Over the past decade, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown into the most successful movie franchise of all-time. There’s been almost two dozen films released under the Marvel Studios banner, all of which have succeeded with critics, fans and at the box office. It all began with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man though, which was released almost 11 years ago in 2008.
The film starred Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, who blew the world away with his compelling performance. Now, it’s hard to even imagine any other actor filling these heavy iron boots. With Avengers: Endgame set to feature Downey Jr. portraying the beloved Marvel Comics character for the final time, it’s an opportune chance to look back at the first Iron Man film, which still manages to hold up to today’s standards.
Right off the bat, one of the biggest ways to exhibit the greatness of Iron Man is the opening scene. Three humvees are seen driving across the desert in a war-torn Afghanistan, AC/DC is bumping in the background and the tone is already set after a quick yet playful interaction between Tony Stark and three U.S. soldiers.
All of a sudden, BOOM, an explosion’s set off and the film quickly descends into chaos. There’s a great moment where Tony pulls out his phone in an attempt to contact someone when a missile lands right beside him. Viewers can clearly see the fear on Stark’s face in one shot as the next cleverly zooms in on the Stark Industries logo pasted on his shiny weapon seconds before it explodes.
Tony’s seen laying in the sand and bleeding from his chest when it cuts to the next moment where he appears to be a prisoner of a group of terrorists inside a cave. There’s a metal clanking sound effect as the gold-plated IRON MAN title transitions onto the screen. Within the initial four minutes, the tone is set, viewers are drawn in and have already become familiar with the character of Tony Stark.
This is a prime example of Favreau’s remarkable filmmaking, which is prominently showcased from start to finish. The editing, pacing and script work are top-notch, setting an almost impossibly high bar for subsequent Marvel directors to reach. The visual style is so strikingly raw, which pairs nicely with the grounded storytelling (at least by the standards of a comic book movie starring a man flying around in a tin can).
Also, the 11-year old blockbuster still looks great today with its revolutionary use of computer-generated effects. Consequent Marvel Cinematic Universe films have become extremely reliant on the use of CGI in order to build a world of superheroes, which is arguably necessary to tell some of the more outlandish and bigger stories featured in movies such as Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War, but they haven’t gone without their criticisms. Favreau sparingly used special effects in the right places, giving Iron Man a polished and authentic look that was a real breath of fresh air while revisiting this Marvel entry.
Another way Iron Man is placed at a giant advantage by being the earliest MCU episode is that it feels like its own independent story and it doesn’t come off as if it’s setting up a dozen future installments. Besides the iconic post-credit scene featuring Nick Fury telling Tony Stark about the Avengers Initiative along with a few hidden Easter eggs, this movie is solid within its own boundaries. The fact that it spawned a multi-billion dollar franchise is a huge bonus and another great reason for fans to appreciate the film. Almost every comic book movie today feels busy and overcrowded, while Iron Man is given the time to flesh out its storylines and characters to its full capacity.
Also, more than any other installment, a sense of realism is present as real-world questions are answered. If there was a man flying around in a highly dangerous and advanced suit made of iron, it’d be safe to bet that the military would be on high alert. Also, as illustrated by reporter Leslie Bibb, the press and the people aren’t too blind to put the puzzle pieces together when it comes to the events of the film. Given all of this, the movie is still a smooth transition into The Avengers and the larger connected universe it kicked off.
With the 21 films that comprise Kevin Feige’s ever-growing franchise, Iron Man is still one of the finest entries as it thoroughly stood the test of time. While the two sequels that followed weren’t as universally-praised, Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark went on to be one of the most popular Marvel superhero performances, and fans can finally see how his story concludes in Avengers: Endgame on April 26th.