Pre 2008, superhero films were, different. They existed on their own and in their own defined universe. Iron Man and, more to the point, Marvel changed that. Not only was Tony Stark’s first adventure the start of his story, but it was also the start of Marvel’s, and nothing has been the same since.
While Christopher Nolan was creating the quintessential Batman films for DC, Marvel were busy at work creating a shared universe that all of their superheroes could occupy. This meant the likes of Iron Man, Thor & The Incredible Hulk could all appear in each other’s films, while effecting events in the greater scheme of things. It meant, for the first time, that heroes would finally be able to interact with each other, just like they do in their comics. It’s not the grandest of strategies, but often the simple plans are the ones that work the best.
Of course, it would all mean nothing if the films were a pile of crap, and Marvel knew this, having installed a plan b if things didn’t work out here. Luckily, Iron Man was the perfect place to start. With his scotch in one hand, and quick one liners, Tony Stark was instantly likeable. Robert Downey Jr. was perfect for the role of Tony Stark, with his confidence and swagger hitting all the right marks. If ever there were an instance of perfect casting, then this would be it. Downey Jr. inhabits the role without a fault and persuaded audiences that it can be fun being a superhero.
The twist at the end being that Tony Stark reveals to the press that he is indeed Iron Man, is something rarely, if ever, seen in a superhero film. How many times do our heroes hide their identity, only ever informing the ones they love of who they really are? This was perhaps Marvel’s second riskiest move, in publicly identifying their heroes. They set themselves apart from other companies making superhero films and brought a level of enjoyment to their films and took away the dark, brooding nature people normally expect with such films.
That brooding philosophy still exists within some studios, but Marvel are intent on giving audiences the best show money can buy. It’s this instant accessibility that makes their films so much fun, and has persuaded even the most staunchest of critic to accept they are now the market leaders.
In casting Iron Man, Marvel went for talent over box office. Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges are all supremely talented actors, but were unlikely to set the box office alight on name value alone. Even director Jon Favreau was hardly known for being a blockbuster director. It all boiled down to making a good story, with a great cast of actors and having a talented director pulling the strings. Also, it helped to have a few action sequences thrown in, with the most thrilling surely being the escape from the cave and the duel with two F-22 fighter planes.
Iron Man is not without its faults however, and its lumbering finale is somewhat of a letdown considering what came before it. As with all superhero films, lapses of logic are aplenty, but those are forgiven when a film is as entertaining as this. Marvel’s first risky move paid off big.