Imagine rolling the late Steve Jobs and Sir Richard Branson into a metallic super suit. That will give you a rough idea of the awesomeness that is Tony Stark. But if you look at his backstory, he was much less of a great guy. Stark dedicated his life to building weapons. Like his father, he was a genius, a brilliant scientist with a lot of money and even more charisma. He took his father’s business and made it an empire.
Iron Man starts out with Tony Stark in Afghanistan showing off his new Jericho missile, but a terrorist group known as the Ten Rings attacks Stark and the military escort who came to watch the missile be tested. They take Tony hostage and demand that he build them a Jericho missile in exchange for his freedom. Stark and fellow captive Dr. Yinsen then spend the next three months in a workshop, building the first Iron Man suit and the Arc reactor which powers it. Yinsen dies in their escape but tells Stark not to waste his life. Stark crashes the suit in the desert after flying away and is then rescued.
The story of Iron Man and Iron Man 2 is that of discovery and purpose. He comes back from Afghanistan full of purpose and drive; he works relentlessly to fix what he ruined. In the second film there is a lot less surety. Stark seems to be stalling for time, spinning out of control as he counts down the days till he believes he will die. The government becomes involved; relationships are forged and shattered with impressive gusto.
A great range of characters, improving with each film
The characters of Tony and the other protagonists are all relatively fresh and enjoyable. Tony is explosive and uninhibited, an antihero in many ways who has been thrust into the role of hero and is uncomfortable in its confines. Pepper is patient but human, burdened with loving Tony but having no ability to constrain him or his mood swings for long.
In the first Iron Man, the villains were all right. They were bad guys pure and simple, not really in tune with the eccentric humor of the franchise. In the second film, the villains were perfected. From the first moment, there was no doubt of the sinister purpose of the characters, but they still came off as people with their own quirks and drives.
Crisp and high end visuals
The visuals of Iron Man and Iron Man 2 are crisp and high tech, with lots of detail and sci-fi goodness. The Iron Man suit is well designed and each phase of the suit works well. It is easy to see an evolution of his design that makes it all the more enjoyable. Even the villains have interesting outfits that reflect their position and personality.
Robert Downey Jr. really steals the show in both films. The first film was a milestone in his career as it marked his way back to the top of his game. He manages to make Stark every bit as charming, snarky, misguided and eccentric as he should be, while retaining the irreverent gravitas of being Iron Man.
The first film had very little in the way of tie-ins with the rest of the Avengers franchise, but it was certainly stronger in the second film with both Black Widow and Nick Fury making an appearance. There is also a confirmed Iron Man 3 film to be released in 2013, after The Avengers.
The Iron Man films are excellent examples of how to make a superhero film. With a quality combination of characterization, plot and visual effects, it’s no surprise the two films were box office hits.