Retro Reviews: Iron Man (2008)


Brian Sandler, Contributing Writer

Given that the title of the review series is called “Retro Reviews,” it’s only fitting to ask the audience to rewind their minds to the ancient time of April 2008.

A percentage of the audience was in college, George W. Bush was President, Donald Trump was still the abrasive businessman TV star, Blockbuster was still open and if someone told you there was going to be a superhero film series that combined the worlds of all the greats, from Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Thor, you would probably ask if they got enough sleep last night.

Besides the most astute comic aficionados, who even knew about those four?

Well, taking risks can’t always be a bad thing. Who is playing the titular hero in this movie?

Robert Downey Jr.

“Robert Downey Jr?! The drug addict?! The guy who stars in Disney family movies now with Tim Allen?! That would never work!”

Oh, how we were wrong, extremely wrong. Ten years later and millions of more dollars in his bank account, Robert Downey Jr. certainly got the last laugh in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But, as a rightfully inquisitive person may ask, how did this happen?

Iron Man, which stars Robert Downey Jr as billionaire playboy industrialist Tony Stark, is in many ways your obligatory origin story. A normal guy suffers an accident, gains powers or “rad” gadgets, plays around with them for a while, then defeats the foe who often has a connection to them.

Is this a groundbreaking plot structure? No. Is it executed well? Yes. Let’s discover why.

The movie begins in war-torn Afghanistan where Stark is demonstrating weaponry for his company, Stark Industries. He is a typical tycoon jerk, full of himself, has a sarcastic comment for everything and yet is still irresistibly charismatic.

His normal life comes to a close, however, when he is badly injured during an attack by terrorists, ironically with a bomb labeled “Stark Industries.” Shrapnel becomes lodged in his chest as he is kidnapped and taken hostage by the Ten Rings, who order him to build a weapon. A local captive named Yen Sid helps Stark create a suit to escape, which he does in spectacular fashion.

Eventually, Stark returns to the United States, traumatized from his earlier capture and a near-death experience, at the hands of his own company’s weaponry, and he renounces his role as a weapons manufacturer and demands Stark Industries to shut down production entirely.

All is good. Everyone is happy, right? Wrong!

Tony’s longtime business associate, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) is not happy. He argues that it is a company tradition to build weapons and thinks that by not doing so, their profits will be destroyed. Tony does not listen, while keeping his newly built iron suit a secret, much to Stane’s frustration.

During this time, Tony uses his suit to help others in countries where his weapons once caused destruction. Only his associate Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) and best friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard) know about his covert activities.

Stane finally has had enough and decides to steal Tony’s plans to build a suit of his own. The two duel above the headquarters, with Tony coming out victorious, as Stane falls to his death. The next day, Tony, who cannot convince the press that he is not Iron Man, admits that he totally is Iron Man.

After a sea of credits, a mysterious figure approaches Tony, by the name of Nick Fury. He says he wants to assemble a “little team.” While comic mega-fans know this was likely a reference to the Avengers, how likely was it that an Avengers movie would follow? Impossible pipe dream, 99% of the audience thought.

Again, ten years later, they ate their words.

As origin stories go, Iron Man is one of the best. It features a great combination of action, humor and a gripping story, all while playing around with typical origin story tropes. Tony manages to be a likable protagonist without being a typical self-righteous goody-goody and, while Obadiah Stane might not be among the likes of the Joker, Green Goblin and Lex Luthor, he is still an acceptable villain who manages to get a few good lines in.

With the franchise now over ten years old, Iron Man still deserves a visit from both avid comic book fans and newcomers to the genre.