Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Second Look - Iron Man (2008)

Note: This review contains spoilers related to Iron Man (2008) and The Avengers (2012).

In 2008, Marvel Studios released their first live-action film, Iron Man. Though the project was a risk for a number of reasons, its success propelled the studio to new heights and their continued success with the Marvel Cinematic Universe would help reshape the cinematic landscape, for better or worse. With their most recent film, Avengers: Infinity War (2018) now out in theaters, we at Trophy Unlocked have decided to take another look back at Iron Man in celebration of its 10th anniversary and see just how well it’s held up after all these years.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), CEO of defense contractor Stark Industries, is in war-torn Afghanistan with Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes (Terrence Howard) to demonstrate the company’s latest weapon, the devastating Jericho missile, to the U.S. military. Soon after, however, Stark’s convoy is attacked and he becomes implanted with shrapnel from one of his own company’s weapons. The terrorist organization the Ten Rings captures and imprisons Stark in a cave, where he is forced to construct a Jericho missile using stockpiled Stark Industries weapons. Though Tony is able to escape with aid from Yinsen (Shaun Toub), a captive doctor who helped him construct a miniature arc reactor to keep the shrapnel away from his heart, he decides to shift his company’s focus away from weapons and figure out just how the terrorists got their hands on his technology in the first place.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) before his personal transformation.

After 10 years, the story holds up pretty well. The major characters are very three-dimensional from the moment they’re introduced and while the actual dialogue was largely improvised, the characters remain consistent and true to themselves throughout. As a result, Tony Stark’s personal transformation is believable and Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) is a memorable villain who is very capable at using Tony’s trust in him to his own advantage. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Yinsen and Colonel Rhodes are also strong supporting characters due largely in part to how they interact with Stark and how well they serve the overall story. In addition, the plot is pretty easy to follow and is enough to keep viewers engaged for over two hours. The setting is also grounded very well within reality and the various twists and turns, while perhaps old hat at this point in the MCU, are handled well enough to enjoy this movie in a vacuum.

Along with the story, the special effects have also held up surprisingly well considering their age. The designs of the Iron Man suits, including Iron Monger, have a timeless quality to them and their interactions within the world are still convincing. One smaller scene that has aged especially well is one where Pepper Potts has to replace an arc reactor within Tony’s chest by reaching into a chest cavity to remove one wire and insert another.

Iron Man is also good at balancing its humorous and serious moments. The best way to describe this is that it’s serious when it needs to be and it’s funny when it feels appropriate to add a bit of levity to a scene. This balanced approach, along with the improvised dialogue, allows the film to include a rather famous line from Obadiah Stane. When frustrated at the inability of Stark Industries scientists to recreate the arc reactor technology, he yells, “Tony Stark was able this in a cave! With a box of scraps!” This line stands out not only for Jeff Bridges’ delivery, but also because it sums up how truly gifted Tony Stark is.

"Tony Stark was able to build this in a cave! With a box of scraps!"

One thing that’s hard to discuss, however, is the music. While the score does match the tone when you can detect it, including a guitar riff that repeats a couple times, it’s not really memorable. The licensed tracks, on the other hand, especially AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, really stand out and gel well with the energetic atmosphere of the film. My only complaint with the use of “Iron Man”, however, is that they don’t play the entire track.

At the time that Iron Man came out, it was facing somewhat of an uphill battle. In order to get funding for the project, Marvel had put up the rest of their film rights as collateral, meaning that if they failed, the bank would own their remaining properties. Additionally, Director Jon Favreau’s previous film, Zathura, was a box office flop (about $64 million earned against a budget of $65 million) and Robert Downey Jr., though a talented and successful actor in his own right, was more known at the time for his past addictions and run-ins with the law. When Iron Man became both a critical and financial success, the rest of the MCU became a true possibility.

Iron Man also helped, both directly and indirectly, to reshape the Hollywood landscape. The film’s more grounded and realistic approach to a superhero movie, as well as the shifting of the character’s origin from the Vietnam War to the War in Afghanistan, helped the movie stand out from its contemporaries and gave it a more modern feeling. Tony Stark’s declaration at the end of the movie, “The truth is…I am Iron Man,” also felt fresh at the time, as unlike many other superheroes, he had forgone the notion of a secret identity and publicly embraced his image as Iron Man. The film’s role as the launchpad for the MCU also contributed toward the buildup for The Avengers, which was so successful in its unique approach to storytelling, particularly as a crossover between multiple properties, that it would change how Hollywood approached short and long-form storytelling, for better or worse.

Part of the legacy of Iron Man also involves actor Clark Gregg, who plays S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson. This movie introduced Coulson to the greater Marvel multiverse and Gregg’s performance helped the character become rather popular. So popular, in fact, that not only does Coulson show up in later films within Phase One of the MCU, but soon after his death in The Avengers (2012), he was brought back to life for a lead role in ABC’s television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which thus far has yet to make a real impact on any of the films.

Clark Gregg would get a lot of mileage out of
his role as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson.

On the subject of S.H.I.E.L.D., however, there is a very noticeable retcon within the MCU that’s worth mentioning. In Iron Man, the way Agent Coulson talks about S.H.I.E.L.D. makes them come off as a rather new organization that had yet to really nail down their name. Beginning with Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), however, S.H.I.E.L.D. is established as having existed since WWII and named after Captain America’s weapon of choice.

Those who watch Iron Man will also notice that a short sequence takes place at the Disney Concert Hall. This small moment turned out to be highly prophetic once Disney had bought Marvel Entertainment in 2009 for about $4 billion. This deal would cause some friction with Paramount Pictures, who at the time had a six-picture distribution deal with Marvel Studios, save for The Incredible Hulk (2008); Universal Pictures still owns the distribution rights to the property. After Disney purchased Marvel, they later bought the distribution rights to The Avengers and Iron Man 3 (2013) from Paramount, but they still had to display the Paramount logo on those films.

Another enduring part of Iron Man’s legacy is the post-credits sequence where Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) shows up to discuss the Avengers Initiative with Stark. This sequence would not only kick off the buildup to The Avengers, but also create a trend where Marvel would end every film with some kind of mid- or post-credits sequence (save for Age of Ultron (2015), which has no post-credits sequence), with some like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) reaching up to five end-credits sequences. Outside of Marvel, however, the impact of Iron Man’s post-credits sequence would eventually lead to other studios including such sequences in their films for one reason or another, which has essentially trained audiences to stay even after the movie is finished in the hopes of getting a surprise; in my own experience, I’ve seen more people complain when there isn’t some kind of post-credits sequence.

The moment that started it all.

Even 10 years later, Iron Man is not only a good superhero movie, but a great movie in its own right. The more grounded and realistic approach to the story and world help it stand out from other superhero films and the performances of the actors help the characters feel three-dimensional and their dialogue natural. The special effects still hold up well to this day, but the original score hardly feels present or memorable. Though Marvel Studios would ultimately copy a lot of elements from Iron Man for later MCU films, their first outing is still one of their best and is perfectly enjoyable in a vacuum (even with the post-credits scene). If you’re in the mood for a good action movie, Iron Man is sure to satisfy.

No comments:

Post a Comment