2.5/4, 2000s, Action, Marvel, Review

Iron Man

Image result for iron man banner 2008

#12 in my Ranking of The MCU Phases 1-3.

I know what Tony Stark’s character arc is supposed to be in this movie. I do not know what it actually is, though.

Tony Stark is a weapons manufacturer who works on contracts from the United States government. He starts the movie finishing a large sale for a new missile called the Jericho. It produces its large explosions, the military is happy, and Tony makes his sale. His convoy is quickly beset by terrorist forces, Stark is captured, and the terrorists force him to produce a Jericho missile for them in a cave with some leftover Stark weapons they have sitting around. The idea that they have the right materials for a new weapon system from older weapons is a bit ridiculous, but it’s probably not quite as ridiculous as the idea that these same weapons have the parts to create a state of the art, miniature, perpetual source of energy that fits into a slot in Tony’s chest. But hey, it’s a techno-fantasy. Let’s just roll with it.

Tony produces a suit of armor instead because his captors are idiots who can’t tell the difference between a chest plate and a missile casing. With the help of a kindly local doctor who speaks every language the plot requires of him, Tony escapes. It helps that the doctor has the perfect mix of wanting to live long enough to help Tony and wanting to die to join his family in death so he throws his life away to help Tony escape.

Tony returns home where he immediately holds a press conference and declares that Stark Industries will never produce weapons again. Everyone freaks out, but then everyone forgets about it about twenty minutes later when Tony just never shows up to work in order to ensure that his radical orders get carried out. Instead, he stays in his mansion over a cliff looking out at the ocean and plays with his toys. That is, he upgrades his cave suit for the 21st century and gives himself a new miraculous source of eternal energy for his chest (ordering the old one, which could conceivably power a house for some time, to be thrown out).

Okay, so let’s take a step back and try to figure out what Tony’s arc is. He starts the movie as a playboy arms dealer. He gets captured and realizes that his weapons are being sold to terrorists. He gets home and starts the process (without ever following up) to end all weapons manufacture in his company. He then proceeds to build his own weapon in the form of a high-tech suit which he then uses to kill a bunch of people, protecting some family we’ve never met before.  So, what’s the arc? He almost grows and then doesn’t? He starts as a playboy and ends as a…murderous playboy? Yeah, he protects people, so I guess that’s it, using his tools for good instead of just not paying attention to who uses them. It’s confused and thin.

Oh, and let’s get to the antagonist of the film, Obadiah Stane. Stane makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. There are really two parts to his villainy, so let’s take it one at a time. The first part occurs before the action of the movie. He arranges for Tony to be kidnapped and murdered by the terrorists before Tony ever leaves. Why? The closest we get is that Tony doesn’t take the business side of things seriously. He doesn’t show up to an awards ceremony. I mean, I guess that’s good enough reason to murder the CEO and lifelong friend. The second part of the characters villainy occurs after Tony returns from the caves. Obviously, Stane isn’t going to like the idea of Stark shutting down a major division of the company, but he actually ends up ensuring that the steps Tony wants to happen never happen. There’s a shock to the system (highlighted by talk of the company’s stock price dropping), but once Tony’s in his little lab working (for supposedly weeks), things seem to be going on as normal at Stark Industries. So, of course Stane recreates Tony’s original suit in a larger form and goes on a kill crazy rampage which only Tony can stop.

Stane has bugged me since I first saw this movie in 2008, and I just can’t shake the fact that there must be at least ten minutes of deleted scenes explaining a lot of this. But whether they’re on a home video release as extras or not, all that matters is what’s in the movie itself, and the movie chose to make Stane completely nonsensical (probably for “pacing” reasons).

Alright, I’ve ragged on this movie enough. I’m far from hating it. The action is good. Robert Downey Jr. is fun as Stark and carries most of the movie despite my problems with Tony’s arc. It looks good in a clean and straightforward sort of way. The music is functionally complimentary to the action on screen. If you ignore the fact that none of the characters do anything that makes a lick of sense, it’s actually fairly entertaining when it’s not being overly serious. I remember liking this movie a whole lot more in 2008 than now, though I never loved it like many people do. Eleven years later, rewatching it for the first time in about a decade, I have to say that I was actually really disappointed in it overall.

Netflix Rating: 3/5

Quality Rating: 2.5/4

6 thoughts on “Iron Man”

  1. I remember liking this one, though I haven’t seen it in years. I remember NOT liking Iron Man 2–that was when Sam Rockwell really started to annoy me. In the commentary, Favreau says Rockwell almost played Tony Stark. Gah…though it does make it a lot more plausible that Stane would want to kill him…

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    1. I remember liking the movie a whole lot more than I did on this go around. I think it’s Tony. He’s a fun personality, and he’s fun to watch. However, I’m now convinced that they used Downey Jr. to paper over narrative problems (like making Tony Stark’s journey actually move from point A to B), and the audience was okay with it because they got some good chuckles in.

      I’m not opposed to some good chuckles, but it’d be nice if the movie that those good chuckles are in made a bit more sense.

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  2. I like Iron Man quite a bit. Yes, mostly due to the portrayal of Tony Stark. You can’t really divorce Tony Stark from Robert Downey Jr. Both have a history of wild living and the redemption of Tony Stark, such as it is, can’t really be removed from the redemption of RDJ*. RDJ makes us believe that Tony really is that smart, that quick-witted, that arrogant, that successful.

    Iron Man is aspiration in a way no other Marvel hero is**. To quote an old cliche, Women want him, Men want to BE him. The character is grounded in reality in a way the subsequent movies are not. There are no other super heroes running around in Iron Man. The War on Terror is still in full swing. There are no aliens, no gods, no monsters. Just humans and technology. The closest we get to this environment of near-reality is in Cap 2.

    I like the 10 Rings as an antagonist. I won’t bother to defend Stane, who is dumb and has a dumb butt. But the 10 Rings…that had potential. They feel real, real as MS 13, the Cartels and ISIS. They could have been the terrorist version of Hydra, until they fucked that up in Iron Man 3.

    What I enjoyed most was the experimentation and iterations of the Iron Man suit. We see Tony Stark BECOMING Iron Man. That’s your arc. It’s the birth of Iron Man, not really about the redemption of Tony, not yet. (That’s probably the Ur-arc of the character) It’s a superhero origin story done right. And from that angle, I don’t think it’s been equaled.

    *Who was unemployable until Mel Gibson basically saved his career, hiring him when no one else gave two shits about him.

    **Besides my spirit guide, The Punisher.

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    1. I appreciate the grounded nature of the aesthetic, but I still see the whole thing as techno fantasy. And the use of a realistic terrorist organization seems underdone because of how intermittently they actually get involved in the story.

      Once Tony’s out of the cave, he only interacts with them again when he decides to give them a good pounding.

      My problem with the arc is that I see a difference between him toying with his suit to make it work and him deciding to be an proactive member of society against evil. The toying with the suit feels like something he’s doing just to kill time. There’s never a real feeling that he’s doing it for any other reason than to dick around until he’s pretty much done and watches the news. As he’s sitting there, toying with the arm piece with a super serious face on, that’s the first time he’s considered the outside world since Stane sent him packing from Stark Industries several scenes before.

      It’s that disconnect that kinda kills the movie a bit for me.

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