The first Marvel movie remains, imo, one of the best. Released in 2008, its audience had little idea what was in store for them and so it didn’t carry the burden of expectation which has spoiled later movies (I’m looking at you, Age of Ultron.)
Its premise is bad-boy-turns-good; billionaire genius inventor, Tony Stark is conducting weapons tests overseas when he’s kidnapped by terrorists and realises the hell he’s helped to unleash in the past. Though not straight away. That would be too easy. Tony has a lot of issues to deal with, not least the shrapnel in his chest which is threatening to kill him.
I doubt I have to explain the plot much further – after all, Iron Man has been out 11 years. We all know about the arc reactor which keeps the shrapnel from reaching Tony’s heart, we all know that he escapes capture by building an armoured suit and, when he returns to America and witnesses more of what his company’s weapons has done, refines the suit and uses it to combat terrorism.
What’s interesting is looking at Tony in retrospect. Yes, he undergoes a sea change in terms of understanding that the actions of Stark Industries has consequences, yet character-wise he doesn’t change overly much. Though the audience doesn’t become privy to his ghosts, they are heavily hinted at and are exacerbated further by Obadiah Stane’s betrayal. Tony appears to ride the wave, but most of his arrogance is bluster and self-depreciating humour.
His brush with death also makes him dangerously gung-ho – as funny as the scenes where he tries out the suit are, the whole lone wolf thing is incredibly stupid when you think about it. He is risking his life with no thought to how his death will effect people. Although he stands up at the press conference at the end of the movie and declares “I am Iron Man”, he’s not. He’s a bloke in a suit. He’s not grasped that he can be a hero on the inside. This is why, in The Avengers, Iron Man is passed but Tony isn’t.
But I’m getting ahead of the plot.
As a whole, Iron Man is great. With all the threads which come into play later in the MCU, it’s brilliant. Of course, we didn’t realise this at the time; it’s only over the years, as each movie built on the last, that the bigger picture became clear. In light of that, we know how important a movie it was. Had it failed, we’d not be at the endgame now (see what I did there?)
The cast is perfect. In particular, Robert Downey Jr embodies Tony Stark to the point the line between them seems blurred. It’s interesting that even the odd, throwaway characters end up having a larger part to play. Iron Man is definitely holds its cards close to its chest, but still fulfills all we asked of it. It’s a movie where the storytelling is outstanding – answering the necessary questions to make the end satisfactory while leaving enough unanswered for later movies. It is the foundation of the MCU and is exactly as solid as it needed to be.