors’ association with the MCU, with Bridges’ character being killed and Howard stepping down from the role due to contract disputes. I find it extremely interesting just thinking about what could have been if both had stuck around a little longer.
One of the things that stood out to me during my latest viewing of the film, was just how well the action scenes were directed. Favreau does an exceptional job in crafting entertaining set pieces with the standout easily being Stark’s escape from the cave. It occurs at the perfect time as the film had spent a good half hour with the hero imprisoned and needed to show the audience just what Stark was capable of, whilst also being thoroughly entertaining.
The script, for the most part, is brilliantly clever. The film managed to perfectly balance the humour which set the tone for the MCU, whilst also addressing the real world issues of advanced weaponry and the damage they can cause. However, the script is not perfect. The first act is riveting, with Tony imprisoned in Afghanistan, plotting his escape. However, once Tony does escape, the pace really slows down and begins to focus on corporate deals and the media. This is not a flaw entertainment-wise, as the scenes between Downey Jr. and Bridges are captivating, however, by the time the film reaches its third act, it feels as though a lot of time has passed yet little has happened.
The character of Obadiah Stane proves to be an interesting yet flawed character. Introduced as a firm businessman, Stane rather suddenly becomes a murdering sociopath towards the third act. His motives are never really explained further than an overwhelming jealousy of Stark and desire to take over the company. For this reason, he is a very one-dimensional villain, who had the potential to be so much more.
The third act does seem rushed with Stane’s sudden transformation into a cold-blooded killer throwing the entire film hurtling towards its finale. The final confrontation between Stark and Stane is satisfying to watch, with the visual effects still holding up ten years after release.
Finally, the film does a great job of teasing audiences about the future without explicitly relying on it, (something which the sequel is most definitely guilty of). The ending scene, where Tony reveals to the world “I am Iron Man”, is still one of the greatest, superhero-convention breaking endings ever.
Ultimately, Iron Man is an incredibly enjoyable film that does have its flaws, however, due to the career-resurrecting performance of Downey Jr. and the smart direction of Jon Favreau, it remains one of the strongest films in the MCU to date.