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Directed by Jon Favreau and based on the Marvel comic of the same name, this first in the series introduces us to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), a hyper-confident player with incredible intelligence and an ego to match. Once caught by the Ten Rings terrorists organization, he is told the only way to earn his freedom is to design a missile system for them as well. The only reason is he still alive, after his convoy was ambushed, is because a fellow prisoner fitted him with an electromagnet device to keep a piece of shrapnel from slipping into his heart. Using that technology to secretly build an arc reactor, Stark assembles the first Iron Man suit and escapes. What follows is him evolving that original suit and harnessing the true power of the arc reactor to allow future suits to fire beams of energy and even fly at great speed. He succeeds and it’s not long after that others want to get their hands on that power.
Downey Jr. is almost entirely responsible for why the film works, his timing and personality a perfect fit for the character. A hero who doesn’t shy away from the spotlight, Stark is a cocky and obnoxious know-it-all but ever-so likable as his heart remains on the side of good. With some solid supporting roles, including Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, his assistant and semi-love interest, and Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane, Stark’s partner with a different vision of what the arc tech means for the company, Iron Man truly soars. These characters and the depth for which we get to know Stark and his motivations make the film a standout, not relying on incredible special effects to carry the film but rather using them as layers to build upon the excellent story. Favreau shows great patience in allowing the plot to unfold and gives us just the right amount of time to become invested in Stark and the reasons for why things are happening. Exciting and challenging, but mostly very satisfying, Iron Man is the best in the series and the start of a second career for Downey Jr.
As Stark works on the suit in the cave, his captors think he is designing the missile system. When the time comes to make his way out of his prison, he suits up, and makes his way along the dank well-guarded catacombs to the cave entrance. Here, a phalanx of soldiers are waiting, guns pointed at the approaching Stark. When he emerges, his very footfalls thundering the ground beneath his feet, they open fire and spray the suit with a heavy volley of bullets. None have effect. A slight pause drifts between the man in the suit and the terrorists below. Then Stark says, “My turn,” raising his arms and unleashing two massive streams of fire onto the unsuspecting men. In the chaos, they scramble and burn as Stark takes his first steps toward freedom and legend.
We’ve followed Stark for a bit now, seen his playboy ways and slippery smooth tongue get him what he wants when he wants. He’s a man of vocal action that has great skill in using his words to woo and coo, wine and dine, buy and sell. Always dapper and of the highest style, he is GQ and refined. In the cave, all that has been stripped and he is near death. To survive, he must use those same verbal skills and intelligence but it will require strength as well to make it all the way. He learns a lot about what that means and the heart it takes to become strong, even when that very heart is kept alive by his own invention. Stark transforms in the shadows of his prison, seeing that a man without options has a powerful opportunity. We came to see the origin of the superhero, and while the character is much more than the suit, it is the suit that makes him great. Or so we believe. What we learn in the cave is that while the armor shields Stark from death and the weapons within make him more than the soldier’s equal, Iron Man is more than the suit. It is the diligence, the fortitude, the will to survive that earns Stark the name. The moniker may describes the armor’s materials but more so defines the person inside. At the mouth of the cave, when his opportunity to escape lies before him, it is the Iron Man inside the suit that faces his fears, his only choice, and takes back what is rightfully his: freedom. It’s a crucial moment for the character and for the first time, gives the audience watching the necessary reason to get behind the man.
Mark Fergus (screenplay), Hawk Ostby (screenplay)
Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard