A Look Back at the First ‘Iron Man’ Movie

I don’t know if you’ve noticed from the constant promotion, but Iron Man 2 seems to be coming out soon.  Normally, you don’t get to a sequel unless the first movie did well.  Of course, when a movie does as well as the first Iron Man did, they back up the money truck to make sure there’s a second, third, and fourth installment from all the relevant players.  

And it’s fair to say that Iron Man did very well.  Myself, Ron, and Conor were all big fans, and we were certainly not alone.  The movie was a huge success, both commercially and critically.  They took a character who is arguably a B-level character, with very little public recognition, handed the reigns to a director who was unproven with big action blockbusters, and placed the hopes of the movie in the hands of Robert Downey Jr. Those bets all paid off, and the first movie was almost universally loved by comic fans.

Before you head off to the sequel, let’s take a look back at the first version.


1) Tony Stark – Stark isn’t the typical Marvel sad sack character.  He’s a winner. He’s an industrialist. He’s got the world on a string.  He’s charming and fun, and you want him at your party.  But he’s got his flaws, and likes the drink a little too much, something they only hinted at in the first movie. He’s got a bit of an ego, and hubris hangs out just behind him, and now it’s clear that Robert Downey Jr. is exactly the right guy for that.  Imagine how much different the movie would have gone had they gone for a 25 year old new star?  RDJ was a bit of a box office gamble, in terms of being a little old, but he owned every second of it.

2) Iron Man Armor – All 3 phases of the armor in the first movie are spot on.  They could have redesigned the armor for the suit, or done all sorts of horrible things, but they got it just right.  With designs from Adi Granov, the armor looked just right.  The early armor worked, all chunky and homemade,and the final product looked like it actually could contain all the gizmos to make it go.  They also made a good effort at explaining at least some of the physics and science governing how it would actually work, helped by some well played comedic crashes.

3) Pepper Potts – When I heard Gwyneth Paltrow was going to be in the movie, I thought, “Hunh? Her?”  But Paltrow was a perfect fit, and a perfect foil for Downey Jr.  She made geekdom fall in love with a character most of us had forgotten.  She didn’t play up as a sex kitten, but by being totally competent, slightly awkward, and totally charming.  You’d almost forget she’s an Oscar winning actress married to one of the biggest rock stars in the world with a child whose name a lot of people make jokes about.

4) Origin Story – The thing about making movies from comic books is that the writer has to figure out the perfect balance of staying true to the original story, and making it work for the screen.  Obviously, had they set this movie story back in the Vietnam war, it wouldn’t have made any sense.  At the same time, had they placed it smack dab in the middle of Baghdad, a lot of people would have been taken out of the movie, so instead, they made it a vaguely random, war torn, Middle Eastern-esque area.  But the set up of the battery device powering the magnet keeping the shrapnel in Stark’s heart, and eventually his armor was tied right to the original stories in Marvel Comics, but it wasn’t so faithful to the source material that it was goofy.

5) Humor – While I loved Dark Knight and Batman Begins, they are bleak bleak bleak.  They are relentlessly bleak, and when I left the theater, I was exhausted rather than exhilarated.  Iron Man, on the other hand, was a fun time.  From the robotic helpers in Stark’s lab to the stripper/flight attendants to the free drinks cart with a massive missile purchase, this movie was nothing but a good time.  A game of human operation was much more fun than it had any right to be, and the script had just the right balance.


1) The Last Act – For some reason, I think the movie is a touch too long. By the time they get to the Iron Monger fight, I’m just a little bored.  I can’t think of anything outwardly wrong with it but watching the two CGI metal suits bang on each other doesn’t hold quite as much sway for me as it does with others, and I just want to be done with it.

2) Mandarin – If you’re going to do the Mandarin, do the Mandarin, I say.  While there was a nod to Iron Man’s main bad guy, it would have been really cool to see a way to transform the Mandarin into a real onscreen threat. It certainly wouldn’t have been easy to do the rings in such a way to make them believable, but the leader of the Ten Rings wasn’t even close, except for that title.

3) The Mark I crash – Other crashes in the movie might have been silly, but when Stark crashed the Mark I suit in the desert, he fell from hundreds of feet in the air, and I can’t figure out how he could have ever survived that.  Little moments like that can yank me right out of a movie.  Luckily it grabs you and brings you back in.

4) Burger King – I understand that in today’s movie marketplace, product placement is par for the course, and it helps pay the bills in some movies.  In fact, when it happens in Back the Future, it’s downright charming now. (“All I wanted was a Pepsi.”) But when Stark asks Happy to make a run to the BK Lounge, it sticks out like a sore corporate thumb.  Then again, some dudes really like the King.  

5) I Got Nothin’ – Like when Conor did this for Batman Begins, he ran out of steam here too, so I’m citing precedence. They're also all pretty trifling aren't they?


If you feel so inclined, you can go back and listen to the Special Edition Podcast we did for Iron Man.  Be on the lookout for another for Iron Man 2, as well as an Iron Man video show next week.

I hope this is another good one. It looks like it might just be.


  1. You said the last third of the movie sucked much more eloquently than I ever could Josh.  I think an easy #6 could be that they had Tony reveal that he was Iron Man.  I never could buy it that Tony Stark always just said that Iron Man works for him.

  2. Im surprised you didn’t mention that this movie hinted at the "shared Marvel film universe" with it’s final scene. this made my geek heart go all a flutter and got me extremely excited for all subsequent Marvel Studio films

  3. I never liked the Mark 1 crash either.  It doesn’t work.

  4. Royale with Cheese

  5. Her?

  6. I still love this movie. It’s one of the few films I can show to my friends that have no interest in comics what so ever, and they want to know more about this character when they’re done watching it. I think it’s the light hearted charm of the main character. People love Tony Stark. It’s one of those great fun films you can either have on in the background, flip around the channels, find it and stop, or watch it at any point of the day. I don’t know if number 2 will do the same, but it doesn’t have to, I still have number 1 on my DVD shelf, and it is watched quite often when I need a good time, and Iron Man is a hell of a good time.

  7. Arrested development joke haha….i didn’t think that terroist dude was the leader of the 10 rings i thought the plan was make the 10 rings as vague as possible so when its true leader the Mandarin showed up it would be an awesome pay off

  8. Honestly, I don’t really care about the shared continuity of the movies. In my opinion, it’s been bad for the comics on the whole, and doesn’t let people just enjoy the movies on their own. Instead, we get caught up on who Chris Evans is allowed to portray.

  9. @josh I really don’t understand how you can suspend disbelief for a comic, but not for a comic movie.

  10. When things are "real", as in live action, it’s harder to take it out of the context of reality. At least for me. It’s not a science.

  11. The more I thought about the crash from the first suit the more it didn’t bother me. I mean there must have been a lot of padding in that thing. I never figured stark would skimp on protection in that instance.

  12. Is the Burger King placement really that big of a deal? I didn’t even notice it the first time, and it’s actually quite subtle compared to other films. Also, totally unrelated of course, I love Burger King.

  13. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    In all honesty, the Burger King moment was a real highlight for me. I’m glad it was a real franchise and not Happy Burger or whatever. Or even just "Get me a burger." You go through an ordeal and you come back home and all you want is that specific thing. It’s not even a fillet mignon, it’s just your favorite treat. So him asking specifically for Burger King really worked, in my opinion. Him getting the press to sit down on the floor was also a nice character moment. If I hadn’t loved Tony already, that gag sealed it.

    Another perfect moment? That last line. "I am Iron Man." Now we know what this franchise is, what sets it apart from almost every other superhero movie.  

    As for the CONS, I definitely agree that the last act was pretty weak. I did like that part of Iron Monger’s downfall was a callback to something that Tony had learned. The whole altitude ice thing. But I was most disappointed about Pepper’s sudden descent into damselhood. She’d been such a great foil and there’s literally a point in there where she transitions into a wholly different character, one who isn’t capable and needs to be saved. Can her safety be part of the stakes? Absolutely. But this shift didn’t feel organic to the character as she’d been established.

    All that aside, it was a blast. Certainly the most entertaining comic book adaptation. I can think of.  

  14. I can see where you’re coming from.  I’ve just never had a problem with that in most movies that I’ve watched.  If it’s somewhat believable, I’ll either not notice or ignore it.

  15. I have bad news for you, some of the bad things come back more prominent in the second one.

  16. I’ll withhold judgement until I see it for myself.  Many people on this site are way too hard on movies, some of which I treasure. 

  17. @josh – I know there is another clip after the trailer. I accidentally read a spoiler for it and it got me even more excited to see this.  

  18. I agree with Paul on the Burger King thing.  The last act didn’t bother me a bit when I saw it in the theater, I was so happy with the rest of the movie that it probably couldn’t have gone wrong in my eyes, upon repeat viewings, I kind of get the complaints, but even what’s there is pretty decent and it’s still right behind Spider-Man 2 as my second favorite super hero movie.

  19. I agree with everything except I don’t have a problem with burger king being mentioned.  Product placement never really bothers me at all and frankly I don’t see why people make such a big deal out of it.  If anything it makes the movie seem more real.

  20. I guess I assumed that the dude from the ‘Ten RIngs’ wasn’t THE guy, maybe that was me applying what I knew of the comics to the movies, but I never got the sense that he was supposed to be The Mandarin or even Mandarin  Lite.  Also,  I thought Stane had a similar ring on as the leader of the ‘Ten Rings,’ and I kinda took that to mean that they were confederates brought together by some insidious leader/grander conspiracy….and then I have this whole stupid theory about each ring bearer being one of ten and controlling one of ten of the Mandarin’s crime rings and yada-yada-yada-yada…

     I don’t know, I guess the point is that my life is hollow.  

  21. Paltrow is one of the best actresses working today who can take a small role and really make you care about it.  See ‘Seven’ and ‘The Royal Tannenbaums.’ 

    For me, I did not mind the BK thing.  Every time I leave the Chicago area for more than 4 days I get a Chicago style pizza or italian beef almost immediately upon my return.  But that’s just me.

  22. Other then the Mandarian bit (or nod/tease), I found little to complain about for the first film. It just got everything right. From the casting, to the script, to the action when we got any. That whole scene with Stark fighting the terrorists and flying from the U.S. Fighter Pilots was the best scene(s) in the film. Okay, maybe the film was a tad bit long, but it was counter balanced with Robert Downey Jr. making every scene gold.

    It would have to take a lot to make this film worse, which is why I am a bit surprised it did get early, bad reviews.

  23. I could nitpick, but like you guys said in the podcast a few years ago, "push the ""I believe" button and have a good time!".  I loved every minute of it.

  24. It should be noted that I had a hard time coming up with even the four things. I even called them trifling in the article.

  25. @josh duly noted

    i kinda wish he had asked for a Big Kahuna burger

    that would have made me giggle and really thats all i want at the end of the day is a good smile and a laugh

  26. I think In-N-Out would have been cool.

  27. I have to admit I didn’t even notice the Burger King product placement.  But Tony Stark would absolutely demand an In-N-Out Burger.

  28. In-N-Out…now I’m suddenly craving a Double Double animal-style…thanks, guys. 😉

  29. I’d say that they got tge villain wrong too. I mean, to have the movie climax with jeff bridges in a BIGGER iron man suit just always fell flat for me. Also, favro’s direction was less than stellar throughout….

  30. @paradiddle  Me too, and i live in Texas. This is not good.

  31. the burger king thing was actually a reference to robert downey jr’s real life. the first thing did after he got out of rehab was to go get an cheeseburger.

    also, he never says the words "burger king". he says "american cheeseburger". you’d only know it was burger by looking at the crumpled paper bag he has in his hands when he gets out of the car, which he immediately throws away. it’s barely on screen for 2 seconds.

  32. I would like to nominate "one of the most distracting scores in movie history" to fill the 5th bad slot.  Just a guitar playing power chords over and over?  That’s terrible.

  33. AAHHH!!! The music!  I meant to say the music!  That’s number 5!!!

    Baby makes my memory not work.  Yes!

  34. @stuclach: I loved Iron Man, but  I rolled my eyes at that part too.  Partially because of the similar scene in Indiana Jones around the same time that summer where Indy survives a nuclear bomb by crash landing in a refrigerator. 

    As far as the BK thing goes, if I was locked up in a  cave for months, I damn sure would be craving a cheeseburger when I got out. 

  35. i don’t mind the Burger King because it was integrated nicely into the story and it made sense. Celebrities have ridiculous comfort food demands, Tony Stark should be no different. Nonr of the BK haters minds the multiple Audi or Nokia product placements? 

    I liked the movie for what it was. It was a whole lot of fun and thats all that matters to me. BTW my GF loved it….and she is not a comic book person at all.  


  36.  (Hey, it’s me!)

     I don’t much mind the Burger King thing either especially not after DewBot in Transformers…

    I think my biggest problem with the first movie was Obadiah Stane. It’s not that Jeff Bridges did a bad job but I think, script-wise, his character was wasted.  Stane in the comics was frankly Tony’s greatest nemesis, but his villainy was a slow boiling, cerebral kind of villainy you’d have to build over a couple movies.  His character really could have just about any of the countless "evil businessmen" Tony’s fought over the years so naming him Stane was somewhat disappointing.  Also, he slipped into cartoonish supervillainy a few too many times in the fight for me ("… and now…. I’m gonna kill you with it!" springs to mind.)  Beyond that, I think everything was either acceptable or quite good.

  37. I’m surprised that I too didn’t care much for the fight with Stane at the end. What I really wanted was for Tony to go up against a bunch of high-tech weapons akin to the fight he had with the terrorists when he blew up that tank. The two suits of armor fighting felt like it took away from what was special about Tony’s suit of armor and Tony himself as all you had left was a typical punching match between the two characters and not something special. Of course, if the Jeff Bridges interview that was linked to on this site a while ago is anything to go by, the last battle’s not too shabby for not having a real script to work with.

  38. Do these movies help sell more comics?

  39. So Tony Stark surviving a huge fall is a leap in logic, but have you ever wondered what the hell powers Iron Man’s suit? Where’s the fuel?

  40. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @Vichus – Well, a large portion of the film focuses on the revolutionary technology that powers the suit. 

  41. honestly, what’s the difference between product placement in the movie and ads in the comic about toothpaste leading to sex?

    it’s all the same disposable lichenstein/pop art/popular culture rubbish that looks pretty, sells stuff and has no substance.

    It’s the irrational/uncondistional love of media by the geek community that makes regular people hate us… and i don’t blame them

  42. @UncleBob

    I think they probably, at the very least, help sell more comics in the sense that they help the publishing arm of these giant entertainment companies stay profitable.  So without them, comics might be in a LOT of trouble fiscally.

  43. Well the difference is that one is product placement and one is an advertisement that does not take place within the story of the issue.

  44.  @VichusSmith

    Iron Man as a concept is the ultimate exercise in suspension of disbelief. The fact that Iron Man can fly defies a lot of laws of physics and aerodynamics. Also the fact that the suit has room for all those weapons, ammo and moving parts with a human being inside seems to be a physical impossibility. Its best not to question and just enjoy. =)

  45. Yeah, that’s why I don’t get why Josh would get stuck on Tony falling from the sky. Really, Iron Man should be dead by now with all the people he’s gotten punched by.

  46. It’s not like I can’t sleep at night.

  47. …I guess I have to agree with edward on that one. Odd sensation.


  48. do you mean being right?

  49. If that’s what you like to call it, sure.

  50. I think Iron-Man was a great comic book-movie 😉 One of the things I really liked was the two armours facing off against one another, as how they were both descended from the same original, but with very different intentions for their creation. I didn’t really see Pepper’s damselness mainly because it seemed like all the shield agents around her were being swatted around so what else could she really do but ask the only other man in a suit for help. I think favreau made some good choices in making less more. The deleted scenes show some ways some scenes could have played out longer, like when Tony actually fires a rifle when the cars are attacked and by eliminating some of that you get straight to where they want to go. Iron Monger was a great villain and having Mandarin too would complicate things needlessly. Now if he shows up they will be able to dedicate more time to him and his origin (if they need to) instead of showing that plus Tony’s beginning. The only part that bugged me was when he first takes the armour to afghanistan I wish the shot of him landing was just a few seconds longer but that’s more style thing than anything. Thanks for the list Master Joshua! Keep them coming!

  51. well than, that IS what i’m calling it