Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Faran Tahir, Jon Favreau, Clark Gregg
Plot: A billionaire weapons manufacturer, Tony Stark, (Downey Jr) is kidnapped by terrorists and forced to build them a super-weapon. Stark’s escape plan: build an iron suit and walk right out.
Confession: before the movies I never liked Iron Man. I just didn’t see the character there. It was that iron mask, truth be told. It didn’t matter how intricate the alcoholic backstory was for Stark, as soon as that iron mask came on, he was cursed by a poker face. In the fight scenes (and the older comics always jumped from characterisation far too early to show Iron Man punch the villain of the week), he became bland, a faceless Superman, whizzing around with his formidable suit and high-tech weapons. My experience with the Marvel character was commonly with the Avengers comics, and this made the problem worse. Every other character, even the most routine of heroes, Captain America, was more memorable, because they constantly emoting throughout the fight scenes, where Iron Man was always an empty iron shell to me. As a result, the upcoming movie didn’t interest me.
Boy, I was wrong. Iron Man explodes onto your screens from the first few minutes, soaking up the glare of the camera with the presence of a rock star. I love the Iron Man movies, because Tony Stark is the least superhero hero of them all. He has no powers, just a sharp mind and an intricate amount of money to build himself great technology with. However, this doesn’t make him a Batman carbon copy. Stark has no desire to be the hero, instead just enjoying the power and glory of it all. As he saves the day, there is an underlying sense that he is doing it as a hobby, rather than any selfless moral code. He doesn’t spend his free time training up his martial arts or weaponry; he goes out and actually lives life as a playboy. Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is forced to keep up the billionaire act; Stark throws himself into it with reckless abandonment. As a result, Iron Man goes from the emotionless figure I remember from the comics, to the most three-dimensional and original hero to boot. He is a flawed man, too easily swayed by the temptations that we would fall for in his shoes, and he feels worlds away from the goody-two-shoes nature of Spiderman or the Fantastic Four. Sure, we will always prefer watching Tony Stark over the fully-armoured suit (Favreau tries to do a close-up from inside the mask to get past this hurdle, but I never particularly appreciated those shots), but at least Stark’s charm oozes through the suit. The poker face might remain, but a few quips lift it above the awkward gap in character that I was dreading it would have been. It is easy to see why he is still everyone’s favourite Avenger.
Of course, we all have to applaud Robert Downey Jr, for making Stark such a memorable and unique addition to the Marvel canon. On one hand, it is perhaps too easy a role for Downey Jr. I wouldn’t be the first person to say that Stark and RDJ are basically peas in a pod. Celebrity superstar corrupted by the fame and fortune at his disposal: for a lot of the film’s running time, you are unsure if RDJ is playing the character or himself. But, the performance is far too fun to criticise. RDJ is the master of the perfectly timed wise-crack, his dry sarcasm so amusing and addictive, especially when bounced off Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts. But as the character arc turns around and we see both Stark and RDJ find their inner, forgotten moral compass, this grows into the most important film of Robert Downey Jr’s career. I can imagine newcomers to the superhero genre, rocking up just for the lead star making the biggest comeback in movie history (let’s be honest – Arnie’s isn’t working out, is it?). In fact, it almost becomes the movie’s greatest success and most disastrous downfall. Downey Jr is so captivating and larger than life, that no one else gets to show what they are made of. Paltrow is trapped with the secretary role, Bridges is all grumble and no depth and Terrence Howard might as well not have made the final cut.
It is also, an origin story. At the time, I loved this movie, but as the bigger Marvel pictures begin churning out masterpieces, this one is slightly lacking in kick. We have seen the origin story of superheroes so many times before that Iron Man becomes a very predictable affair. For a lead that is miles away from any other superhero out there, the actual film is stuck with clichés and predictable plot developments. It feels routine, ticking off a checklist of things to do. Sure, the microcosm of RDJ’s own comeback makes Iron Man feel fresher than most origins, but it still feels very by-the-numbers. When you get the Marvel box-set, this will probably be the least viewed one. The character is so fun and fresh, why not skip past the first chapter and get to him when he is right in the heat of the action in Iron Man 3?
Final Verdict: Iron Man takes one of the less known heroes in the Marvel franchise and makes an iconic superstar out of Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark.