By Marc S. Sanders
It’s fair to say in 2008, a new pop culture phenomenon occurred and that was the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The first of a collection of highly successful crossover films was Iron Man featuring a Robert Downey Jr that was offering little promise in box office and commitment following stints in prison for his personal drug addictions. Director Jon Favreau felt that Downey was right for the title role, also known as brilliant, genius, wealthy playboy Tony Stark. Favreau’s confidence, as it turned out, was right all along.
Iron Man is an origin film. Tony Stark is a man with everything, but because of a lack of surviving family following the deaths of his parents, really, he sadly has nothing.
After being captured by Afghan terrorists, Stark, the world famous weapons manufacturer, has an epiphany and opts to take his billion dollar company in a new direction by halting production on all weaponry. Stark’s partner, Obadiah Stane played by Jeff Bridges, tries to contain Stark’s new campaign, and in turn becomes an adversary to contend with.
This is a summary of a great story, and even better, I have yet to discuss the main attractions of the film, the Iron Man suits. Sci fi and adventure movies work best when the highlighted visuals are not the story, but rather what accompanies the narrative. Iron Man is not so much about the suit. Moreover, it’s about the guy who built and wears the suit.
Downey is perfect in the role. Sure, his sarcasm and impulse to perform off script can get a little tiresome, but Downey also stops to give Tony Stark some heart as he bashfully pines for Pepper Potts played by Gwyneth Paltrow as his adorable sidekick in business. Also, his maturity comes into focus following his will to undo what he’s wrought prior to his captivity. It’s a great character arc of dimension and change.
Jeff Bridges plays one of my favorite MCU villains. At least I think so, because I understand where Stane is coming from. He’s gotta answer to his stockholders. Stark and Stane are in the money business regardless of the products they market and manufacture. He’s not all about global domination. He’s a man of responsibility. Bridges went with the comic book iteration of Stane from the late ‘80s publications by going bald with a devilish goatee. His height and broad shoulders plus his age match well against Downey. Bridges’ stature is intimidating opposite Downey’s reckless lack of care and immaturity through the first half of the film. Stane puts an arm around your shoulder, and you know you’re in trouble. So, it works really well here. Jeff Bridges really ranks as one of MCU’s most overlooked gems, now over 10 years and over 20 films in.
Favreau depicts some all too real and scary moments of terrorism and violence. This is all a step above the fantasy actions later to be seen from the likes of other Marvel villains like Loki, Ultron or Thanos.
It’s sadly ironic. One terrorist kicking a local in the head is harder for me to watch than a godlike giant who eliminates half the world’s population. Still, Favreau takes advantage of Downey’s comic timing and playful chemistry with Paltrow as well. Plus, there’s Terrence Howard as the no nonsense army colonel and friend “Rhodey” Rhodes (played in later films by Don Cheadle). Had Favreau not found that balance of heavy and light, we might not have seen the longevity of this continuing franchise.
The action scenes work well too. The Iron Man and Iron Monger (Stane’s costume) engage in a well edited and choreographed fight scene in the streets and evening skies of Malibu. Stark is plagued with weaknesses to add some “yikes” moments as he faces off against the hulk size Monger with Stane in control. These scenes are not blurry. It’s really what the action scenes of the Transformers films needed.
“Iron Man” foreshadowed a lot of fun material we were meant to see in later films. Blink and you’ll miss a certain patriot’s shield and stay for the first of many legendary end credits scenes that introduces an important character, leading to an eventual hit television series as well as becomes instrumental for all of these fun crossover moments.
Iron Man is an important film in cinematic history. It blazed a trail in big box office that’s given audiences lots of escape. The success of this franchise has attempted to be matched, but no other franchise has yet to come close. Sorry Star Wars and DC Comic films.
For now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is as bulletproof as the Iron Man.
NOTE: Stan Lee cameo salute….Was that the real Hugh Hefner?!?!?!?