Movie Review | Iron Man
Previously in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Agent Carter stopped the villainous plans of Whitney Frost, ably assisted by Edwin Jarvis and his employer, Howard Stark.
What we don't see in this time-jump is the foundation of SHIELD, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne becoming the first Ant-Man and Wasp, Carol Danvers becoming Captain Marvel, or even Bruce Banner's initial transformation into the Hulk - not to mention that Black Widow, Hawkeye and Ghost are all working for SHIELD by this point too!
This may have been the MCU's debut, but Marvel Studios have filled out the world considerably since then...
Movie summary: After being held captive in an Afghan cave, billionaire engineer Tony Stark creates a unique weaponised suit of armour to fight evil. (IMDb)
It's amazing to think that Iron Man is over a decade old now, for entirely contradictory reasons. On one hand, it doesn't feel like a ten-year old film thanks to the continued presence of the MCU in cinemas. On the other, there's been sooooo many movies and TV shows since that it can't help but feel further into the past than it is.
And it's not just the character of Tony Stark or his armoured alter ego either, it's the man playing him - Robert Downey Jr. Upon the announcement of his landing the role, it was pretty much agreed on as one of the best casting decisions possible and time has only served to solidify that sentiment.
He is astonishingly good here and has rarely been better, even as the same character in later movies. What's remarkable when you come back to Iron Man is how much the character has changed over the years, yet has remained unquestionably the same person.
Part of that goes down to the various creative teams behind the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but credit has to go to Downey for making the audience believe it. And it began here with a charming performance that makes you forget how much a dick Stark is to pretty much everyone.
Stark's arrogance is often used as a means to put other, more antagonistic, characters in their place, but he can't help snarking at everyone around him. You do half-wonder why at the start, but he earns their faith in him by the end of this film and his heroic actions.
That arc I described about he changes over the course of multiple movies can even be applied on a micro-level within this film. Stark is unquestionably an egotistical narcissist who didn't care about anyone other than himself when the film starts.
Yet you completely accept his transformation into superhero by the finale without pause. It's because his defining character traits - instead, it's the manner in which he applies them and who is on the receiving end that marks his shift from selfish to selfless, one that would reach completion in the finale of The Avengers.
I do want to praise the supporting cast in helping the audience buy this change in direction though, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau doing great in particular. The advantage the supporting cast have here - unlike Baby Driver - is that Downey makes Stark likeable despite his arrogance, so you can at least understand why they tolerate his behaviour.
I would also praise Terrence Howard, but looking back at it now, it doesn't really make sense that his Rhodey would be friends with Stark. They have their moments, sure, but Howard's take on Stark's best bud is a little too uptight and strait-laced - it's far easier to see Cheadle's more easy-going Rhodes as a friend to Stark compared to Howard's.
What's especially impressive about this film though, is that it was technically an independent film where filming started before the script was finished - hell, they kept on working on it throughout the film and pretty much decided the final draft in the editing process!
If the same thing happened today, can you imagine how many column inches would be written by entertainment journalists about the chaotic production and how unprofessional the studio were to allow it to happen? Fortunately, everyone involved stepped up and hit a home run.
Iron Man isn't quite as action-packed as later films in the MCU, but what there is still works well despite the budgetary limitations, plus the fact that it all feels like it lasts as long as it should. There are plenty of action sequences in later Marvel Studios that look gorgeous and are incredible to watch, but can sometimes feel more like they've been made for the 'cool' factor than because the story really needs them.
Here, there's not even a single line that feels like it could've been cut without detracting from the film in some way. It will always be an incredible feat that Marvel Studios needed this film to work for everything else that came after it to be as successful as it has - and it changed Hollywood forever.
Iron Man still stands up as a fantastic film today, even if the action is more sparse and less spectacular than more recent MCU films. Robert Downey Jr remains one of the most perfect matches of actor to role, and this performance is one of his best. A simpler time, but still a great one.