Beginning what would become the largest film franchise ever built – Iron Man (2008) follows suit, building an iconic character, a theatrical world, and a positively entertaining approach to how superhero films are made.
Iron Man follows the story of Tony Stark, an eccentric billionaire who builds super-weapons for a living. In this film Tony is taken hostage and in order to escape he must fight his way out by creating a weapon like no other.
Iron Man not only marked the beginning of a long and successful franchise, it also stands as one of Marvel’s best character origin stories ever produced. With lead actor (and now legend) Robert Downey Jr. standing as an icon in the halls of superhero fame as one of the most charismatically embodied performances ever seen in superhero film history. From his dazzling charm and wit, to his carefree attitude, the image of Downey Jr. and Tony Stark are now inseparable and practically interchangeable from one another. While this film in its base elements is by no means a deep or complex narrative, the villain, while better than standard Marvel affair still rings with a typical unimpressive taste, however Jeff Bridges more than makes up for this character’s dullness by imposing his tall and threatening demeanor in his performance. Ultimately the mixture between the sheer quality of acting by Downey Jr. and the focus on characters or heroes with flaws shines a light onto the inspiration Iron Man took from recent superhero films produced.
Christopher Nolan started a trend of bleaker and more life-like reimaginings of the superhero genre, spurring a trend that gave Iron Man the opportunity to properly come to life. Jon Favreau, Bridges, and Downey Jr. and of course Kevin Feige were almost solely responsible for the creation of the entire MCU through the success of Iron Man; improvising the script and many of the plot points of the entire film, often on the day of shooting with no official script in hand they worked as a unit to make this film work.
This film is by no means perfect, the pacing may be shaky in first two acts, and some supporting characters lack intrigue, but what it had done wrong was overshadowed by Downey’s sheer presence on screen.
The visual effects focussed on creating a more realistic and gritty tone than campier superhero films made just a year before, such as Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007); a move away from this sickly brightness helped audiences take the film and future franchise more seriously. The support of the strong soundtrack from composer Ramin Djawadi songs featured by the band Black Sabbath also helped give this film a true identity.
Above all, what makes this film significant is not just Downey’s performance, it’s that it established a tone for future films with a palatable balance of action, intensity, comedy, and charisma, essentially building foundations for extensive possibilities in filmmaking and carving a path for a franchise that would grow into a worldwide phenomenon.