It’s time to have a look at the film that started it all: Iron Man. It’s funny to think back to when this film was announced and I just sort of shrugged, thinking “I enjoyed the cartoon back in the day, and the suits might look cool in live action, if they manage to pull it off.” I didn’t even watch it until it appeared on DVD… Now, in 2021, it’s the movie that kicked off an entire, unique “cinematic universe”, before that catchphrase was a thing. Anyway, how does Iron Man stand up today? Let’s take a look!
When Tony Stark is captured by terrorists who want him to build him state of the art missiles he instead constructs a high-tech armoured suit to escape. Once he manages to escape, he decides to use his suit to fight against the evil forces that use his own technology to do harm to others…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Hey look! It’s some sort of Iron Man! Well, a man in a Iron Suit. Well, the suit isn’t even made of- You know what? Never mind.
The first and most obvious thing about the film is how spot-on the casting of Robert Downey Jr. is for Tony Stark. It may seem obvious now, countless films and cameos later, but at the time it was a bit of a risk. It’s all perfectly shown in the opening moments of the film where Stark is travelling with a bunch of soldiers and starts acting like a drunk prick, but within a few minutes the soldiers who were being insulted soon started to crack a smile, then soon had a full-on laugh with him. It’s that personality that shines through, so many scenes you want to hate Stark, you think about how he’d be the last person you’d want to have to deal with at your place of work, and then before you know it you love him. The film does spend a good 30 minutes making sure you know Stark is a man whose redemption story will be forever mired though, because man… he lays it in thick! How his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) put up with him at this point is a mystery, though their dynamic of them being each other’s “only real friend” was touching towards the end of the film (and continues to be throughout the MCU!)
So Tony shows off his new missile prototype and on the way back his military convoy is attacked, ironically with his own weaponry. He’s nearly killed, a special electro-magnet is attached to his heart and is the only thing keeping deadly shrapnel from killing him out-right. The terrorists force him to work for them, to build a missile like the one he showed off, but instead Tony teams with fellow captive Ho Yinsen (Shaun Toub) to not only build a small “arc reactor” that would do a better job of keeping him alive, but a suit of powered armour to use in order to escape. Stark escapes, Yinsen does not (though this was always his plan, his family had already been killed…) and as soon as Tony arrived back in the states he holds a press conference where he claims he’s shutting down his weapons division because of what he went through. This came a shock to Stark Industries’ honcho Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) who is soon revealed as the villain of the story. He put the hit on Stark when he was in Afghanistan in the hopes of taking over the company and is generally not a very nice man…
You know I didn’t once mention Happy Hogan, though to be fair his role in this film is extremely limited compared to later efforts.
As Tony builds a new version of the Iron Man suit, as it soon becomes dubbed, and gives it a few trial runs by attacking terrorist outposts that are using his tech, his air force buddy James Rhodes (Terrence Howard) catches on to his old friend’s secret. I do enjoy the relationship between the two, especially how “Rhodey” dislikes Tony’s new peaceful outlook, in his mind Stark’s weapons in the hands of Americans means safety… erm, for Americans, but hey-ho. Eventually Obadiah decides to say “screw secrecy” (mostly due to Potts meddling) and temporarily paralyzes Tony in his home and yanks the arc reactor out of his chest, using it to power his own suit he build based off of the remnants of Tony’s first model from Afghanistan. Tony uses his original reactor that Pepper had turned into an ornament to save his life then heads off for a bit of a super-powered armour showdown.
During this Pepper had met SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and tried to deal with the man known as Iron Monger in the comics, but they’re defeated as soon as he popped into his armour. It’s great seeing Coulson’s first appearance (in terms of the films being released… timeline-watch-through-wise he already appeared in Captain Marvel…) and once again it’s funny to think about all the things the character would go on to do, if you include Agents of SHIELD as canon anyway… So Iron Man soon arrives and the two suited combatants beat each other up for a while until Stane is killed by Potts turning on a massive Arc Reactor to fry his suit’s circuits, followed by your classic “fall onto an explosion death”. We then get a scene where Coulson briefs Stark on the official cover operation for the whole ordeal, but Tony announces he’s Iron Man anyway. This leads to the post-credits sequence where Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury arrives in Stark’s house to tell him of the “Avengers Initiative”…
Iron Monger be Iron Mongering. Well, actually he doesn’t sell Iron at all, so… Damn these misleading names! *Shakes fist*
Once again there isn’t a lot to dislike here. Obadiah Stane is quite straight-forward as a villain, but entirely believable and set up well via newspaper articles and little bits of dialogue before the big reveal of him as a villain. There are far more underdeveloped villains in up-coming films anyway, let’s put it that way… Obviously it’s now weird to see someone else play Rhodey, but that’s not this film’s fault, nor is Terrence Howards that bad in the role either.
I guess the only negative is the big showdown is a bit disappointing. It isn’t so much a fight as a pretty one-sided beatdown, and some of the CG animation hasn’t aged brilliantly… but that’s just nit-picking really.
Let’s end with the beginning, a.k.a. the ultimate act of karma.
Iron Man is a really fun two-hours thanks to a top cast lead by a charismatic Robert Downey Jr. Most of the effects still hold up and the action scenes are still exciting. In terms of a movie to kick off a whole new “universe”, Iron Man was thankfully a good one!