In light of the recently released “Iron Man” sequel, I recently re-watched the first “Iron Man” movie starring Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow. Although many superhero movies are goofy and clichéd, “Iron Man” stands out as a solid example of what a smart superhero film looks like.
If you have not seen it, “Iron Man” tells the story of Tony Stark, a man largely known because his company is a massively successful weapons manufacturer. Stark is a talented builder, a charismatic leader and an egotistical playboy, and he is brought to life by the talented Robert Downey Jr. He is an icon to many (including members of the military who use his weapons) but loathed by others who detest his success at building and selling weapons.
In the beginning of the film, Stark is taken hostage by a group of terrorists in Afghanistan and is forced to build a weapon for them. Instead he decides to build a metal suit built with weapons inside of it in order to break out of the cave where he’s imprisoned. He makes his escape and when he returns to the United States, he starts to build a better, stronger “Iron Man” suit. The movie chronicles him building the protective suit and using it to fight against thea man who has betrayed him.
One of the strongest aspects of the film is Tony Stark himself. Stark is not a typical superhero for the big screen. He is a rich, egocentric businessman who helps manufacture weaponry used by the military. He is a playboy — smooth and eccentric and willing to take risks. If the character was less fully realized, it would definitely be easy to dislike Stark but in “Iron Man,” it is difficult to.
As with some other strong superhero movies (such as “Batman Begins”), “Iron Man” focuses on how Tony Stark became “Iron Man.” The training and suit testing scenes are well-done and highly entertaining. From the scenes when Stark starts building a suit to escape imprisonment to the scenes where Stark is trying to get his suit to lift off without causing his home to burn down, this movie seeks to capture how Tony Stark, the weapons builder, became “Iron Man,” the superhero embodiment of a man who understands the power and necessity of modern weaponry.
In terms of a political angle, the movie definitely understands how weapons and modern technology can serve people. At times, Tony Stark does seem to become more of a pacifist but he realizes that weapons can be used for good if they are handled correctly and placed in the hands of individuals who are responsible. Ultimately, the movie celebrates rather than criticizes a man who uses machines and weaponry to fight bad guys with few qualms about it.
Lastly, the ending of the movie is definitely also one of its best parts. For those who have not seen it (and I would recommend you do), I won’t ruin the ending. However, I will note that most superhero movies follow a certain pattern about the identity of the superhero. The people who made this film recognized the typical superhero identity road to take and completely ignored it choosing to go their own way.
Although “Iron Man” is not as great as some other superhero movies (“The Dark Knight” and “Superman II” come to mind as superior films), it is very good and lays a solid foundation for the story of Tony Stark. Unfortunately, although “Iron Man 2” was a solid film, it was not as good as the original.
Let’s hope that future “Iron Man” films live up to the full potential of the original.