Iron Man (2008) Movie Review - Robert Downey Jr changed the Superhero landscape

Updated: Oct 10

Jon Favreau's Iron Man is widely considered the first film and the saving grace of the juggernaut that is now the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The 2008 box-office smash hit lead by superstars Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow rewrote the boundaries for superhero movies yet again and established the groundwork for Marvel Studios to grow decades ahead of their heroic rivals at DC Films (Warner Bros. Entertainment). Ironically, the cultural obsession with superheros was re-sparked with DC's widely successful The Dark Knight series by visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan which dominated Iron Man at the box office at release. While Iron Man is no where near the same level as Nolan masterful work with Batman, from an iconic staple in film-making perspective that is, Favreau's Iron Man revision is somehow more fun and easier to watch than its rival, with more colourful sets, simple and lovable characters, and textbook story structure designed to glide the ride, not shake it.

Iron Man tells the story of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), a world famous engineer and wealthy enterprising womaniser who runs his late fathers billion-dollar empire of supplying advance weaponry to the U.S. government. The plot begins with a demonstration in the Middle East of Stark Industries latest weapon developments as Stark delivers a sales pitch to the US Military. The sales tour is cut short when Stark is ambushed and kidnapped by a terrorist group who demand he build them an advanced missile, holding him up in cave somewhere in a war-torn part of the country.


However, Stark secretly builds a suit of weapon equipped armour and uses it to escape the terrorist hold through a wave for hell fire. Once rescued and back in America, Stark has a new outlook on life after seeing his weapons and family name used in evil ways - such as murdering innocent civilians. He announces that his company will no longer build weapons and instead use their technology to build a better world. This however is met with backlash from the mainstream media and his board of directors who try and oust him of his controlling role at the company. On the side, Stark attempts to build on the concept of the suit which saved him in the terrorist cave. Unlike in the cave, Stark is inspired to let the suit become a peacekeeping project and uses his knowledge of tech and AI to improve the technologies in it to protect the vulnerable from terrorists. The suit quickly becomes a unstoppable weapon to which only Stark has the keys. Iron Man is born.

Downey's performance as Tony Stark sets a new standard of 'becoming the character your play'. His delivery of straight lines with a glimmer of humour and self awareness encompassing the true dimensions of the beloved comic-book icon. Even twelve years later (in 2020), Downey is still know as 'Iron Man'; not just the actor who portrayed him in the movies. This is a true testament to the superstars portrayal from the start and the dimensions Downey gives to the role. Since, Downey has reprised the role in eight additional films; Iron Man 2 (2010), The Avengers (2012), Iron Man 3 (2013), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019).

Side-kicking the hero is an incredibly deep performance by Academy Award winner Gwyneth Paltrow, who takes on the billionaire's quirky 'will-they-won't-they' assistant Pepper Potts beautifully in more ways than one. The actor brings so much more to the role than the direct plot required, building on a character who would otherwise be notoriously servant and two dimensional, and transforming the cliche into a strong, free willed woman with aspirations, depth, and opinions of her own. There is multiple Potts in the film, showing the many faces of the character and the complexity Paltrow brings. Simply said, it's a stunning performance .


While most of the characters are layered in Iron Man, the instalment's villain 'Iron Monger' portrayed by Jeff Bridges, is not. With a cigar in one hand and gleaming billionaire ambition from the very beginning, the audience knows this guy is evil. However, the simplicity of the character Bridge's portrays perfectly aligns with the film objective - tell the story of Tony Stark, not the Iron Monger. While in most post-2008 superhero movies in the MCU the villain is built up with depth and a complex backstory reminiscent of the comic books they use for source material, the Iron Monger in Iron Man is just a 'bad dude' who is only interested in money and destruction. Bridges, an incredible actor in his own right, takes nothing away from the film's ultimate objective and lets the spotlight shine on the future rather than himself.

Iron Man opened the door for the MCU to become the highest grossing film franchise in cinematic history, but also it made superheros fun and cool again. Through a colourful, simple story of a billionaire turned philanthropist, even though audiences know exactly what will happen with the predicable plot plagued with 'Heroes Journey' cliches. While everyone will really enjoy the wild (violent) ride Iron Man takes you on, above all, it leaves you with a hook into the MCU. Downey's encompassing of Tony Stark helped bring fandom of Marvel back with the most unlikely of superheros, delivering a standout performance from the start to finish and opening the world of Marvel gracefully. A timeless instalment and well made film designed perfectly to bring joy to viewers for many decades to come.


Grade: B+

© 2020 by Scott Murphy.