By 2008, there were already a bunch of Marvel movies on the market, all presented as a big mixed cluster of varying quality and quantity. After pulling itself together as its own studio, Marvel kicked off Phase 1 of its new movie-making universe with Iron Man.
From start to finish, this is one cool film. It is very sharply-made, with a very slick and high-quality look and feel. It’s evenly-paced, with equal parts color, comedy, and action. And when the action hits, it is really cool stuff, without going too far overboard. Among Iron Man’s heroics, my favorite scene shows him rocketing to the other side of the world, to use his high-tech suit to beat up violent extremists to protect the innocent (blowing up a tank in the process, before being pursued by American jets in a great high-speed air chase scene). The film’s climax features an all-out fight between two high-powered suits, during which there’s plenty of mass destruction. Even when there aren’t guns and rockets going off, the film is still a blast with its colorful inter-character exchanges, funny suit-testing scenes, tense inter-corporate conspiracies.
The story this film tells is a great one. The origins of Iron Man is inherently compelling, as it takes a greedy, narcissistic arms dealer and flips him on his head to turn him into a hero. The film does so by plunging the character into the heart of the very problems he’s created (in a war-town part of the world nonetheless). Once Tony Stark dedicates himself to being Iron Man, the conflict shifts to him confronting everybody else around him. Through all the struggles he endures, the film lays out rich characterization and interesting thematic material worth exploring.
This film looks splendid, with quality photography and editing. Acting is quite spot-on: Robert Downey Jr. is perfectly cast as the title character, and he remains iconic through every other Marvel project he’s in from here on out. Gweneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Shaun Toub, and everybody else is great to watch as well. Writing is pretty good and sharp. This production uses spectacular-looking sets, props, and costumes. Most special effects hold up well, and are awesome to behold. Ramin Djawadi’s music score is pretty cool too.
The first Iron Man film has everything you can ask for in a superhero film: thrilling action, amusing humor, a decent story, and characters we can care about. Even after having numerous other Marvel films come out since, this is still the biggest must-see of the lot.
9 out of 10 stars