Iron Man had to be amazing. It had so much riding on its shoulders that it had to be both critically approved and audience approved to stand a chance of fulfilling what Marvel was planning. Luckily, it was exactly that. It was a perfect superhero origin film and even though we’ve seen the formula plenty of times before, it felt fresh because Iron Man, to the general public at least, was a relatively unknown character.
That’s why DC’s take on Green Lantern was so infuriating because Marvel has shown, three times now, how to present a character that the general public don’t really know and keep it interesting. It comes down to two key ingredients, story and cast. With Iron Man they hit it out of the park on both accounts.
Tony Stark is an arrogant billionaire who, at the beginning of the film, has very few morals, very little responsibility or remorse for his actions but ultimately is very cool. The whole section with Tony Stark in the military convoy is a perfect way to introduce a new character or show the die-hard fans that the character they love is being treated properly. Casting Downey Jr in this role was a stroke of genius.
I didn’t care enough about Iron Man to really have an opinion on the casting of Downey Jr. I was more bothered about Chris Evans as Captain America but by the time they cast that part, there was so much more riding on it. Downey Jr (and the whole Iron Man film) has the advantage that there was very little expectation for the film. People still view the movie as a surprise hit because people went into it thinking “just another superhero film” and instead got a very enjoyable, cool, fresh comic book movie. Downey Jr benefitted from that too. People didn’t have the expectation as to whether he could deliver and because of that, he looks hugely comfortable and his Tony Stark is effortless. Three films down the line, I wouldn’t ever want anyone else playing that role.
As well as a brilliant lead, the story they chose was key and ensured success. Green Lantern made a “school-boy error” with their choice of story. Damsel in distress, massive villain and ultimately, a rushed development of the character. Iron Man does it differently. They take time to build the origin of Iron Man, we don’t see the finished suit for a good forty minutes to hour of the film. The villain is big and worthy of the hero but not huge! He’s not game changing or so big that trying to out-do him in later films would mean introducing multiple villains instead. Rather than try the same, regurgitated origin film we’ve seen many times before, Iron Man does something that is more in-line with what Nolan did on Batman Begins. Story first, superhero and action second.
The other advantage that Iron Man had was that its director, Jon Favreau, is clearly an Iron Man fan. The story is closely linked to the comics. I knew of Iron Man, though I wouldn’t say I was a massive fan, and I could see that this was a comic book film. They’d nailed the origin story of the comics, the story that made this character so popular in the first place. It was a rule that would ensure all of Marvel’s film, though not all as good as this, would be a success. They trusted the source material.
At this point we’d already had three Spiderman films, Batman Begins, Superman Returns and Fantastic Four. Iron Man managed to reset superhero films. Nolan was creating something realistic, a darker, grittier (and brilliant) Batman series so Iron Man could comfortably take up the “comic superhero” mantle that Spiderman had destroyed with it’s third outing. It was light, funny and as close to watching a comic as we’d come since Spiderman 2.
The final piece of the puzzle that made this film so successful was the twist. I was one of many people who heard about the post-credit scene after I’d left the cinema and had to watch a grainy, you-tube version afterwards but I can remember how ridiculously excited I got when I heard the words “Avengers Initiative.”
Overall, my love for the Iron Man film has grown since I saw Avengers Assemble. Watching where the idea for this project began and seeing how brilliantly they pulled it off actually adds a new dimension to the film. Whether they were actually thinking about Avengers as they shot Iron Man or whether it was a clever afterthought, I don’t know, but regardless, Iron Man had to be brilliant to launch the series and it did that effortlessly.
(1-3 – awful/avoid. 4-6 – average. 7-8 – good. 9-10 – fantastic.)