Starring Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terence Howard, Shaun Toub and Jeff Bridges.
PG-13, 126 minutes.
Tony Stark is larger than life. A genius billionaire/weapons manufacturer, he’s one of those people who can make headlines just by going about his daily routine. He doesn’t seem to take anything too seriously, either. Someone like this can be an unlikable and alienating character to pin your movie around (not necessarily a bad thing if that’s what you’re going for), let alone your tent-pole summer movie.
Iron Man circumvents this problem in the very first scene, where Tony is intimidating his soldier escorts through a Middle-Eastern desert just by his very presence. Before his lovable wise-aleck act gets to be too much to handle, their vehicle is under attack by the very weapons he creates. When Tony wakes up, he’s held captive in a cave by guerrilla soldiers. Cut to black. Cue the title screen.
When the movie continues by going back prior to this opening scene, we know there’s going to be some real world consequences to compensate for the smarminess. Everything about the man’s air of invincibility has been stripped away by his captivity, leaving him with no other choice but to build something indestructible to shield himself from further harm. It makes all the time we wait for him to get into just a prototype of the suit, at roughly the forty-minute mark, worthwhile.
It’s the consequences Tony Stark faces, and what he decides to take responsibility for, that is the key to this movie’s success. Well, to be fair, Robert Downey Jr.’s performance does some of the heavy lifting as well, but, outside of a relatively weak and shoehorned finale, there’s an internal logic to the way this film unfolds that feels surprisingly personal.
Early in the film, a reporter/sexual conquest asks Tony Stark how he sleeps at night, given the rehearsed answers he spouts off to her questioning the morality of his life’s work. After he escapes the cave, seeing how his weapons are being used in the real world, his goal is to stop making weapons altogether, which proves to be impossible when he makes the suit, because everything can be a weapon if it falls into the wrong hands.
Once Iron Man gets its central character in the suit for good, he combats the guerrilla forces who use his weapons for their benefit and the man trying to wrestle control of his company away from him, played by Jeff Bridges. Instead of being another story about a man who puts on a suit to fight crime, what we have here is perhaps a more selfish goal, yet no less justified, of a man trying to control his own legacy. Only then can he embrace his public persona once again, which he does at the end where he’s rewarded with another title onto his list of professional adjectives; superhero.
If it’s not obvious by now, I really like this movie. Bolstered by Downey’s effortless camaraderie with supporting players Gwyneth Paltrow, as his trusty assistant Pepper, Terence Howard, as friend and confidante Rhody, and Bridges, the whole production goes down smoothly. With the exception of an action climax where Stark faces off against a bigger Iron Man for no other reason than to end things with a big action set piece, the deceptively simple story never feels tonally disconnected from the demeanor of its main character. In fact, I just might say it’s my favorite of all the MCU movies, which we’ll be going through one by one in preparation for Age of Ultron.
Next up: The Incredible Hulk (2008).
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