By 2008, the first wave of Marvel superhero movies had essentially come to an end. Spider-Man had been brought to life in two hugely successful flicks before dying an unfortunate box office death with the third. We also met Daredevil, Elektra, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. But Iron Man (2008) was something different. This was a second-tier superhero but after this first movie, he became one of the all-time biggest at the box office.
There’s no denying that, even with the occasional disappointment, Marvel knows how to put together a big box office superhero movie. A combination of action, good characters, great writing and appeal to a universal audience. You have to make the comic book guys happy but you also need to appeal to those who have never picked up a copy of Iron Man. And a first movie in a franchise is always a little tricky because you have to either establish that your hero already exists or you need to do the origin story. In most cases, you have to adapt ideas because certain elements that worked in the comic book, both because it is a written form as well as the time period that it was originally created, may not work today. Iron Man is a good case-in-point. He was created during the cold war at a time that everyone hated the concept of war and those who benefited from it. Tony Stark was modeled after Howard Hughes, a multi-billionaire inventor and ladies’ man. His overall story has been modified over the years but he’s always remained essentially a less-than-ideal superhero model.
Robert Downey Jr. symbolized the less-than-perfect Hollywood leading man image. Years of drug abuse had led to jail time and made him a pariah in the film community. He was certainly an interesting choice to headline a summer blockbuster but it worked. Downey brought to life the character of Tony Stark in a way that will make it virtually impossible for anyone to replace him should he ever decide to move on or at such time Hollywood decides a reboot is needed. He starts off as a guy without a care in the world. He aggravates his serious military friend Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terence Howard), uses his bodyguard Happy Hogan (played by director Jon Favreau) to check out potential ladies and keeps his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) busy cleaning up his potential messes. All of these characters were perfectly brought to life by the actors and actresses playing them and helped to visualize the Iron Man universe.
The core story centers on the birth of Iron Man and his eventual battle with Obadiah Stone, the man in charge of Stark Industries when Tony is off doing what he does. Originally a much bigger character in the comics, Obadiah is played in excellence by Jeff Bridges (Tron and Tron: Legacy), who turned in a great performance. I only wish we could have seen more from him. The background of Vietnam was replaced by Afghanistan, which worked just as well. Yinsen, the Chinese physicist who kept Tony alive in the comics became an Afghan and, again, the change worked to be accepted in a modern film.
Robert Downey Jr. owns the role of Tony Stark. Iron Man is really just an extension of that character. It’s hard to believe that actors such as Nicolas Cage and Tom Cruise were once considered for the role during its’ very long development process that dates back into the early 90s. I can’t imagine what it would have looked like if it had been made back then. Think David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury and you may begin to get some bad ideas.
What ultimately brought a lot of buzz to this movie was the introduction of some characters and ideas that this was the start of something much bigger. We are introduced to the idea of S.H.I.E.L.D. and agent Coulsen (Clark Gregg) as well as Nick Fury. Samuel L. Jackson’s appearance after the credits has now forever established the fact that there could be a final scene. I know I’ve stayed until the end of many movies wondering what we might see and Marvel almost never disappoints.
Needless to say, I highly recommend this movie even after multiple viewings. It’s out there on DVD and Blu-ray but not Netflix (why am I not surprised). Netflix does offer up some Iron Man animated adventures and there are more out there to choose from, including an interesting anime version. Most of these are a direct result of this movie. If for some odd reason you still haven’t seen this, go watch it now. It is the start of a fun ride that five years later is still going strong. The question in 2010 was whether or not lightning would strike twice.