Marvel’s journey into total movie domination begins with a single step.
This post, originally written in 2008, was edited and annotated in 2018.
Last night, I finally joined the rest of the country and went to see Iron Man. Here’s what I’m thinking…
1 | Why it’s resonating
Ultimately, the reason this movie is a giant success isn’t just because it’s a comic book movie, and those always do well. (2018 Sam says: If we only knew how many would be coming…) Its success will transcend that because this movie is actually really, really good.
2 | The origin story
As far as superhero origin stories go, I always prefer the ordinary-guy-with-extraordinary-gadget route (Batman, Iron Man) to the crazy-otherworldly-shit-makes-him-super route (Spider-Man, Superman, pretty much everyone else). I like Iron Man’s grounding in reality — weapons manufacturer gets kidnapped, sees his weapons used for evil, has a crisis of conscience, goes out to fix the mess he’s made. It’s actually brilliant in its simplicity. (2018 Sam says: It’s banality like this that made me more or less abandon movie reviews on this site rather quickly.)
3 | Robert Downey Jr.
As eight billion reviewers before me have already said, Robert Downey Jr. was, somehow, the perfect actor to be Iron Man. (Although he may sell the cocky asshole aspect of the character a little too strong at the beginning). He plays the character’s arc properly, though… and, in the end, I don’t think Hollywood types will be able to pull a Batman with this movie franchise and keep swapping lead actors in and out. Downey encapsulated Iron Man so correctly that I just can’t see anyone else coming close. (2018 Sam says: I guess this is true, as he’s gone on to play the role in seven subsequent films and counting.)
4 | The Net effect
I’m wondering if all the technology in the movie — the fun glass walls of computer info, the glowing neon blue security systems, etc. — is going to hold up when people watch this in the future. All of the tech stuff looks cool now… but is it going to be comically corny in a decade? Two decades? Just watch The Net sometimes and see what I’m talking about. And regardless of whether the computer screens look outdated in a decade or two… the Iron Man versus Giant, Evil Iron Man battle is guaranteed to. That has Godzilla versus Rodan versus Mothra written all over it. (2018 Sam says: Every time I order a pizza online, I think of The Net. Its vision of online pizza ordering finally came true for me, two decades later. As I recall, though, in The Net, the pizza website had a secret link to some kind of underground dark web predecessor. Maybe I should rewatch The Net.)
5 | Product placement
It was very clear after the movie that Audi and Burger King had paid for some product placement. The fact that everyone drove Audis made that abundantly clear… and the product placed Burger King cheeseburger became a plot point. But then again, I watched a bunch of seasons of The Apprentice — compared to the product placement in those things, Iron Man looks like it has the restraint of a monk. (2018 Sam says: If only unabashed product placement was The Apprentice‘s worst contribution to society.)
6 | The bad guy
Earlier, I talked about how much I liked Iron Man’s clear, logical and strong motivation. Unfortunately, I can’t quite say the same for Jeff Bridges’s character. Usually, a bad guy has to have some primary motivation for his evildoing. Whether it’s money, power, revenge… whatever. Give me something. Jeff Bridges had a little bit of all three… not enough for any to be the big motivation… which made his quick change to being the supreme evil bad guy in the giant iron suit slightly disingenuous.
I wish that it had been clearer. Did he want Stark Industries all to himself? Did he want to be the richest man in the world? Did he just always resent Tony for being a genius and/or getting to take over the company at age 21? Pick one and ride it hard. I want my bad guy motivation to be a burrito, not tapas. (2018 Sam says: The idea of bad guy motivation would eventually become a strength for Marvel. Black Panther did one of the best jobs with bad guy motivation/psychology as any comic book movie ever.)
7 | Stereotyping
I feel really bad for Middle Eastern actors. At this point, it must feel to them like at least three-quarters of the roles they get to go out for are “Terrorist #2”. I’m sure a lot of them know each other. “Hey, I didn’t know you would be in this cave in Iron Man!” “Yeah, I haven’t seen you since last season of 24! How’s the family? Did you ever end up selling your Acura?” (2018 Sam says: Has this changed in a decade?)
8 | The new Cold War?
As I understand it, when Iron Man was created, the whole thing was a huge Cold War allegory. And, by changing approximately 15 words in the script, the new Iron Man was seamlessly shifted into an Afghanistan/Iraq/U.S. warmongering allegory. Could make you think. If the movie screen wasn’t constantly distracting you with awesome shiny things. (2018 Sam says: I can’t tell if this was insightful or just a pastiche of insightfulness.)
9 | Death becomes whom?
I was unclear on how Tony Stark survived the giant Independence Day blast at the end. Also, did Jeff Bridges officially die? Or does this fall under the rule that, unless you see the body, no one’s officially dead (and sometimes, not even then)? Eh. Details. No one else seemed concerned by this, so I won’t be either. (2018 Sam says: Yeah, he’s dead. And he missed out on quite a run of films as a result. If only he’d known, he would’ve pushed for the Loki treatment.)
10 | Post-credits scene
I’d read about this huge surprise twist at the end of the credits, so we stuck around to see it. What happens: Samuel L. Jackson shows up to recruit Iron Man to be part of the Avengers. So there’s going to be some huge movie with a ton of superheroes working together, sometime in the next three or four years. I don’t know. Something about that feels desperate to me… very jumping the shark. Kind of like when they did that edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire with all celebrities. The show was never the same after that. I feel like that’s what will happen here — once you tell us that some bad guys are so bad that it takes the collective effort of five superheroes to beat them, how can any of those franchises go back to being solo. (2018 Sam says: Hmm. It’s interesting to see where my mind was. I’m not sure if the Avengers movies did jump the shark, as some solo superhero movies have still worked quite well afterward. If anything is making comic book movies jump the shark it’s oversaturation — eventually we’re going to get tired of them. Right?)
11 | The score
And finally, this movie was so infinitely better than any of the Spider-Mans, I just can’t even describe it. I’m actually looking forward to seeing what they do with Iron Man 2, where half the movie isn’t about his origin story and building his suit… and we can see him him action. Overall, I’m giving Iron Man a fantastic nine points out of 11. (2018 Sam says: The movie launched a trillion-dollar franchise. I’m pretty sure Marvel will be cool that I didn’t give them the full 11.)