And so it all began right here, the irresistible epicentre of the unstoppable force of cinematic nature that became the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The rebirth of Robert Downey Jr’s career from Hollywood limbo and the cementing of John Favreau as an A list blockbuster talent was only the first of Iron Man’s notable achievements as the MCU slowly but surely gained momentum to become the money gobbling, super-franchise that has all but conquered the world. Anyone aware of those stats at the time would have found them laughable, especially as Iron Man (hardly top drawer comic fodder when it came to house hold name status) was coming out the same summer as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
And yet Iron Man thrived. A breezy, witty and (most importantly) FUN comic book movie which propelled itself through it’s running time with a sense of confident swagger, it’s tongue lodged firmly in its titanium alloy cheek and it’s secret weapon splayed all over the screen for all to see. That secret weapon, of course, is the unstoppable juggernaut that is RDJ’s charisma.
Tony Stark is every inch the swaggering, boozy, weapons designer who lives his playboy lifestyle to the fullest while not giving a single, solitary toss as to who is using his inventions on whom. However, his shallow “stick it in the fuck it bucket” attitude gets a major readjustment after his torso soaks up an alarming amount of shrapnel in a terrorist attack in Afghanistan and he is held prisoner until he agrees to build a special weapon for his captors. After reevaluating his outlook thanks to the fellow prisoner who also assisted him with his shrapnel laced heart, Tony builds a clanking war-suit to blast his way out of captivity and get back to the quirky characters that’s been putting up with his man-child ways up till this point. But P.A. Pepper Potts, airforce buddy James Rhodes and Stark Industries manager Obadiah Stane are disturbed when Stark, emboldened with a new selfless purpose, cancels all weapons contracts, updates his suit into a sleek, bitchin’, ass-kicking tool for good and heads out to right the wrongs his company has wrought – but how far can he possibly get when one of his closest confidants is actually dealing under the table and will stop at nothing to get his hands on this new generation of war tech?
An argument could be made that Iron Man was only successful because of it’s insanely likeable genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist; that the movie relies too heavily on it’s leading man and chooses to simplify his predicament with a series of super cool, yet overly glib action sequences. While this isn’t exactly an unfair statement, to state it is to somewhat miss the point.
Robert Downey Jr. IS Tony Stark, the same way that Johnny Depp is Jack Sparrow or Anthony Hopkins is Hannibal Lector, the two are inseparable and to watch him is to witness the fusion between actor and character to the point where the lines between the two are ridiculously blurred. Downey has insane chemistry with every single thing he shares the screen with, from his co-stars to even non-living objects, like his clumsy robot helpers DUM-E and U and subsequently the movie flies by like a dream. Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow cling on for dear life in his wake, still giving crisp, bright performances all the while basking in the blinding glare of Downey Jr’s invention.
The whole film takes it lead from it’s leading man, laid back yet supremely confident, adding wry twists to established tropes. We’ve seen characters learn to fly before, but Tony’s test flight where he hovers over his car collection is exhilarating. The other set pieces may lack appropriate threat (taking out a tank with a mere flick of a wrist missile proves Stark is no more in danger than Roger Moore’s James Bond at any given point) but are relentlessly cooler than polar bear poop.
In fact the flashy confidence the movie displays feels warmly reminiscent of the flashy 90’s action epics put out by Simpson & Bruckheimer, especially in Ramen (Game Of Thrones) Djawadi’s thumping score.
However, if anything else, it’s the quietly subversive nature of Iron Man that has made the most impact, the casual flinging away of established genre rules to rise above tired tropes. With the defiant final shot of Tony Stark cheekily and gleefully announcing his secret identity to a roomful of reporters Marvel threw the rulebook away, free to plan their universe how they wanted with THAT post credits sting announcing a statement of intent that rocks Hollywood to this day.
He is Iron Man.
We, are grateful.