I’m going to skip the preamble here, as I know that anyone interested will likely already know that these reviews are in timeline order and where exactly Iron Man fits into that timeline. What is important to remember, however, is that Iron Man was the MCU OG – the literal beginning of the franchise as we know it today.
So far, I’ve reviewed Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain Marvel, but I think Iron Man is where I hold some of my most controversial opinions. Namely, that I find the character of Tony Stark to be insufferable.
Before you angrily slam the browser window and never read any of my reviews ever again, hear me out – I’m not debating the character’s importance or saying that he doesn’t have a good overall story arc, but Iron Man’s solo films are far from the crown jewels of the MCU, and I think that’s indicative of the character’s inability to stand alone. He’s funny, sure, and RDJ bounces brilliantly off of his Avengers co-stars, but in the Iron Man trilogy, he’s far less entertaining.
That said, Iron Man does an excellent job of setting the scene for the MCU. Tony Stark is a man made wealthy by the sorry state of the world. Faced with the realities that this presents for everyone else, Stark begins to understand the error of his ways, and pledges to do better – and he’s where I really, genuinely approve of the character, because he doesn’t ever renege on that promise.
Despite my personal disinterest, Iron Man does an awful lot of things right. It’s an exceptional origin story, hitting all the tropes without ever feeling clichéd, and it’s a solidly written film. Narratively speaking, its well paced, with enough light comic relief to keep it from ever getting too heavy, even amid the arms-dealing, terrorism-heavy story.
The film is also bolstered by solid performances from an A-list cast: Robert Downey Jr. was undoubtedly born to play Stark, and Jeff Bridges was excellently evil as Obadiah Stane. Director Jon Favreau also offered a few good laughs as Happy Hogan, and Gwyneth Paltrow delivered one of cinema’s greatest put-downs while speaking with one of Tony’s conquests.
However, the lack of any real female characters is painfully apparent on rewatching – Pepper Potts is the only real female character, and aside from the aforementioned “sick burn” (as the kids say), she’s given practically nothing to do but worry about and wonder at Tony Stark’s brilliance.
Other than its treatment of its only main female cast member, Iron Man has aged exceptionally well. Naturally, it’s a CGI-heavy film, but despite it being over thirteen years old, it still looks incredible – and yes, while the bar is high for Marvel’s films, The Incredible Hulk was released later the same year, and the CGI in that is laughable.
Overall, despite my personal indifference to its titular character, Iron Man is a movie that holds up better than anyone would have ever expected. It offers the vague promise of a wider franchise, but it doesn’t ever overstep, remaining a satisfying stand-alone superhero origin story.
Summary: Taking a B-list (at best) hero and giving him the big-screen treatment proved to be the best decision Marvel ever made. Iron Man made a promise to fans of comic book movies that superheroes would be the future of cinema, and looking back, it will likely stand forever as a small piece of film history.
Highlights: Personally, Pepper Potts’ distaste for – and delicately worded dismissal of – Tony’s one-night stand will forever remain my favourite aspect of the film.