Should I Watch..? Iron Man
What's the big deal?
Iron Man is a superhero film produced by Marvel Studios in 2008 (their first such film) and is based on the character of the same name created by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber. Directed by Jon Favreau, the film had previously sat in development hell since 1990 but after numerous studios had passed on it, Marvel themselves reacquired the rights and began an ambitious project to create a single, unified continuity for all future Marvel Studio releases known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU. It was an enormous gamble but one which paid off handsomely. Iron Man was a critical and financial success and it laid the foundations for every subsequent Marvel Studios release ever since including the likes of Thor (1), Captain America: The First Avenger (2) and ultimately, Avengers Assemble (3). It also helped turn the company from a struggling producer of comics to one of entertainment's new juggernauts, flooding the silver screens with a torrent of superhero films that show little sign of abating any time soon.
What's it about?
Wealthy playboy industrialist Tony Stark is head of his late father's company Stark Industries, a defence contractor for the US military. Visiting Afghanistan to demonstrate his latest product, the Jericho missile system, Stark and his convey are attacked by terrorists from an organisation called The Ten Rings. Stark, critically injured, is taken prisoner and an electromagnet is placed into his chest by his cellmate to prevent shrapnel from going to Stark's heart and killing him. Raza, the leader of the terrorists, has one simple demand: Stark is to build the Jericho missile for the Ten Rings or they will kill him.
Instead, Stark builds a powerful arc reactor in place of his electromagnet and uses it to power a metal exoskeleton armed to the teeth. Barely escaping intact, Stark returns to the US a changed man - he spends his time refining this exoskeleton into something that can do good in the world, to repair the damage his company's weapons have created over the years. But Stark's partner and company manager Obadiah Stane isn't keen on Stark's new-found morals and seeks his design to create the ultimate weapon.
Robert Downey Jr.
Tony Stark / Iron Man
Lt. Col. James Rhodes
Agent Phil Coulson
Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum & Matt Holloway *
Release Date (UK)
2nd May, 2008
Action, Adventure, Superhero
Academy Award Nominations
Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects
What's to like?
Iron Man has plenty going for it. You can tell that Marvel themselves put a lot of love into this picture, lavishing it with a decent story and amazing visuals as well as making it feel part of a much wider world. This is a lot more grown-up than previous pre-MCU movies like Daredevil (4), much more than just a man with a mask. But despite the maturity, it's still a whole lot of fun - the dialogue feels effortless and natural and there is plenty to amuse beyond Stan Lee's cameo. At long last, here is a superhero film that does things properly! It's doesn't get too dark and stay into the sort of brooding melancholy I associate with Batman Begins (5) - if Batman movies are the cinematic equivalent of graphic novels then Iron Man is a feature-length comic book with a free sweet on the front.
But in truth, the film revolves around Downey Jr. as Stark and it is a show-stopping performance. His Stark is a remarkable character, eschewing the traditional square-jawed hero persona for something a little more down-to-earth and human. His womanising and alcohol consumption don't exactly disappear when he dons the suit and it all makes the film compelling, to have a hero that is actually rather flawed. His delivery and his one-liners are perfectly suited to Stark and alongside him, Paltrow also does well in a traditionally one-dimensional sidekick role. This film really is a lot of fun and escapism at its very best.
- Agent Coulson, who would go on to become a fixture in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was originally a much smaller role. The part was expanded when producers saw Clark Gregg's chemistry with the rest of the cast.
- JARVIS, Tony's computer system, was named after his father's butler Edwin Jarvis. It stands for Just A Rather Very Intelligent System.
- The roadster that we see Tony Stark working on in his workshop actually belongs to director Jon Favreau.
What's not to like?
Compared to Downey Jr. in the lead role, Howard and Bridges feel a little weaker. Howard's part as Lt. Col Rhodes feels underwritten and doesn't have that much to do in the film (though Marvel fans would tell you that he's destined for bigger things). Bridges gives a decent enough performance but I wanted something more than a slimy business partner with a suit of his own. And compared to Stark, Stane's character progression didn't feel as fleshed out so that I found his motivation a little weak.
Aside from some aggressive product placement by Audi, there isn't much I can find wrong with Iron Man. It is good, clean fun the family can enjoy and while you might get the feeling that it's throwing in all kinds of references to other Marvel characters and movies, only a proper fan-boy would notice them all. But you can still enjoy it for what it is - a smooth, polished and enjoyable superhero film the likes of which we're now all too familiar with.
Should I watch it?
Given that this is the very start of Marvel's epic MCU project, it would be remiss to ignore it. It would also be understandable if the film had teething problems such as ropey effects or miscasting errors. But Iron Man is a confident and entertaining movie filled with action, comedy, thrills, spills, the lot. The film really benefits by having Marvel Studios oversee the production, giving it an air of authenticity that previous Marvel films such as Fantastic 4 (6) might have lacked. A great start for Marvel Studios to begin rebuilding their brand and superb fun for the rest of us.
Great For: comic book guys everywhere, family nights in, Robert Downey Jr's career, Marvel Studios and the MCU
Not So Great For: DC, people bored of superhero films
What else should I watch?
It stands to reason that there are other films in the MCU's Phase One also worth checking out - Captain America: The First Avenger cleverly interweaves the character's historical origins into a fabulous period war movie while Avengers Assemble is the ultimate greatest-hits package, combining all of Marvel's biggest stars into one terrific piece of escapist cinema. However, I wasn't quite as sold on Thor or The Incredible Hulk (7) as I should have been. They're OK but not quite as entertaining as their stablemates. As time has worn on, even more characters have been given their own movies like Doctor Strange (8), Ant-Man (9) and the wonderfully entertaining Guardians Of The Galaxy (10).
Of course, Marvel movies were about long before Marvel themselves decided to make them. The original Spider-Man trilogy with Tobey Maguire are good fun for forgiving viewers while X Men (11) and X2 (12) are also very good films in their own right. However, avoid the likes of The Punisher (13) and Daredevil as these are a long way away from the sheer class audiences have become used to these days.