In what could be the biggest review series in the history of Obsessive Viewer, I’m committing myself to reviewing all the movies and shows in Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe. You can find an index of my MCU reviews here and check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast here. Now, here’s my review of 2008’s Iron Man.
With the release of Iron Man in 2008, Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios took their first steps into what would become the biggest film franchise ever. Through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Studios has cultivated a niche in shared continuity blockbuster releases that continues to be honed and expanded as it approaches a decade of box office domination.
Iron Man has one of my favorite opening scenes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe precisely because of the script. The movie wastes no time introducing the audience to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) as he’s transported via Humvee with a handful of troops in Afghanistan. Despite immediately putting Tony out of his element and in an environment that isn’t conducive to traditional character building, the script provides a snappy window into who Tony Stark is through sharp and funny dialogue with the soldiers. When things suddenly get explode-y, the viewer is already invested enough in the main character to fear for his safety.
From there, the movie back tracks and recounts the 36 hours before the incident by giving us a quick breakdown of Tony’s life and introducing a few major characters. A comic book movie’s origin story is often burdened by the source material’s long mythology and supporting characters. This can be a nightmare for a screenwriter attempting an adaptation. In Iron Man, however, the exposition and introductions are handled with such fluidity that it’s hard not to be immediately hooked into the movie.
However, after the impressive opening sequence and well-structured exposition, Iron Man isn’t without its share of script problems. After introducing the core players in the movie, Iron Man follows Tony’s captivity, his escape and then goes into a long stretch of tinkering and troubleshooting before he becomes Iron Man.
This, by itself, isn’t an issue. Downey Jr. can easily carry a superhero origin story. The problem is in the lack of external conflict. The central antagonist of Iron Man doesn’t truly reveal himself until the last thirty or forty minutes of the movie. While the climactic battle is well worth the wait, the slow build toward the reveal of the villain’s intentions left a little bit to be desired. Throughout most of the runtime, the antagonist’s actions are played solely as a power grab for Stark Industries. It isn’t until far too late in the movie that the character’s darker intention is made clear.
This hiccup in the storytelling is nowhere near a death knell for Iron Man, though. The movie retains its freshness and vigor even now, seven years after its release. When watching it in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and (some would say oversaturated) comic book movie subgenre itself, it still holds its own as the strong start to the universe that it is.
Robert Downey Jr’s performance as Tony Stark is an entertaining balancing act between self-serving billionaire and a man with a newfound sense of duty. The supporting cast members are utilized well, for the most part. Love interest and personal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a bit of a weak link in the movie, however. The character is somewhat an archetypal superhero love interest character. She has strong moments as she attempts to rein in Tony from his more self-destructive and/or self-aggrandizing behavior. Ultimately Pepper falls into a damsel role that feels a little too cookie cutter for a 2008 superhero movie.
The stinger after the end credits created a fervor in me (and many other fans) that carried through the rest of Marvel’s Phase 1 movies and carried right into 2012’s The Avengers. Despite some issues with pacing around the midpoint of the movie and some problems with the antagonist, Iron Man kick-started the Marvel Cinematic Universe very well and still stands as one of Marvel’s most enjoyable movies.
Buy it Full Price – Worthy of purchase regardless of price. But you’ll want to see it first, just to make sure you want it in your collection.