In May of 2008 Iron Man was not a household name. A pillar of the Marvel Comic Book Universe. Fanboys knew who he was , but he certainly wasn’t the character we know now. As much as we celebrate Tony Stark now, 2007 and the early part of 2008 was not kind to the billionaire playboy. Marvel’s Civil War series had only just ended a year before in 2007 and Tony Stark was pretty much that story’s villain. So comic book fans didn’t really like him. The average movie goer knew Superman, Batman, and Spider-man. Maybe some of the X-Men. Not Iron Man. The release of an Iron Man movie wasn’t very exciting. There was way more buzz for The Dark Knight, which was also released 2008.
What was interesting about Iron Man was that this was the first film that Marvel was doing themselves. Spider-man had been licensed to Sony. X-Men and the Fantastic Four were being done by Fox. Daredevil, Hulk and Ghost Rider were being made, but all of those were done second hand. Iron Man was the first time, at least in recent memory, that a comic book company was trying to do their own film.
Lets start with the trailer. All I remember was it shows the moment when the final Iron Man suit goes super sonic. It streaks across the screen. Really just a red and yellowish dot that speeds by, then a sonic boom, and it is gone. The effects in the first Sam Raimi Spider-man film were really impressive when they made you feel like that was a guy who was swinging around New York City on webs. And just that super sonic moment in that first Iron Man trailer was enough for me to have that same feeling. He is like a missile soaring through frame. It feels like you’re in a plane yourself and Iron Man just zipped past you. Not overly stylized. Simple. And I think so many of the strengths of this film are in the simple things about it.
Except Robert Downey Jr. isn’t exactly a simple man. Nor is Tony Stark for that matter. However they are both the perfect actor for the character and the perfect character for the actor. When I read that RDJ was playing Iron Man I said, “That is perfect. That guy has lived the Tony Stark life.” Both are entitled, talented, wealthy, men who are not at all easily relatable to by average people. Their tragedies are self inflicted. They both squander chances to do great things that most of us work so hard to only have a chance at. Not necessarily the easiest men to feel sympathy for. The thing that they have that makes them so entertaining to watch, and ends up being the thing we do empathize with, is they get a second chance. One thing we all wish we could have ourselves.
It is fun to hear Tony Stark brag about sleeping with all twelve Maxim cover models and watch him get drunk on his private jet with his best friend, but the thing that hooks us into this character is seeing him be put down low and then bounce back. This is a movie about second chances. Every single one of us has something we look back to and wish we could have a second chance at. This superhero movie gives us the opportunity to watch a man correct his worst mistake.
At the time we drop into the Tony Stark story, we are seeing him blind to the terror he is putting into the world. His genius has been twisted by others and he doesn’t know it. He has blinders on. When Christine Everhart questions him about his legacy as a maker of weapons, he deflects the questions, seduces her, has sex with her, and then sends her off. The next day he immediately sells his newest weapon system to the US military. We are to believe such as been his life, but all of that is about to change.
I’m not going to go through the movie beat by beat. Right now I just want to reflect on what the Tony Stark character is in this first Marvel Studios film. He is an indulgent person of excess who is having a life of fun when some terrorists in a cave blow up his party and he suddenly realizes that he has had blinders on. That the world just outside of his view is uglier than he had imagined it was and he has had a big part in making it so terrible. Iron Man might be the first superhero movie about a post 9/11 America. Something to keep this in mind about Tony Stark while watching the Marvel movies here on out.
My take on the first Iron Man movie is that it is about Americans who went through 9/11. The shock and anger that event put on the country. It woke us up from the party we were having and ripped out our heart. Immediately, we charged out into the world to blast at the bad guys.
The Good: Iron Man, the film, is one part hero’s journey, one part comedy, one part horror and one part conspiracy thriller. From when Tony wakes up in the cave to when he realizes he has an electronic magnet implanted in his chest, the whole scene feels like a horror movie. Watching him tinker and experiment with his Mark 2 suit is very comedic. You immediately feel like there is something wrong with Obadiah Sane, but it isn’t until almost two thirds of the movie is over before you realize just how much of the nastiness he is actually involve in. However the film’s highest mark is when the Iron Man Mark 3 armor lands in Gulmira to battle The Ten Rings. When Iron Man drops down from the sky, repulsar blasts the bad guys, and saves that dad from almost being executed in front of his family… you want to jump up from your seat and clap.
The Bad: I like the effects. I think the Iron Man armor looks its best in this film. Better than it does in later films. More practical. However the CGI moments do look very dated at moments.