Director: Jon Favreau
Production Company: Marvel Studios
In the run up to seeing Iron Man 3 in the near future, Little Satis and I decided to revisit the current series of Marvel films in their chronology, and it all starts with Iron Man. There’ve been so many superhero movies since then – both in and out of the Marvel universe – that it’s hard to recall just how exciting Iron Man was when it came out five years ago. In those past five years Marvel have released The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and of course The Avengers. Outside of Marvel, D.C. have had their go with Watchmen, Jonah Hex and Green Lantern, but Marvel have accomplished something extraordinary by linking these six (now seven) films in a coherent string, with cameos, crossovers and S.H.I.E.L.D. lurking always in the background.
This was evident even in Iron Man, because although the plot and events center firmly around Tony Stark and his redemption, the hints at a larger world are already there with Agent Coulson trying to get Pepper Potts‘ attention early in the film, with no other background or reference to who he is or what he wants. This isn’t recapped at all, instead being left open to interpretation and follow-up, which becomes increasingly important throughout the series of films. It was a stroke of genius, really – had the movie failed, the subplot with S.H.I.E.L.D. was insignificant enough to be ignored; having succeeded, it opened the door to a multi-branched world of superhero movies that are all interlinked.
That being said, none of this was known when Iron Man was first released, and the film is more than able to stand tall on its own merits. The very opening is startling; it has all the tension of a war movie, and indeed the battle in which Tony Stark is captured is gritty and realistic. The neat polish of a typical superhero movie is absent: there are no capes, no perfect hair, no clean-cut bad guys out to rule the world. From the outset, we are introduced to a character who, on several levels, spends the entire film fighting against himself, and this theme dominates the story itself.
Tony Stark is about as far from the humble, down-to-earth alter-ego that we have come to associate with superheroes. Even Bruce Wayne, with his lavish and decadent lifestyle, is a saint compared to Stark, whose arrogance and supreme confidence make him one of the most unlikeable protagonists ever. Robert Downey Jr. portrays this as only he could, throwing his all into the multi-billionaire playboy role as though it were his own (perhaps it is). The only redeeming features are the facts that, for all his arrogance, Stark is usually right and deep, deep down his heart’s in the right place.
His capture, torture and escape from radical terrorists is, of course, the life-changing moment for Stark, and Iron Man actually takes the surprising route of having these events affect him as exactly they should: making him reevaluate his life and his goals, and the purpose of his entire existence. It would be all too easy for a character as self-obsessed as Tony Stark to come out unaffected – “of course I’d survive” – but the filmmakers were brave enough to actually go with the obvious.
Nonetheless, Stark continues to struggle with the lifestyle he enjoys and the new ideals he wants to uphold, and this kicks off the true conflict of the movie between himself and the man who runs his own company, Obadiah Stane. This is the internal strife externalized, as Tony ends up facing down his old friend in a mechanical suit inspired by, and distorted from, his own original designs. Even a machine that was built first to protect himself and then to protect others ultimately has the power to destroy, and in endeavoring to stop his company from producing weapons he inadvertently creates the most powerful one yet.
Iron Man bucks the trend of superhero movies in a number of ways, from the extroverted protagonist to the unconventional world-ruling villains, and the ending is no surprise; who else but Tony Stark would come out and actually tell the world he’s Iron Man? Talk about breaking superhero rule number one!
Ultimately enjoyable, Iron Man was a surprise in a number of ways, capturing a depth that had been missing from so many superhero films up to that point. It was a huge success, spawning an ongoing series of related and semi-related sequels, and was for Little Satis and myself a top class film.