Everything starts with a beginning, but who would’ve thought it continued a decade later? If someone told 12-year-old me that Iron Man was the launching point of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that would be hard to believe since not every Marvel movie was well-liked in the 2000s. Luckily, the world was given the chance to experience one outstanding comic book movie we still love now.
What’s the Story: A billionaire industrialist and genius inventor, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), is conducting weapons tests overseas, but terrorists kidnap him to force him to build a devastating weapon. Instead, he builds an armored suit and upends his captors. Returning to America, Stark refines the suit and uses it to combat crime and terrorism.
Even though avid readers might’ve known who the character was, Iron Man, who appeared first in the comic Tales of Suspense #39 in 1963, wasn’t one many were familiar with at thusly time since it wasn’t a huge property. This almost seemed like a total risk to do a Marvel movie that might have the same appeal some of the others that came out prior or at least start a shared universe on-screen that wouldn’t have the same fate as other comic book movies that failed to reach critical success. Most would associate the name with the Black Sabbath song, which rocks. Long in development since the early ’90s with a lot of people to approach it but took a new direction in bringing the character to life, it finally hit theaters on May 2, 2008, the first summer blockbuster of the year.
I saw this with my dad opening day after school, not exactly knowing what my expectations would be for a kid in the fifth grade. And to tell you the truth, it took me exactly two years to love it. Maybe I thought it was boring on my first viewing, but what we have here is the best standalone movie inside the MCU, and it has every right to be since we got ourselves the best superhero movie since Spider-Man 2.
But let’s not forget this wouldn’t be the amazing movie it is now without a career-defining performance from the one and only Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/ Iron Man. He was new to me back then, but before this, some either knew him as a talented actor with an Oscar nomination to his name, or a troubled actor who couldn’t get his life together, and this was a risky move to cast him in the role. Sure, he was good in positively reviewed films like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005) and Zodiac (2007), though it was impossible to see him as the fresh face of a superhero. But what we saw in this performance is the greatest comeback ever in the history of Hollywood. You can see was perfectly cast because it’s such a parallel between the actor and character, which absolutely makes us feel for his redemption when he wants to escape the cave or wants to become this unexpected hero that solely relied on him. Imagine if someone like Tom Cruise was in this instead in an alternate universe, probably won’t be the same, right?
Credit also goes to Favreau for unexpectedly delivering a fun adventure easy to digest or does not make things complicated. Though this is a set-up for what’s coming in The Avengers, he and his team of writers (Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, and Art Marcum and Matt Holloway) did a great job at staying grounded in making us interested in the story for unfamiliar viewers. It’s an origin story that sets up everything Stark goes through well, especially when the film’s best moments are when he’s in the cave. I’ve always loved how we see the progress of someone who has this realization of knowing these weapons could land in the wrong hands and harm many people and did what’s best—Become this peacemaker of the world. And while it does that, he sets the tone for what we know about the MCU still injects that I love to this day.
The action looks outstanding from every set piece when we’re seeing Iron Man in the flash, whether flying in his suit or defeating the bad guys without thinking twice. Even the mix of practical and visual effects still looks convincing now, which is understandable why it was nominated for an Oscar. The biggest standout moment is when Tony’s escaping from his kidnappers in the Mark 1 suit and feeling this sense of captivation wondering if he can get out. The perfect way to conclude the first act. And I forgot how good the comedic timing is in this when the humor is used appropriately without it becoming a nuance.
As for the rest of the cast, Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony’s assistant, Pepper Potts, gives the best performance she’d given in a long time, and the chemistry between her and Downey Jr. to where it’ll go for later films is an aspect I liked more on re-watch while tolerating their relationship. Terrence Howard as James “Rhodey” Rhodes makes his first and only appearance in the series and was fine. Since they replaced him with Don Cheadle in the sequel, I felt like he could’ve done more with his role; though there’s been some rumors why he didn’t return. And I know some didn’t find Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane, Tony’s mentor, to be an interesting antagonist, but I didn’t mind him before the third act, and his performance wasn’t too bad to see him play the villain in a rare occasion.
The negatives I have with this are very few. Aside from being a little slow in the middle, I can understand why some thought the third act fight between Stark and Stand in his bigger armored suit was weak. This was the start of having Marvel villains that are just the same as the hero during the climax, which is usually a problem we still kind of see now, and it also happens in The Incredible Hulk a month later. The showdown at the end was good, but you already know how’ll end. Even after that, it wraps up with the best last line before the credits with Stark stating, “I am Iron Man” to the world, followed by our first post-credit scene I was disappointed at myself for not staying after when I saw it in theaters.
Just think, if this failed to be a hit at the box office (the first movie of the year to pass $300 million at the U.S. box office) and with critics, the world wouldn’t be the same. But it wasn’t, and this paved the way for the rest of the cinematic universe, becoming the second-best superhero movie of the year (behind The Dark Knight, obviously), and made Downey Jr. a major superstar in the public eyes again. If you know somebody who’s been under a rock for the past decade, recommending this first is a bright idea. A movie like this shouldn’t have work when looking at it on paper; it succeeded in all cylinders.
Final Thoughts: Iron Man could’ve easily been an epic fail amongst the comic book crowd, but all its risks paid off big time with a spectacular superhero movie delivering on a smart script, entertaining action, and a stellar on-screen performance from Robert Downey Jr. as the title role. From there, the MCU was born.