I’ll never forget when I first saw Iron Man. It hit theatres at the perfect time, just as elementary school was winding down and before camp would begin. My third grade self wasn’t exactly a discriminating moviegoer, so, when my dad suggested we go see it, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had loved the recent Spider-Man movies with Tobey Maguire but I had never really heard of the Iron Man character and sort of lost interest in going to the movies. Today, looking back nearly ten years later, I credit that June 2008 viewing of Iron Man as the single event that permanently cemented my obsession with blockbuster films.
The film follows Tony Stark, head of weapons manufacturer Stark Industries and self-described “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” who is captured by a terrorist cell after a weapons demonstration to the army in Afghanistan. Stark’s captors offer him a deal: build them a replica of his company’s latest weapon in exchange for his freedom. Though he appears to go along with it, in actuality, Stark utilizes the supplies at his disposal to build an advanced armor suit to escape. Upon returning to the states, Stark begins obsessively upgrading the suit and discovers the terrorists may have links within his own company.
I didn’t know it then, but dozens of viewings later, I’d say I probably fell in love with the film when the opening guitar riff of AC/DC’s “Back In Black” exploded over the Middle Eastern convoy backdrop. This moment is still one of the most effective instances of licensed music used in a blockbuster film, until Marvel surpassed it with the ingenious plot device of Star-Lord’s walkman in Guardians Of The Galaxy six years later.
Even viewers unfamiliar with the comics could see right away that Robert Downey Jr. was a perfect match for the character of Tony Stark. Eighteen marvel films later, moviegoers have become more than accustomed to his trademark eccentric behavior and wit, so it’s easy to forget how groundbreaking it was back then.
The supporting cast is equally impressive. Gwyneth Paltrow makes for a great foil to Downey as the thankless assistant, yet also the only person that truly understands him. The seeds are sown for their romantic pairing in future films, and it’s kind of refreshing to see director Jon Favreau avoid the “climactic kiss” cliche that plagues so many superhero films and actually have nothing really happen between them by the film’s conclusion.
Terrence Howard’s performance as James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Stark’s friend and the army’s liaison to his company, is often overlooked as he was quickly replaced with Don Cheadle in later Marvel films due to contractual disputes . Nevertheless, he makes another fun foil to Stark and their friendly rapport is quite enjoyable.
Jeff Bridges gets a few standout menacing moments as the film’s villain, Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger, but, like many Marvel villains, is a bit underdeveloped in comparison to the rest of the cast. This is a problem Marvel critics continue to point out, but it appears things are headed in the right direction with the positive response to Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in Black Panther and hopefully with the all-powerful bad guy Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.
The film features a number of stand-out action sequences that still thrill nearly ten years later, from Stark’s escape in the Mark I suit to the the climactic battle between Iron Man and Stane. Despite the ever-rising stakes and ever-expanding cast of characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the original Iron Man remains a benchmark superhero film accessible even to the most uninitiated moviegoers.
5 out of 5 stars