"So, you are a man with everything - and nothing." This remark is aimed at our protagonist shortly before he dons a prototypical version of the suit that gives him the eponymous moniker in order to escape captivity. It is unlikely that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the protagonist in question, appreciates such a simplification, because until this point, here is a man with either no self-awareness or too much of it. The screenplay for Iron Man (written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, and Matt Halloway) is notable for the way it consistently knocks its hero down a few pegs as a way of building him up.
Part of that appeal, too, can found in Downey's performance, which imbues Tony with as much introspection as attitude. He might be more than a little smug and quite proudly arrogant, but Tony isn't the caricature of the billionaire entrepreneur that dismisses the humanity underneath. For all his smug arrogance, there is a heart in there, though it is usually guided by his instincts as a billionaire entrepreneur. Following a prologue that technically flashes forward a bit in the story, the film opens with an obvious but amusing contradiction: Tony and his company, Stark Industries, have won a prestigious award, and Tony is too busy to be found at the ceremony accepting that award.
The joke is that Tony, according to his business partner and (following the death of his parents) surrogate father Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), is always working. The punch line is that he's at the craps table and bedding a reporter who wonders whether Tony's fortune could be put to better use than the production and distribution of weapons of mass destruction. His philosophy, that he prefers to be feared and respected in the same breath, is put to the test following the demonstration of a weapon known as the Jericho (a missile with a lot of tiny projectiles hidden inside of the otherwise useless outer shell), when he is taken prisoner by a group of insurgents known as the Ten Rings.
Their demand is simple: Stark Industries has become the modern answer to the reigns of Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, and Rome, and so Tony must recreate the Jericho missile under their watchful eyes. Tony instead creates an enormous suit, capable of firepower and flight, barely escaping with his life following the nearly complete destruction of the cave in which he was kept. Returning home to his long-suffering assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a gut-wrenching guilt over the deaths he saw at the hands of his weapons, he shuts down the department that creates them, much to the chagrin of the entire industry.
The plot ultimately sets up the chess pieces for Tony, who creates and dons a streamlined version of his old suit to exact revenge on the insurgents who held him prisoner and brought war to a peaceful nearby city, to face a traitor in his midst whose identity will be a surprise to approximately no one. It is a little underwhelming that the screenwriters and director Jon Favreau turn to a climactic action sequence to tidy everything up, but it also makes sense: These are the first steps into a bigger universe. As an event, Iron Man is a promising start. As an examination of what makes this character tick, the film is even more noteworthy.
Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Jeff Bridges (Obadiah Stane), Terrence Howard (Rhodey), Shaun Toub (Yinsen), Faran Tahir (Raza), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan).
Directed by Jon Favreau and written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, and Matt Halloway.
Rated PG-13 (intense sci-fi action/violence, brief suggestive content).
Released on May 2, 2008.