Iron Man (2008)

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Iron Man (2008)

Post  BoG on Wed Feb 11, 2015 12:37 am

Iron Man was the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the linked universe of interwoven super-hero stories and characters (followed immediately by The Incredible Hulk and later Thor & Captain America), so... how this universe proceeded hinged on how successful this film would be. It exceeded expectations - personally, I expected a first weekend of $50 million and it did about twice that, eventually surpassing the popular X-Men films. Much of this success was thanks to the casting - Robert Downey, Jr. stars as the mega-successful genius Tony Stark, soon to be an armored super-hero. All the fans knew beforehand that Downey, Jr. would make the part his own, in his own imitable fashion, and he more than lived up to expectations. He owns this part and he owns this film - his Stark is flip, sure, but there's also the extra-sharp clarity of thought; he makes us believe within his first minute on film that he truly is the smartest man in any room - and that's why it's feasible for someone like him to convert himself into one of the prime super-heroes.

Likewise, it's a compelling origin story for the CEO-soon-to-be hero; it's a stark (no pun intended) depiction of rising from the depths and triumphing through the use of brain power. As in the comic books (from 1963), Stark is the heir to the Stark fortune and corporations, most of which are geared around weapons manufacturing, via huge government contracts. During an exhibition of his latest war toy in Afghanistan, Stark's convoy is bushwhacked and he is captured by the local terrorist group. This first act sets up Stark's amoral nature - the weapons building - and his arrogance; he thinks of himself as invulnerable and above it all. But, he finds out what he's truly made of during his captivity - his injury involves small shrapnel which is on its way to his heart and only a hastily jury-rigged electromagnet prevents his death. He's teamed with fellow captive & scientist Yinsen, whose humility and nobility seems to rub off on him. In this scenario, Stark has been stripped of everything - his wealth, his standing, his associates, even his good health - and all he has left is his own brilliant mind. That proves to be enough.
Another reason for the film's success is the adherence to the basics & principles of the iron hero of the comic books. This is where other films of this sort fail - the filmmakers of such films think they are smarter than the original creators and devise their own ideas to craft the films, diverging from the classic templates. The Iron Man film even sticks with the original Mark One armor, the crude, bulky iron suit which Stark first builds in order to escape his captors. Where it does go off a bit into its own fantasy-land is upon Stark's return to his old life - suddenly, he's consumed with guilt over his empire and the need for redemption, abruptly announcing the shutdown of his corporation in a knee-jerk attitude of feel-good new age reactionary naivety (forgetting that in the real world such things as stockholders and thousands of jobs would preclude any such personally-guided sudden shifts in corporate direction). It could be argued that Stark's actions are still self-serving, since he was injured - in a bit of modern film irony - by one of his own weapons, so he is merely seeking retribution for the attack on his own dignity. There's also a cute but unnecessary silly scene of his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) helping him with the new gadget built into his chest.
But, the characters from the books are all here - Potts, military dude Rhodey (Terrence Howard) and chauffeur/bodyguard 'Happy' Hogan (director Jon Favreau in a small role), even butler Jarvis as a computer voice. There's also Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) - a late-appearing character in the books who was Stark's competitor. In the film, he's one of Stark's close circle of associates, the guy who ran the company after Stark's father died and until Stark grew up into the job. Stark's change of corporate policy is what drives the rest of the film's plot (that and his construction of a new armor), as Stane is eventually revealed to be - as in most modern films - someone whose only goal in life is the profit margin and when that is taken away, he just goes nuts; or, he's just simply secretly ee-e-v-i-i-l-l  and much more insidious than the terrorists, who are more like gullible fools. Unfortunately, it's the usual Hollywood version of what evil exists. Bridges does give an interesting, naturalistic performance, deceptively easygoing as the true corporation exec of power. This was also the 1st appearance of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), a SHIELD agent created for the films; he'd also be back in the sequel and then the Avengers film in 2012.
In all, director Favreau created a film that moves at a steady yet crackling pace. The story structure would be used again in other Marvel films - notably Thor - in that the first sequence is actually a flash forward; we see what by rights should have been shown only about 20 minutes into the film and serves as a kind of forewarning of events. It adds a bit to the overall tension - a keen strategy for such a film - and the first half of the film is a glossy combo of entertainment and suspense as we are introduced to all the characters and wait to see what Stark does with his new mission in life. There's also the requisite sexual tension between boss and sexy subordinate, done up as 1940s-styled playful banter. The 2nd half of the film doesn't quite measure up, being somewhat of an anticlimax (similar to the 2009 Star Trek film); it's not bad, just not quite as good, though it does set things up for a key duel of iron clad men. BoG's Score: 8 out of 10
Iron Trivia: this was the 2nd biggest grossing film of 2008, beaten only by the super event Batman film, The Dark Knight; Stan Lee cameos as an old guy mistaken for Hugh Hefner; also, Samuel L. Jackson cameos at the end of the end credits in his first bit as Nick Fury, mentioning an "Avengers Initiative"; he would return in the sequel and all the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the size of his role varying; Terrence Howard as Rhodey was replaced by Don Cheadle in the 2010 sequel; the terrorist group in this film is called "The Ten Rings," which seems a reference to Iron Man's prime foe in the books, The Mandarin.
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