MCU Retrospective: Iron Man (2008)

Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Jon Favreau

The Overview
After being held captive in an Afghan cave, billionaire engineer Tony Stark creates a unique weaponized suit of armor to fight evil. (Source: IMDb)

The Review
It is hard to believe that this film is now 10 years old. In fact it was celebrating it’s official 10 year anniversary for release on the 2nd May 2008, whilst the film that marked the 19th in the now-known ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ (MCU) was bringing in record-breaking crowds after its opening weekend.

All roads in the MCU did indeed lead to Infinity War, and to celebrate this colossal achievement, I thought what better time than to look back on the MCU and fill in the gaps for ones that arrived in cinemas long before I started this blog. 

Being 17 years old when Iron Man came out, I have since spent my formative years with these films, but taking it all the way back to 2008 when I first saw this film at the cinema, I would have had no idea about how huge they would become. 

Framing these reviews within the context of Infinity War (which I have seen twice at time of writing), offers the chance to look back on these films with a greater sense of hindsight, scoping the part they played in the bigger story, and of course delving into what makes these films great…or not so great as the case may be.

Iron Man does fall into the former, and whilst it perhaps hasn’t aged as well as some of the films that followed it, it does still stand strong; the starting point of the MCU gets off to an explosive start, and even with the hints of a wider universe, it is a film which works equally as well on its own.

It is easy to forget perhaps how bleak the opening 30 minutes or so of this film are. Before donning the famous gold and red suit, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) finds himself at the mercy of a group of terrorists, plotting a daring escape using his technological know-how to create a metal suit, powered by an arc reactor which is stopping the shrapnel lodged in his chest reaching his heart.

Robert Downey Jr. and Shaun Toub in Iron Man (2008)

Iron Man has always been a fascinating character, and it was a bold decision of the MCU to kick off their mammoth journey with a character who actually spends very little of the film being a “hero”; or at least in the sense of how we would perceive a hero to be. His journey to becoming a hero is born out of circumstance, a need to survive, and a crisis of faith when it comes to the dubious nature of his company’s manufacturing of weapons.

With this  not being a “superhero” film in the ways we have seen in later MCU movies, it actually manages to explore in surprising depth the costs of war. For a man who is so rich in material possessions and wealth to effectively turn his back on what got him there in the first place, is an incredibly interesting character arc, and something we actually see play out in much later films in the MCU.

In Civil War, Tony firmly plants himself on the side of peace, and the hints at this are all the way back in his very first screen outing. Additionally there are hints that Tony’s decision to create the suit technology he becomes so known for later on, were the product of him suffering PTSD after his kidnapping ordeal. The state of Tony’s mental well-being and the toils of being the “hero” are explored in even more detail in Iron Man 3, and even as far as Infinity War, where the “Battle of New York” (from The Avengers) still looms heavy on his mind.

With all of that being said, Iron Man is still a really fun movie, and it does a great job of establishing the billionaire/Playboy part of Tony’s character as well. This is effectively told in the opening half of the film through flashbacks of the few days preceding his capture. Something the MCU has always done well is the origins of its heroes, and Iron Man is certainly no exception to this. It is never too heavy on exposition, yet we get enough sense of who Tony is as a person that we immediately buy into him, and that is crucial in making this film work.

Iron Man (2008)

To find a flaw in this film, it would be that perhaps the villain isn’t great. Don’t get me wrong, it is refreshing to have a villain where the stakes feel incredibly personal rather than planet-destroying and world-changing, but Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) never feels like too much of a threat to Tony. That being said, Bridges totally sells it, and the conflicting ideologies between him and Stark are crucial to the development of Tony as a character, and the decisions he makes going forward. 

The Rating
(I don’t do these for my normal reviews, but as these retrospective reviews are a little different to the norm, I’m breaking the rules here!)
★★★★

MCU Ranked
As I am planning to rewatch all of the MCU films, I will rank the films as I go and update on each review. As this is the first film I’ll have watched, there isn’t too much surprise for the rankings as of right now…

  1. Iron Man (2008) – ★★★★
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