“I am Iron Man.” With one phrase the era of great superhero films was back and Marvel had succeeded with someone previously viewed as a second rate character. It’s hard to believe 12 years and 20-plus movies after its initial release, but there were once doubts about the success of “Iron Man” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
This is one of the longest running and most financially successful franchises in movie history and it all started with a talented actor who had been in trouble with the law so much, he wasn’t even the highest paid actor on the film he was leading. Robert Downey Jr. has had many run-ins with the law due to drug issues. His talent was undeniable, but everyone doubted whether he would stay clean. This movie kick-started his personal renaissance that took him from questionable choice to the highest paid actor in Hollywood.
Let’s be clear, in hindsight, Downey’s casting is absolutely perfect. He perfectly encapsulates Tony Stark. He’s the right amount of arrogance and charm to make you love and hate him. I’m grateful Downey was able to get his life clean, because we’ve needed him along for the ride these 12 years. While Steve Rogers comes across as too much of the perfect, clean-cut hero, Tony Stark steps up as the flawed man who doesn’t want the mantle of hero, but must take it.
A big step in the right direction for this film was also the casting of Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane. He’s another actor who exudes talent in every role he plays, and this film is no exception. I found it easy to believe that Stane was Stark’s friend who eventually turned on him out of jealousy and greed. The only shocking thing is when I first realized it was Jeff Bridges playing the role. I’m so used to seeing Bridges with a full head of hair, so seeing him shaved bald was a bit jarring at first, but he’s Jeff Bridge and made me forget it. Plus, Jeff Bridges is the only person in history to ever look cool riding a Segway.
The plot is simple to follow, as it is with most origin story superhero films, but it’s still one of the best ever made. There’s very few risks taken, but starting a long running movie franchise needs some safe options along the way and Marvel Studios managed to do that here. As the MCU continued, plots would become more intricate, but that wasn’t needed here. This needed to be simple and to the point, and it’s perfectly made that way.
Iron Man was a curious choice to lead the MCU, but Marvel had little choice. Bad business dealings had forced the company into dire financial straits and it had to sell of its more well-known characters to other studios. With Spider-man, the X-Men, Blade and the Fantastic Four out of the loop, Iron Man wound up being the best option moving forward and 12 years later, it’s still going strong.