Iron Man
May 3, 2008

Simply put, this is the best superhero movie ever.

I realized, watching this story of a self-obsessed super-rich genius, that the problem with most superheroes is that they’re completely egotistical. Most can do things no one else can, so there’s some justification for it, but all believe that they’re above the law and a force unto themselves. Iron Man brings that superhuman approach down to the realistic level, because its lead character has always been that way, and so there’s much less distinction between the two “identities”.

Iron Man poster

Who else but Robert Downey, Jr. could play Tony Stark? His charm stays the right side of obnoxious, you believe him as a hard-living playboy, and his self-possession is very sexy. (The mustache and goatee are elegantly devilish, and the man is incredibly good-looking.) He’s also excellent at the humor that makes this so entertaining — when he, surprised in a compromising situation by Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), says something to the effect of “Let’s be honest, this isn’t the worst thing you’ve caught me doing,” it’s hilarious (and the mind reels). Some of my favorite bits were during the test sequences, when he keeps smashing himself into the walls.

The special effects are astounding, and this is the first film (yes, even counting Superman) to perfectly capture what must be the sheer exhilaration of self-powered flight. I did have some quibbles — that must be amazingly padded armor, to have him take some of those crashes without breaking any bones. And I couldn’t believe that no one ever made him go see a proper doctor, or that everyone was so blase’ that he now effectively had a nuclear reactor implanted in his chest. But my “wait a minute” moments were quickly superseded by the sheer wonder at what I was seeing.

Yes, there are only two women in the film (not counting a brief but funny early scene that’s there just to show how much of a hound dog Stark is), the loyal assistant and the pushy reporter (Leslie Bibb). Both are well-trodden paths, both bring little new to the screen (except, apparently, a new fashion trend for 7! inch heels). Both at least contribute some small necessity to the plot, even if too often they’re simple devices. Unfortunately, that’s also part of the genre.

I also wasn’t impressed by Rhodey, played by Terrence Howard. I know stiff and official was part of the character, but I didn’t get much sense of any person beyond that, although he was pretty to look at. Jeff Bridges, as Obidiah Stane (whom I’d never heard of before) had this bushy beard balancing out a huge bald cranium! Apparently he is from the comics and that is a faithful look to the character. It’s definitely distinctive, and Bridges is excellent as well. I did love that director Jon Favreau also played Hogan the chauffeur, in a couple of brief scenes. And I liked the agent I’m going to call Jasper, who sets up the potential of the Marvel universe but doesn’t get in the way.

At the end of the movie, as the credits rolled, I immediately wanted more. (First truly surprising ending in a LONG while, although perfectly in keeping with the character.) I was immensely curious to see what happened next. Since that’s not possible, I’m going to see it again tomorrow. At that point, I’ll probably think more closely about the politics — right now, I’m left with the idea that making weapons is bad only if the bad guys buy them when you don’t want them to. The message is muddled, but that’s not really the focus. It’s one guy’s coming-of-age (at a welcome middle age) story, without much consideration to the bigger picture, although it’s definitely more powerful for the setting to be of today, with Middle Eastern warlords hiding in caves.

Mostly, I liked that, while there was plenty of action, the character and his motivations and growth came first. The story had a definite emotional arc, which made the movie even more satisfying. And they did a great job keeping the focus on the man inside the suit. Surprisingly, Tony Stark has replaced Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in my affections.

Oh, there’s one more reason why I liked it: it seemed so modern and real. As I left the theater, I got into my electrically powered Prius with its display screen and back-up camera. I picked up my smartphone, which gives me internet access anywhere, and I felt a certain kinship with a superhero who talks on his cellphone while ducking fighter jets.

41 Responses  
Augie De Blieck Jr. writes:  

Funny enough, it’s the political angle of the movie that bothered me. After Tony Stark discovered how his weapons got into the hands of the wrong people and he personally corrected the situation, he stuck to his new party line, which was completely undone by his actions already. It’s a warm and fuzzy thing to stop making “weapons of war,” though horribly naive and short-sighted. Even worse, there wasn’t a problem beyond one guy at the top of the company abusing his power. This wasn’t even a case of the government selling arms under the table or a systemic issue. This is one crooked guy meeting clandestinely to arrange for the purchase and shipment of these weapsons. All Tony Stark needs to do to maintain his family’s legacy and his company is to put better checks in place and carefully monitor what’s going on inside his company.

Tony Stark needs his own Sarbanes-Oxley. ;-)

That said, I loved the movie. It was FUN and never left me looking at my watch. It didn’t stop moving and had a great sense of humor.

Jeff Hebert writes:  

Totally agreed with every word of that review, Johanna. I just got back from seeing it myself and am pretty sure I’d rank it as the best super hero movie ever as well, although I need a second screening to be sure I want to go that far.

I also agree with Augie above, that the move was well-paced. So much time is usually taken up in super hero movies with just introducing people and concepts and setting up backstory, but none of that intruded on things in Iron Man. It all just hummed along nicely and felt very natural.

The dialog in particular struck me as snappy, funny, and extremely well done. I was surprised that Favreau hadn’t written any of it, as it had a very “Swingers” kind of feel to it.

TimCallahan writes:  

I loved the movie, and so did my two kids.

For me, though, the politics and the guilt about the weapons was just a way for the Stark character to justify his technology fetish and get it on with the Iron Man armor. He’s a hero for the thrill, and the guilt stuff is just for show.

Johanna writes:  

Yeah, I was surprised to see it was over two hours, because it never dragged. And I do find it interesting that the problem is one rogue actor, which is resolved through another rogue actor. If anything, it’s an argument for individualism over collective action or government.

Alan Sepinwall writes:  

Johanna, I hope you stayed until the end of the credits the first time — and, if you didn’t, you should definitely do so this time, as there’s a bonus scene at the end that gives you a very good idea of where this is going next.

Johanna writes:  

Yeah, I actually found the previous ending more exciting, though. I’m more curious about how that will play out.

Ralf Haring writes:  

I agree that the ending was note perfect (the real one and the after-the-credits one), but I don’t think I would consider the movie one of the best superhero movies ever. To me, it was lacking a really good villain. Jeff Bridges was just adequate. Downey was spot-on and all the scenes with Iron Man proper looked great. The standout was the jet fight, although it should really have been the Iron Monger one. In that respect it’s similar to Ang Lee’s Hulk movie, the final action scene didn’t have enough oomph. I think there were a few too many scenes of Stark-building-stuff-in-a-lab. I get it, he’s a genius who can build stuff real good-like. :-)

Good show crediting Don Heck and Larry Lieber as creators of Iron Man as well.

My favorites remain Spider-Man 2 and X-Men 2, so that give me hope for Iron Man 2.

Johanna writes:  

I haven’t seen Spider-Man 2 yet (but that I haven’t felt compelled to do so probably says where it ranks in my ratings :) ). X-Men 2 — nah, this was better. I liked that the action scenes weren’t overlong to the point they got boring, myself. And I liked seeing him work to get what he wanted.

Matthew Craig writes:  

Iron Man is probably a bit better than X2, but Spider-Man 2 pips them both. Of course, I can’t bloody watch it anymore, thank you very much Spider-Man 3, but it’s really quite lovely in places.

That said, the Best Superhero Movie Ever is still Yuen Woo-Ping’s IRON MONKEY. Based on a real person!

I liked “Jasper,” too, funnily enough.


Joan writes:  

Ha! You’re the fourth female blogger or reviewer I’ve seen comment on Pepper’s shoes, and yet, not a single male one has said a thing. Funny thing. But holy cats, did they ever leap off the screen at me. Owwww. And considering that Gwynnie’s not exactly petite, and RDJ is not a big guy, they’re so unnecessary. Just painful!

I’m so glad the movie turned out as completely awesome as it did, though. I’ve been a devoted RDJ fan since his “Tuff Turf”/”Weird Science” days, and he’s come so far in recent years. I love seeing him get a really big, shiny, _good_ leading man success to put beside all the great work in tiny movies he’s been doing. And since I’ve also been a devoted Iron Man fan pretty much my entire life (yes, even still- my love is older and tougher than Queseda and co. *g*), it’s awesome to see him get a big win, too. ‘Bout time.

Happily it looks like it’s making a boatload of money, so with luck, we’ll get that sequel. I want more! And I want a DVD with lots of extras, like, yesterday. What a great feeling!

Blog@Newsarama » Quote, Unquote writes:  

[…] of self-powered flight.” – Johanna Draper Carlson, surprising the hell out of me by loving the film so much she announced her intention to see the film a second time the next day. I’m […]

James Schee writes:  

On the shoes thing… I didn’t notice anyone’s shoes in the movie outside of Tony’ Iron Man suit boots.

I’ll just say this about the movie. I don’t think I’ve ver read more than 2 consecutive issues of Iron Man in my life. Yet this movie has made me pretty curious about the character.

Darn a small bladder on my date and the real rundown state of the bathrooms. We left with the first ending, before the end of the credits.

Steve Lieber writes:  

I think this is the first superhero movie I’ve seen where the out-of-costume scenes were every bit as much fun as the super-explodey action

Jim Kakalios writes:  

I spotted the seven inch heels myself, and it was the first thing my teenage daughter and wife mentioned after the movie. Obviously Pepper Potts has the superpower ability to run in these heels – over grates! We debated whether they were real shoes or CGI!

What I truly enjoyed about the film was that at key points, Tony strak *out thought* his opponents! The engineer as superhero and the superhero as engineer!

Now, to get back to my lab and get working on miniaturizing the arc reactor. Maybe if I were in a cave with just scraps….

Johanna writes:  

Yay for out-thinking! And even with the painful shoes, yay for her being taller than Jasper!

Steve: so totally true. And why it’s so great.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it again yet — too many deadlines. But soon.

Alan Coil writes:  

Obadiah Stane was from the Iron Man issues from the early to mid 70s—before you were born, I’d guess.

Johanna writes:  

Well, aren’t you sweet!

odessa steps magazine writes:  

I thought Stane was from the Denny O’Neil (red and white armor) era of Iron Man.

Didn’t realize he was around before that.

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Ralf Haring writes:  


early to mid 80s, it seems

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Ali Kokmen writes:  

Alan Coil:
“Obadiah Stane was from the Iron Man issues from the early to mid 70s”

odessa steps:
“I thought Stane was from the Denny O’Neil (red and white armor) era of Iron Man. Didn’t realize he was around before that.”

To indulge in nitpickery, I just looked all this up. Obadiah Stane deubted in 1982/83, during the Denny O’Neil run in between the two classic Michelinie/Layton runs. The red-and-white armor debuted at the very end of this run–it’s the armor Stark built and wore to finally fight and defeat Stane’s Iron Monger.

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sleeper writes:  

SPIDER-MAN 2 is the most critically beloved and universally praised superhero movie, so it’s probably worth a viewing before lauding IRON MAN as the all-time champ.

Having said that, IM looks like a winner. Great review, by the way.

Johanna writes:  

That’s a great suggestion, that I see that film, but Tobey Maguire is going to have to explode off the screen for me to think him better than Downey. Still, you’re right, I should see it. I’ll do that soon.

Ralf Haring writes:  

Maguire is pretty much the same from the first to the second film. The real star of the second film is Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus.

Johanna writes:  

Oh, right, good reminder. I look forward to seeing his dancing Easter egg.

Steely Dan writes:  

I enjoyed “Iron Man” quite a bit, but it loses a half a letter grade in my book for the truly awful musical score. Terrible beyond description. Of all the Marvel movies, “X2″ is still the best.

I know this isn’t a popular view, but in my opinion the overall best super hero movie is still Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns.” Dark, layered, funny, and complex. It’s also stunningly beautiful to look at, something that none of the Marvel films have achieved yet.

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David Oakes writes:  

Pepper’s shoes had already been “spoiled” for me, but I have to say there were numerous scenes where I stoppoed paying atention to the actors and wondered just how tall Paltrow was. I mean, she even stood up to Stane, and I swear that Bridges was CGIed in with some sort of “reverse Hobbit” growth effect.

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Iron Man Collectibles writes:  

I couldn’t agree with you more. I didn’t think much could top the Spider Man series of movies but somehow Iron Man did just that.

I have never gone to see the same movie twice at the theater and I really might go see Iron Man again this weekend.

It was great.

Sigma writes:  

Sorry I’m late to this party (went to the movie once, was dragged back to it two more times). But after watching the trailers — I really like the teaser more than the “full” trailer, because it’s more RDJ-as-Tony, and that’s what really propels this movie — I realized that there’s a lot of this movie sitting on the cutting room floor. And as noted, this film is tight. The narrative and emotional pull just keeps it moving at a fantastic pace, and a good deal of that comes from brutal editing, from cutting all the way to the marrow.

Of course, it also helps that the material you’re editing is rich, and — I gotta say this — the final fight scene was one of my least favorite, just because there was little Tony about it. (And I find myself wishing Pepper was more akin to her look in The Order, but maybe that’s because Barry Kitson sets the bar too high.) Just like you, my favorite scenes were playboy-Tony and Mythbuster-Tony, but when we got to really register with Tony in the suit, that worked too.

I went back and reread some of my Iron Man books from the Stane era and found them…severely wanting. The cinematic Tony Stark doesn’t work on paper, not even in the Ultimate Universe. This is the most profound instance I’ve seen of the cinematic adaptation surpassing its source material. (There may be others, but none are occurring to me right off the bat.)

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