“Jarvis, sometimes you’ve got to run before you can walk.” – Tony Stark
And run they did. After filing for bankruptcy in 1996 and selling the film rights for some of Marvel Comics‘ most beloved characters to other distributors such as Sony (Spider-Man), Paramount (Hulk), and 21st Century Fox (X-Men, Fantastic Four, Daredevil), Marvel Studios had one final card to play. The choice to go with Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man in the 2008 superhero flick was controversial at the time, but now is viewed as one of the most important casting decisions in movie history.
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear, if anyone besides RDJ landed the role of the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, the world of film and television would look nothing like it does today. While other actors in consideration such as Timothy Olyphant, Tom Cruise, and Nicolas Cage could have done a passable job, there is simply no chance they would’ve adopted the same electric charisma as Robert Downey Jr. Only the trio of RDJ, Jon Favreau, and Kevin Feige are capable of delivering the instant classic that is 2008’s Iron Man, which set off a chain of events that changed the world forever.
Iron Man review: A marvel of superhero storytelling that’s aged like fine wine
It’s common for superhero films from the 2000s to feel incredibly outdated upon rewatch, but this is not the case with 2008’s Iron Man. This film is often remembered for kick-starting the Marvel Cinematic Universe into becoming the most successful movie franchise of all time, by a long shot. However, even if Iron Man stood alone outside a larger cinematic world, it should also be acknowledged as one of the greatest comic book movies of all time.
What makes this film special is that anyone, at anytime, can turn on this movie and fully appreciate it for what it is. There’s no background knowledge required, no comic books you need to read beforehand. In a world where mediocre comic book movies are so common, the phrase “it’s good for a comic book movie” is thrown around a lot these days. Even today, 2008’s Iron Man is not just a great movie by comic book movie standards, but a phenomenal film loaded with heart and witty performances that’s written and paced to absolute perfection.
If it’s been a while since you’ve seen this film, which is understandable given it’s now 15 years old, it’s more than worth a rewatch. Iron Man’s strongest attributes will never age out of style. With a 2:07 runtime, there is not a bit of wasted space, and it isn’t littered with scenes crying out for several extra minutes that were cut out for unknown reasons. Iron Man makes perfect use of everything the film had to work with, and it never strays away from what works so incredibly well at the center of it all, and that’s Robert Downey Jr.
The way this film utilizes humor should be studied for years to come. The biggest indictment for comedy with any movie is when you’re actively aware of it, and when you can see it coming. In Iron Man, the flow of laughter from has never felt more natural. Robert Downey Jr.’s ability to bounce hilarious one-liners off each of his scene partners showcases a chemistry that feels as if it’s been building for years.
From the first act cave sequence to the final battle against Obadiah Stane’s (Jeff Bridges) Iron Monger, every fight feels authentic and grounded, despite the technology on display not existing in the real world. There is no giant, super space CGI battle for the fate of the world waiting at the end of this film. The stakes for each action sequence feel incredibly personal and real, and Iron Man builds towards its final battle flawlessly with the execution of the story and the rising simmer of tension between Tony and Obadiah.
I would be remiss to not praise Iron Man’s stellar writing and pacing more than once. There’s a special flow from scene to scene that’s rarely found in superhero movies nowadays. It’s not littered with flashbacks, or trying to tell the same story on two different timelines. Only a pure focus on Tony Stark’s journey from the second he arrives in that cave until he announces himself as Iron Man on the podium at the film’s end.
Although Robert Downey Jr. is the catalyst that drives this entire film forward at every turn, he’s not alone in giving an incredible performance in 2008’s Iron Man. Both Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow are on top of their game, serving vastly different purposes, but both equally stellar. Bridges’ ability to deliver spine-chilling lines without raising his voice a single octave is superb, and Paltrow stands toe to toe with RDJ in some of the movie’s most tense moments, showcasing an immense display of talent.
The legacy of ‘Iron Man’
As mentioned before, the importance of 2008’s Iron Man cannot be overstated. It has a claim to being the most important movie ever released, because of what came as a result of it and how it drastically changed the movie landscape. Not only that, while Iron Man’s success paved the way for a new era in the filmmaking world, its failure would have done the same had it not delivered to the level it did.
Iron Man’s success begun a chain reaction of box office hits and critical acclaim for superhero films on such a grand scale that it still garners attempts at replication today, 15 years later. One successful entry always raises the question, “what’s next?” as movie studios take their one moment and try to stretch it out into a connected cinematic universe, before it quickly comes crumbling down. The landscape has changed so much that plans for entangled worlds and projects are often laid out before seeing the public reception to the first project. A recipe for disaster, as seen many times.
Another component of Iron Man’s legacy lies with the mass production of comic book movies seen today. In 2008, there were only a few major comic book movie releases besides Iron Man, such as The Dark Knight, The Punisher, and The Incredible Hulk. A far cry from the ridiculous output of comic book movies in 2023, which currently lies at eight theatrical releases following the recent delay of Sony’s Kraven the Hunter to 2024. Whether you feel there is an over saturation in the market for superhero movies or not, everything happening in the world of comic book filmmaking today can be traced back to 2008’s Iron Man.
10 Iron Man fun facts
- When Robert Downey Jr. showed up for his screen test as Tony Stark, he was advised to wear a suit to help make a great first impression. At the time there was still a negative connotation surrounding his name due to his former struggle with addiction.
- The character of Tony Stark is actually based on a real person, Howard Hughes. Stan Lee once said of Hughes, “He was one of the most colorful men of our time. He was an inventor, an adventurer, a multibillionaire, a ladies man, and a nutcase.”
- J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony’s complex AI assistant who is voiced by Paul Bettany, is not an acronym condensing an extraordinarily complex name. It merely stands for “Just A Rather Very Intelligent System”.
- The Iron Man suit is made up of around 450 different pieces.
- The opening montage of Tony Stark’s life story, created by Kyle Cooper, uses real photos of Robert Downey Jr. and his father.
- Director Jon Favreau deliberately shot the film on the west coast in hopes of achieving a different vibe, as he felt too many superhero movies were set on the east coast, particularly New York.
- Paul Bettany has never watched Iron Man, claiming it was the easiest job of his life as he only worked for two weeks.
- When Jon Favreau was hired as director, he celebrated by going on a diet and losing 70 pounds.
- Over 30 writers all passed on Iron Man, as they felt the character was a poor choice to build a comic book film around and the project was sure to fail.
- The script was only partially complete when Iron Man began filming. The creators wanted to focus more on action, so the actors had the freedom to improvise a great many lines in the film.
An outstanding movie in its own right, ‘Iron Man’ will live on forever as a brilliant risk that paid off big time
There are not enough compliments to pay 2008’s Iron Man. It birthed a massively successful cinematic universe, established Robert Downey Jr. as one of the best casting choices in cinema history, and is capable of existing on its own as an incredible movie.
It’s not hyperbole to say this movie and Robert Downey Jr.’s subsequent performances as Iron Man defined the earlier parts of my life. I tried to base my entire personality around his character, and I looked up to him almost as a father figure. As someone who’s been a fan of the MCU since its conception, I owe much of my happiness and times of escape in my life to the success and creative brilliance of this very movie.
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'Iron Man' Review'Iron Man' Review
- Robert Downey Jr. is unreal
- Well paced and well written
- Incredibly fun
- Humor that works every time
- Deeply personal stakes throughout the film
- Not a single thing