It’s hard to imagine a time when Iron Man wasn’t such an iconic figure for Marvel Studios, but I didn’t really know much about Iron Man before this film. This is the film that surprised everyone, and got them invested in the character.
The arc reactor is explained as an old piece of technology that can power up devices and such. But Stark is able to take something old, innovate it, and make it relevant. It lies in the heart of his Iron Man suit, and it represents exactly what this movie is. It takes something old, innovates it, and makes it relevant.
The origin story of superheros share a lot in common with the tales of classic Greek mythology. Stories of beings with superhuman abilities. The hero’s quest consists of growing up without the guidance of one or both parents and having to overcome adversity in order to demonstrate self-worth.
Throughout the film, there is much talk about legacy and the impact Tony Stark will leave behind. Comforted by numerous awards and accolades, Stark finally gets his eyes peeled open when he is held captive by an Afghan rebel group called the Ten Rings. It is here when Stark makes the technological innovation necessary to keep the shrapnel shell shards from entering his heart while supplying the power necessary for his first prototype Iron Man suit.
In terms of storytelling, the traditional elements of an origin story are handled with great ease and proficiency. Yinsen, a character who helps Stark overcome the intellectual challenge of building a robot suit, has the presence of Uncle Ben from the Spider-Man movies, as he drives Tony Stark to become more responsible with his gifts and talents in lieu of his death.
There is an ensemble of characters who help Tony through his transformation process, not unlike Bruce Wayne from Batman Begins, all played sufficiently by Gwyneth Paltrow as assistant Pepper Potts and Terrence Howard as army colonel James Rhodes. The stand-out actor here though has to be Robert Downey Jr. who has firmly entrenched himself as the definitive Tony Stark.
What this movie offers that no other superhero movie offers, however, is its innovative take on the hero himself. Tony Stark is an alcoholic. He gambles. He’s notorious with woman, consistently shows up late, doesn’t remember birthdays, and isn’t particularly noble. But that just makes him all the more fascinating as a character. In his own words, “I’m just not the hero type, clearly, with this laundry list of character defects and all the mistakes I’ve made.” And of course, the very next thing he does is reveal that he is Iron Man. That is how the movie ends folks!
While there isn’t many action sequences for this movie to rely on, the visual effects are stunning and could have easily carried the movie by itself. Director Jon Favreau, however, gives us something to chew on with an unpredictable hero to both hate and love. In tandem with Favreau’s snappy, quick-witted script, it makes for a superhero experience unlike any other. There are weaknesses to be found in the villain and in the third act of the film, but the origin story is so fresh and simultaneously done so well that it makes it easy to forgive. This one deservingly put both Iron Man and Marvel Studios on the map.