Iron Man (2008): breakdown by Rorschach94
A selfish billionaire learns a lesson about humanity after building a robot suit and killing terrorists, and decides to become a humanitarian by building a deadlier robot suit and killing more terrorists.
Marvel Comics, deciding they could make more money if they cut out the middle man and released their own films, formed their own production company, Marvel Studios, and decided to release a series of films, dedicated to jumpstarting a project that would lead to a future Avengers movie. They decided to take a risk in adapting the long-running Iron Man series into a movie as their first project, despite the fact that few people actually knew who Iron Man was. Inexplicably, they took an even greater series of risks, hiring a washed-out actor and a director who had never directed anything close to an action movie (Unless, of course, you count Elf as an action movie. I can see where that argument could be made.) But all of the risks paid off. Big time. Iron Man turned out to be one of the most successful Marvel movies ever, and I dare say one of the best, though it is not a film without flaws.
Iron Man made the choice to, instead of being an explosion-based action movie, be a character-based action movie, following in the footsteps of the Spider-Man franchise. Well, the first two, anyway. I’m not sure what the hell the third Spider-Man movies based around. Campiness, maybe? I’m getting off topic. Because of it’s focus, Iron Man is a much better movie than it was expected to be, and by far a better movie than it should have been, but it wasn’t the action movie I was hoping for. There is some good action, and the action scenes feature some of the most memorable moments in the movie, but there are only a few of them, and they are quite short.
The action scenes being the film’s main weakness, it’s main strength comes from the performances of it’s cast. Robert Downey Jr. gives a fantastic performance as Iron Man, and is probably the driving force behind the films success. The supporting cast is great too, though the choice of casting for the villain is a little questionable. More on that later.
One thing that the movie doesn’t lack, is fan-service for us nerds. There are tons of references sprinkled throughout to the Avengers. For instance, you probably know about Captain America’s shield, hidden in the background of a scene in Tony’s lab.
There is also the name of the terrorist cell that captures Tony, the Ten Rings, a subtle reference to Iron Man’s long-time comic book nemesis The Mandarin, though I’m still not sure how a terrorist organization in Afghanistan could be related to a Chinese supervillain. Disappointingly, the Mandarin was not the main villain of the sequel, but here’s hoping that he shows up in the third movie. There aren’t that many Iron Man villains anyway. Also, Samuel Motherucking Jackson shows up after the credits as Nick Fury. Now that’s fucking fan-service right there.
[THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THEIR BADASSITUDE]
The (Super) Hero:
Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark is Iron Man
It’s not really fair to call him Iron Man yet, since this is an origin story, and he’s only in the main armor twice in the movie, both sequences being pretty short. So Tony Stark starts the movie as an asshole, a greedy, selfish businessman who’s life revolves around the accusation of wealth and women. It’s not until he is captured by terrorists and sees who his weapons are ending up with that he has a change of heart, and decides to change his life. In capture, he is forced to build a set of new missiles his company designed, a new type of ballistic missiles called Jerichos. Why the terrorists believed he could build something that he probably never had anything to do with desigining, and that was probably never built by anybody by hand, I’m not sure. But the terrorists do get dumber, as they allow him to build a suit of robot armor right under their noses without anyone getting suspicious.
He proceeds to bust his way out of there, crushing skulls a flamethrowing terrorists all the way through the caves. In short, he fights his way to freedom, and once back in the outside world decides to build another suit and become a superhero. You’d think at this point it would be all Iron Man destroying things, but it’s not, there is a lot of buildup between his decision to build the suit and his first mission as Iron Man, and even when he makes it to a small village to finish off the terrorists who kidnapped him and save the town, the action is still disappointingly brief.
The point is that Iron Man is not as badass as he could have been. He’s a very likeable character, well-developed over the course of the movie, but he never descends into the territory of being a badass. The movie which had the potential to be an action-packed version of a flying RoboCop blowing things up is never really explored, as he only becomes a superhero twice in the movie. When the action does start, the badassness does start flowing, but never quite enough to satisfy me.
The (Super) Villain:
Jeff “The Dude” Bridges is Obadiah Stane is The Iron Monger
An odd choice to play a supervillain if I’ve ever seen one, I still find it hard to watch Bridges in this movie without hearing The Dude from The Big Lebowski.
Despite that, Bridges gives a pretty great performance as Obadiah Stane, Tony’s mentor turned nemesis. He doesn’t really turn into a supervillain until the end of the movie, when he finally dons the Iron Monger armor and faces off with Iron Man, but he still manages to give the character a creepy edge, even when he’s playing the good guy. I never quite found him believable as a supervillain, and he never really does anything particularly badass in the movie, but he gives a good performance nonetheless.
Faran Tahir is Raza, Leader of the Ten Rings
While he doesn’t really have a huge part in the movie, I though this guy was worth mentioning, as he gives a great performance as the onscreen leader of the Ten Rings. A clearly intelligent man, far too smart for his profession, he’s by far the most threatening of the bunch, and overall I think gave a better villain performance than Jeff Bridges did. With him left alive at the end of the movie, I hope we get a chance to see him again in Iron Man 3 alongside the Mandarin.
[THE SEX AND VIOLENCE]
Dudesweat and Machismo:
With the 80s and 90s long gone, the age of sweaty, muscley, shirtless men beating each other up and shooting each other with massive guns is over, and most homoeroticism in action movies is gone. No more do men embrace each other or compliment each other’s muscles or wear skin-tight clothing, or throw one liners at each other that could easily be used as gay pick-up lines. Oh well.
Exploitation and Misogyny:
At the beginning of the film, Tony is something of a womanizer, bedding women and turning flight attendants into strippers, but once he has his change of heart, his way with women mostly disappears. There is still one classic moment where Tony walks by a woman at a party who asks:
“Hey Tony, remember me?”
To which he replies: “Sure don’t.”
But other than that, the film is mostly respectful towards women. Tony’s secretary Pepper even gets the final kill of the movie, taking out Obadiah Stane. Pssh, yeah I know. A woman being helpful! How absurd…
Murder by Numbers: 
There is a lot of death for the lack of action in this movie. The Ten Rings take out an entire squad of American soldiers at the beginning of the movie, and Tony takes out most of the Ten Rings in his escape and then later at the village. While the violence is mostly gun-fire, the are some deaths by concussion, as Tony in the Mark-I Iron Man suit smashes skulls on his way through the caves. There are also deaths by flamethrower, and at one point he shoots 7 hostage-holding terrorists at once.
Most Satisfying Ass-Kicking and/or Death:
You might think I’d put Obadiah Stane here, considering it’s the only real fight in the movie, but Tony actually loses that fight pretty badly, and Pepper is the one who kills him. So instead I’ll pick the unfortunate tank gunman who Tony blows up in the big terrorist fight scene. The tank fires a missile at Tony, which he dodges. In return, he fires a small missile at the tank, and blows it the hell up while walking away without looking back. It’s probably the most clichéd moment in the film, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t love it.
Epic Moment and Best One-Liner:
Payback’s a Bitch
After Iron Man takes out over a dozen of the Ten Rings, their leader hides behind a brick wall and tries to make phone call. Suddenly, an iron fist punches through the wall, and he is yanked outwards and thrown to a vengeful crowd of villagers. Tony flies away and utters, “He’s all yours.”
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Having a change of heart about how many people are dying because of your weapons means you should just build a better weapon and kill the people using your weapons. Justice! Also, you can totally turn small-time superheroes into successful movies. Just ask the producers of Green Lantern…