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Remember 2008? 11 years ago and a lot happened that year, The Dark Knight was released, Heath Ledger tragically passed away, and Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American President of the United States, confirming that racism is over. But something else happened that year that perhaps at the time may not have been seen as that significant; Iron Man was released.
The possibility of an Iron Man movie had been discussed for decades prior, with one time Tom Cruise expressing an interest in playing Tony Stark, and even Quentin Tarantino being approached to write and direct an Iron Man movie. All this, of course, was before Marvel Studios announced in 2005 that it intended for Iron Man to be its first independent production.
Back then, nobody really had any idea of what the first Iron Man movie would be like, or that it would be the first in 10 years worth of movies that would develop into one of the most successful movie franchises in cinema history; the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The idea of the MCU was something Kevin Feige had from the beginning, years before the release of Iron Man, and as Marvel still owned the movie rights to the core Avengers heroes, Iron Man was going to be the start of something big, yet the success and future of the MCU all hinged on the performance of Iron Man.
With Robert Downey Jr. in the title role, this symbolised a massive risk on Marvel's part. While RDJ at the time was known as an exceptional actor, he was also known as being a bit of a loose cannon, with his history of drinking and drug abuse, and his criminal record. So with a roll of the dice, Marvel produced Iron Man and it was released in the USA on May 2, 2008.
Directed by Jon Favreau, one thing that is noticeable about the film from the off is just how different the film looks in terms of style. With a budget of $140 million, the film looks as flash as you would expect for a movie centred around a billionaire playboy philanthropist, but there's an element to it that feels a lot more real and a lot more grounded than most familiar with the MCU will appreciate. In recent years, the CGI has gotten flashier, the action more fast paced, and the settings a fair bit more bizarre, but in a lot of ways, Iron Man is a human story.
Stark (RDJ) is CEO of Stark Industries, a weapons manufacturer, who is in Afghanistan to show off his new weapon, the Jericho. While there, his convoy is attacked, and Stark kidnapped by terrorist cell "The Ten Rings," who force him to build for them this Jericho weapon. While held captive, he builds the first Iron Man suit which would be the basis for his escape.
After he escapes, Stark enters on a bit of a moral journey as he announces that his company will no longer build weapons after seeing the damage they can do first hand, then retreats into the basement of his mansion to develop a newer, and better, Iron Man suit to fight the forces of evil.
A large portion of the film is not based around action set-pieces, but moments that show Stark's character development from a self-obsessed, narcissistic prick, to someone who truly wants to do good and better the world, even to the detriment of himself, and his company. In fact, we only see him suiting up as the upgraded Iron Man for a short time in the film, once when he goes back to Afghanistan to attack those who kidnapped him, and then in the final act as he takes on Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges).
The focus on character, rather than action, is in my view what makes this film so captivating, and what makes it feel so real. We're given time to experience the friendship between Stark and Rhodey (Terrence Howard), his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and his business partnership with Stane. This focus on character makes the moments he suits up as Iron Man and truly battles the bad guys that much more enjoyable an experience. We get to witness this transformation of a character that many have commented reflects a transformation in the personality of RDJ.
Filled with the quips we've come to know and love, the first Iron Man movie is one hell of a ride. And its success, bringing in $585 million at the box office, meant that the MCU could continue to grow. This was a tiny snowflake, in what would snowball into a massive avalanche of cinematic joy that the MCU would become. If you have never seen this, but have watched other films within the MCU, then you are truly missing out, as it's not only the first, but it's one of the best.
If you want to experience Iron Man for yourself, it's available now on Blu-Ray