“’I am Iron Man.’ You think you’re the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.” – Nick Fury
Jon Favreau’s Iron Man (2008) is the movie that kicked off Marvel’s Phase 1, a set of individual superhero movies that leads to the Avengers movie. As the first movie, it is very important as its quality signals whether fans could expect good movies for the rest of the individual films and the Avengers. Of course, Iron Man is excellent and starts Phase 1 with a bang. The most important part of the film’s success is the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/ Iron Man. From the opening scene, it is obvious that Downey is perfect for the role. In the scene, Tony Stark is with a military convoy in Afghanistan. As the soldiers are intimidated by Stark’s celebrity, they refrain from talking to him. However, Stark breaks the silence by talking up the soldiers. Once the soldiers relax, they start acting like excited schoolboys that get to meet their childhood hero and ask Stark questions. One soldier asks “Is it true you went 12 for 12 with last year’s Maxim cover models?” With a completely cool and suave demeanor, Stark answers “That is an excellent question. Yes and no. March and I had a scheduling conflict; but fortunately, the Christmas cover was twins.” Furthermore, Stark continues to be playful with the soldiers until the convoy is ambushed by terrorists and Stark is taken into captivity in a cave. In the scene, Downey is excellent as he is charismatic and commands the screen. Immediately, one can tell he is fun and will be a great Iron Man. While the movie’s weakness is a lack of a villain that can match Downey’s pizzazz, its strength is that it does an excellent and thorough job depicting Stark’s transformation from an apathetic billionaire playboy to a hero. Moreover, it is brilliant in showing Stark build the Iron Man suit in a way that is fun to watch.
After the attack on the convoy, I like that the movie flashes back 36 hours before the attack. It shows Stark’s character before his captivity in order to contrast with how he changes after the experience. In an award ceremony in Las Vegas, Stark is honored for his accomplishments. In a video, it is shown that Stark is a prodigy. He graduates M.I.T. very young at the age of 17 before taking over Stark Industries as its CEO at the age of 21. While his best friend, Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard), introduces Stark and business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) is in the crowd supporting Stark for the award, he ditches the award ceremony to play craps at the casino. As such, it shows Stark is completely selfish and irresponsible as he does not even care about wasting the time of his close friends. In addition, he has a cavalier attitude about his role in the creation of weapons as depicted in his conversation with Vanity Fair reporter, Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb), as she tries to interview him and question the morality of being a defense contractor. In response to her questions, Stark answers “It’s an imperfect world, but it’s the only one we got. I guarantee you the day weapons are no longer needed to keep the peace, I’ll start making bricks and beams for baby hospitals.” He makes a very valid point that “My old man had a philosophy: peace means having a bigger stick than the other guy. My father helped defeat the Nazis. He worked on the Manhattan Project. A lot of people, including your professors at Brown, would call that being a hero.” While weapons are obviously used to cause death and destruction, there is a need for them to defend one’s country since other countries or enemies of the state will have them. While one should try to avoid using weapons, one needs to at least develop the most advance weapons to deter others from using them. Nevertheless, there needs to be accountability in regards to ensuring that the weapons fall into the hands of the proper individuals that will use the weapons for defense rather than individuals who will use them solely to murder and oppress. At the same time Stark is defensive and sarcastic with Everhart, he is also attempting to seduce her. Stark definitely comes off as an arrogant womanizer who has no self control. While those traits usually make an individual unlikeable, you still cannot stop yourself from liking Tony Stark and being drawn in by his charisma just like Everhart is as Stark successfully seduces her and brings her home to his Malibu mansion.
Of course, Stark’s time in captivity by terrorists changes him from an entitled, rich brat to a more responsible person. The terrorist group that captures Stark is called the Ten Rings, which is a reference to Iron Man’s greatest adversary in the comics, the Mandarin. Moreover, Stark is distraught to discover that the terrorist group is supplied with weapons from Stark Industries. A key character during his captivity is Yinsen, played solidly by Shaun Toub. He is a doctor and engineer who is also captured by the terrorists. After Stark is hit with shrapnel during the ambush of the convoy, Yinsen inserts an electromagnet in Stark’s chest that prevents the shrapnel from inching closer to his heart. I enjoy this part of the movie because Yinsen does an excellent job supporting Stark emotionally as well as help him build the first suit. Both elements are crucial in Stark’s transformation into Iron Man. While Stark is ready to give up conceding that he will never escape, Yinsen motivates Stark by noting “Look, what you just saw. That is your legacy, Stark: your life’s work in the hands of those murderers. Is that how you want to go out? Is this the last act of defiance of the great Tony Stark? Or are you going to do something about it?” With Yinsen’s help, Stark builds a miniature arc reactor that powers the electromagnet as well as the first Iron Man suit that allows him to eventually escape. Meanwhile, the terrorists believe Stark is building them his state of the art missile, the Jericho. While the suit is obviously crucial in Stark’s escape, the relationship and conversations with Yinsen are also critical in reshaping Stark as a man. When they talk about family and loved ones, Stark notes that he has no one. Insightfully, Yinsen makes a comment about Stark: “So you’re a man who has everything and nothing”. Eventually, Yinsen gives his life to buy Stark time to activate the suit. Before he dies, he pleads with Stark to “Don’t waste it. Don’t waste your life.” During these moments, Stark realizes that he has been given a gift with his intelligence, and an opportunity through with his wealth and power to better the world instead of squandering those resources in a superficial lifestyle that only indulges his desires. As such, director Jon Favreau does an excellent job depicting Stark’s transformation.
After Stark returns to the United States, his conscience starts to question his company’s business as a weapons manufacturer. After his experiences, he is bothered by the fact that the terrorists are using his weapons. As such, he wants to redirect his company to efforts that will better the world instead of building weapons. As he also realizes that the arc reactor can revolutionize the world, he is inspired to shift his company into investing in clean energy. Consequently, he immediately holds a press conference to announce his company’s change in direction. In a hilarious cameo by television personality Jim Cramer, he appears on his television show Mad Money and mocks the business plan of a weapons manufacturer that no longer makes weapons. Of course, Stark’s announcement leads to the stock price of Stark Industries plummeting. His business partner Obadiah Stane tries to reason with Stark by reminding him that they are a weapons manufacturer and “That’s what we do. We’re iron mongers. We make weapons and what we do keeps the world from falling into chaos.” Although Stane makes valid points about the necessity of defense contractors, he is also double dealing in the movie and is the person who supplies the terrorists with Stark Industries’ weapons. Moreover, we discover that he is the person that ordered the assassination attempt on Stark at the beginning of the movie. While Stane/ Iron Monger does not match Downey’s performance as Stark/ Iron Man, I think Jeff Bridges did an excellent job with the character. In real life, a villain is not always a supervillain that you can clearly see. Instead, he can be a person that greets you with a smile, pretends to be completely on your side on the surface, and stabs you in the back with his duplicity. As such, I like that Bridges’ character is a deceptive, weasel who can kill you with charm and a smile on his face. Of course, he also betrays the terrorists he is working with and takes the suit Stark built during his captivity. After he has his best engineers upgrade the armor, he uses a neural inhibitor to paralyze Stark at his Malibu home and rip the arc reactor from Stark’s chest to power his new suit. As such, he becomes the “Iron Monger”, who is his alter ego in the comics.
On the other hand, Stark’s friends are strong supporting characters. First, Terrence Howard does an excellent job playing Rhodey. I like how his stern and serious demeanor contrasts with Stark’s carefree and reckless persona. They have a lot of chemistry on screen. As Rhodey is highly disciplined as a member of the military, he is often annoyed by Stark’s antics and disregard for structure. The conflict in personalities is fun to watch as each man tries to instill their personality in the other. However, I really enjoy that each man sticks to his own nature. As Stark has the bigger personality, he does get Rhodey to loosen up a couple times and enjoy himself. Consequently, I am surprised that Don Cheadle replaced Howard in Iron Man 2 as Howard did an excellent job and looks the part. Rhodey is also a strong character because he is a great friend to Stark and remains loyal at all times. Rhodey leads the search for Stark during his captivity and is a person that Stark can always depend on. They also have a unique working relationship as Stark’s primary customer is the military and Rhodey is the liaison between the two. When Rhodey visits Stark’s home and sees the extra armor, he says “Damn. Next time, baby.” which foreshadows Rhodey putting on armor to become War Machine in the next movie. Another one of Stark’s closest and loyal friends is Happy Hogan, played by director Jon Favreau. Happy is Stark’s loyal chauffeur and bodyguard. While Rhodey tries to keep Stark under control, Happy is an enabler that indulges Stark’s desire. For example, he helps identify pretty women for Stark to hit on and bring home while applauding Stark for his daring yet reckless behavior. As such, the two are like two frat boys that never grow up. Happy idolizes Stark as lives his fantasies vicariously through Stark.
Like Rhodey, personal assistant Viriginia “Pepper” Potts is a stabilizing force for Stark. Gwyneth Paltrow does an excellent job as Potts by showing grace, dignity, and strength. Similarly, her personality is different from Stark’s as she is classy and respectful. Nevertheless, she is also completely dedicated to Stark. She truly cares for the well being of Stark. The movie does an excellent job developing their relationship. At the beginning, Stark is a womanizer with no interest in committing to one woman. As such, they both keep their relationship plutonic and professional although there is a clear attraction and chemistry between the two characters. However, they both realize how much they mean to each other after Stark is in captivity. When he returns, Pepper is among the first people to greet him with Stark noticing that “Your eyes are red. A few tears for your long-lost boss?” Of course, they jokingly play it off as Pepper responds “Tears of joy. I hate job hunting.” While they resist their feelings for each other a little longer, they start to give in during a company party. Pepper is in a beautiful blue dress with no back and Stark asks her to dance. As they are dancing, Pepper is still reluctant to give into her feelings for Stark as she wants to remain professional and does not want to cross the line with her boss. After they step away from the party to speak in private, they begin to lean closer to each other for a kiss but Pepper pulls away at the last second and Stark goes to get her a drink so she has time to collect her thoughts. As such, the movie does a good job at teasing the relationship and making the viewer want the two to be together but making us wait until the next movie before it is realized.
I also like that Pepper is not a damsel in distress who is helpless and waits for the villain to get her. The only reason she is in harm’s way is that she is on the front lines helping Stark investigate Obadiah and leading government agents into a restricted area of Stark Industries to arrest Obadiah before he puts on his suit. While I do not find Paltrow to be a stunningly beautiful woman just on pure looks, her personality and strength as Pepper Potts made very attractive on screen. In the words of Obadiah, “You are a very rare woman. Tony doesn’t know how lucky he is.” At the end of the movie, Stark brings up the subject of his relationship with Pepper again as he asks “You know, if I were Iron Man, I’d have this girlfriend who knew my true identity. She’d be a wreck cause she’d always be worrying that I was going to die, yet so proud of the man I’d become. She’d be wildly conflicted, which would only make her more crazy about me. Tell me you never think about that night.” Of course, Pepper is still not ready to give in and she hilariously responds “Are you talking about the night that we danced and went up on the roof, and then you went downstairs to get me a drink, and you left me there, by myself? Is that the night you’re talking about?” The conversation truly sums up their relationship. Although they care for each other and have strong feelings for each other, they do not take it too seriously and are always joking around with each other. It is fun to watch and their relationship is strengths of the next two Iron Man movies and the Avengers.
Another aspect of the movie that I like is that Favreau shows Stark constructing his Iron Man suit. While the one he builds in the cave is a prototype, he makes significant upgrades for his next suit as he has the full use of his technology at home. While watching someone build a suit could be boring, Favreau does an excellent job making it fun. As Stark tries out his repulsor technology, he has a couple of mishaps. Naturally, he has a couple of misfires that destroy a few things in his house. After he completes his first flight, he is floating in the air slightly above the roof above his home. However, he cuts the power and falls through multiple stories of his house and destroys a piano and a couple of cars in the process. Due to these accidents, he develops a love and hate relationship with his robot fire extinguisher. In moments of comic relief, the extinguisher also doses Stark when he does not need or want it to. Moreover, Stark has his artificial intelligence Jarvis that runs his home and helps him build and program the suit. When the suit is complete, Stark also connects Jarvis to the suit so they can be in contact at all times. Stark’s first full test of the completed suit is a fantastic scene. During the company party, Stark runs into Christine Everhart again and she shows him that the terrorists that captured him are on a rampage destroying and ransacking towns with the use of Stark Industries weapons. As such, he flies to Afghanistan in his iron Man armor and quickly neutralizes the terrorists. On his way out of the war zone, the United States Air force scrambles F-22 Raptors to intercept the unidentified flying object. In an exciting scene, Iron Man is forced to flee from the F-22s. However, he accidentally bumps into one, breaks the wing, and has to speed to the ejected pilot in order to release his parachute as it is jammed. Another enjoyable aspect of the scene is Rhodey on the phone with Stark during the incident. As such, Rhodey is trying to convince the air force to disengage while completely nervous about Stark getting shot down. After Stark gets away from the jets, Rhodey remarks “Oh, my God, you crazy son of a bitch. You owe me a plane. You know that, right?”
As Obadiah Stane/ Iron Monger is not as compelling a villain as Tony Stark/ Iron Man is as a hero, the final battle is forgettable as compared to the rest of the film. However, it does give the viewer a chance to see the progress of the Iron Man suit and see the upgrades in action. Another minor character I like throughout movie is Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Since Stark’s escape from captivity, he has been trying to schedule an appointment with Stark to debrief. Coulson represents the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division. By the end of the movie, his group finally decides to shorten the name to S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel’s superspy organization. Moreover, Coulson and Rhodey try to coach Stark into maintaining his secret identity. Coulson has a back story written for Stark on his whereabouts during the final fight. Although Stark begins his press conference following the cue cards, he begins to go off script even though Rhodey is by his side trying to nudge him back on track. Although Stark matures significantly during the movie and takes responsibility for his actions, I like that he is still the same fun, cocky rebel that he is at the beginning of the movie. He cannot be contained by structure or etiquette. Of course, it does not take him long to drop the act and proclaim that “The truth is… I am Iron Man.”
Moreover, the post credits scene is excellent as well. In it, we get our first look at Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. In Marvel’s Ultimate universe, a revised comic book story arc updated to be more realistic for the real world today, Marvel models Nick Fury after Samuel L. Jackson. As such, he is the ideal actor to play the superspy. Fury ends the movie by beginning to tell Stark about the Avengers Initiative. At that point, comic book fan boys rejoice as we knew that an Avengers movie was in the works.