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The Marvel Movies: Iron Man (2008)

by on July 19, 2011
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Marvel’s unmitigated triumph, “Iron Man” marked the start of a multi-film arc unprecedented in Hollywood history, one that has spanned four separate franchises and will ultimately lead to a film that would cross over all of those franchises.

Oh, and it was a pretty cracking film on its own — one that was, yes, yet another origin story but was embraced rather than lambasted by the fanboy community.

And it was the unlikely hero Robert Downey Jr. — he of a past that includes substance abuse, jail time, and status as Hollywood pariah — who would jump-start the Marvel engine, playing perhaps the most flawed Marvel hero in billionaire weapons designer Tony Stark.

And it was on Downey’s back that “Iron Man” gained and maintained traction, relying on his wit and magnetism to transform what could have been an hour-plus of an engineer making a suit into a whirling dynamo that is perhaps the most purely entertaining hour in any Marvel film.

Experiencing the pure exhilaration of being Tony Stark, the super-rich playboy/genius inventor is enough to carry the film, but it adds a heart condition foisted upon him during an attack on him in Afghanistan. (In the comics, it was Vietnam, but, hey, it’s the 2000s. What do you want from them?)

Shrapnel from an explosion pierces Stark’s heart, leaving it inching toward fatal injury with every heartbeat, save for the electromagnet attached to him by Stark’s cellmate, Yensin (Shawn Toub). When Stark awakens, he’s hooked to a car battery and forced by his captors to recreate his powerful Jericho missile in their cave. Instead, he first crafts a more compact magnet, then uses the bomb parts to make a weaponized suit of armor with which he escapes.

Upon returning to America, racked with guilt about seeing his own weapons used against the U.S. military, Stark orders his company to cease production on weaponry and goes into seclusion, building an updated model of his armor, then another with the goal of, as he puts it in the film’s sequel, “privatizing world peace.”

The lab scenes, in which Stark develops and tinkers with his Repulsor technology, are thrilling and silly at the same time. They’re the hilarious results of someone with so much money that it doesn’t matter if he trashes his fleet of classic cars or blows out a few windows and roofs on the way to building something.

And once his suit is fully assembled, the flight begins. We’re treated to a rollicking, rocketing roller-coaster ride inside the suit that manages to show the hero’s face without the awkwardness of, say, Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker having to pull his mask off (or having it ripped off or heavily damaged and torn) to satisfy contractual requirements of face time for the actor in the suit. (However, in the climax, Downey works without a helmet, but in this instance it adds to the tension of the scene, since having no helmet makes him vulnerable to attack).

Of course, everyone remembers how the first “Iron Man” planted the seeds for the upcoming “Avengers” film and started a trend for post-credits teasers to lead into additional films such as “Captain America: The First Avenger,” “Thor” and “The Incredible Hulk” (though the latter offered its cookie pre-credits rather than post).

“Iron Man” is the best of the Marvel movies to date — a fun, entertaining, mostly breezy thrill ride that made most comic-geek fanboys’ dreams come true.

Next time: Bana Norton SMASH!

Previous Marvel Movie Entries

Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Red Sonja (1985)
Howard the Duck (1986)
The Punisher (1989)
Captain America (1990)
The Fantastic Four (1994)
Blade (1998)
X-Men (2000)
Blade II (2002)
Spider-Man (2002)
Daredevil (2003)
X2: X-Men United (2003)
Hulk (2003)

The Punisher (2004)
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Blade Trinity (2004)
Elektra (2005)
Fantastic Four (2005)
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Ghost Rider (2007)
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)