Plot: Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is the head of the corporate empire known as Stark Industries, which has allowed him to amass a huge fortune and luxurious lifestyle, thanks to the insane profits from the company’s weapons division. The company has other products and Stark loves to research all kinds of bleeding edge tech, but they money pours in from the weapon development areas. After he showcases a new, highly destructive weapon for his prospective buyers, he takes a ride and soon, blacks out and wakes up as a prisoner in a dank cave. He is ordered to replicate the new weapon for the terrorists who have him imprisoned and in order to ensure success, he has been given a new heart, a mechanical one. He resists of course, but soon it becomes clear that if he doesn’t at least pretend to cooperate, he won’t have a chance to survive. But can Stark use his talents with tech to engineer some kind of long shot chance to escape, or will this cave be his tomb?
Entertainment Value: This is where the Marvel Cinematic Universe began, on the back of a not all that popular superhero and with Marvel taking a substantial risk, though one that would pay off in massive ways. Although I love the comic book source material, I have never been much of a fan of the Marvel movies, but to me, Iron Man was not only the first, but one of the best. The narrative provides us with an original story and the lead in for a web of superhero cinema, but never feels rushed or drawn out, thanks to a spot on pace. The cave scenes are slower of course, but allow the exposition that leads to Stark’s shift in persona, which is crucial. And once Stark emerges from the cave, things move at a brisk step and the groundwork is laid for not just Iron Man sequels, but all of the heroes to follow. This is simple, straight forward narrative, a skilled cast, and a comic book style feel, all of the elements you need for a superhero flick. It has some issues of course, with the narrative depth limited by the origin elements and some jank visual effects, but more good than bad here.
One of the reasons Iron Man works so well is Robert Downey, Jr., as he is easily the best casting choice from all the Marvel movies and to me, is the ideal choice to take on the role of Tony Stark. The darker aspects of Stark’s persona are mostly glosses over, but it is still an interesting parallel between the actor and the character. He looks the part and carries himself with the kind of swagger you’d expect from Stark, he is a natural for the part and his performance is terrific. Jeff Bridges isn’t a memorable villain, but he has his moments and does what he can with what he is given. The same is true for most of the cast, as the focus is on Downey and with good reason, but that limits the depth the others are provided. Gwyneth Paltrow makes the most of her screen time as Pepper Potts, while Terrence Howard and Leslie Bibb are also solid in smaller roles. I have never liked the Coulson character, so I won’t say much about Clark Gregg’s work here. The action is sparse, but packs a punch when it does arrive and while the CGI is rough, it is still better than most of the Marvel universe. For movies with massive budgets, this series never seems to strive to spend it on quality visual effects, but at least the ones in Iron Man are passable. I might not be a fan of the flood of cookie cutter Marvel movies that would float out in the wake of Iron Man, but I still think this first installment is a rock solid one.