In this FandomWire Video Essay, we explain why THIS is the PERFECT scene in Iron Man.
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Iron Man Perfect Scene
This moment from the post-credit scene of 2008’s Iron Man sent an entire generation of comic book fans into a hyperdrive of anticipation and excitement. For long-time readers of Marvel Comics, the idea of seeing a superhero team-up of earth’s mightiest heroes live on the big screen was a dream come true, and something that had never been done before. Contrary to popular internet misinformation, there was no 1970s Avengers film, and this was NOT an early portrayal of Iron Man.
This is Exo-Man, the protagonist of the 1977 made-for-TV movie of the same name about a newly paralyzed professor who builds a suit to help him walk and, eventually, fight crime. Sure, it shares several similarities to the comic book hero, but it was in no way affiliated with Marvel. 2008 truly was the first time audiences got a live-action look at the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. And it was a fantastic debut that would go on to launch one of the most successful franchises in the history of cinema. Sure, some of Iron Man’s moments aged poorly.
But all in all, the film was a major hit and a significant turning point in the world of comic book adaptations. The film’s success was largely due to Robert Downey Jr’s now iconic performance as Tony Stark, and Jon Farvreau’s perfectly paced direction. A combination that allowed for significant character development, high-stakes action, and a successful introduction of the character to non-comic book readers. And while the film as a whole accomplishes this, there is one scene in particular that does it best. A scene that stands out for showcasing the genius of Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal, sets the stage for things to come and gives us our first look at the Mark 1 Iron Man suit. It’s thrilling and epic and everything you’d want from a comic book movie. It’s… PERFECT. I’m of course talking about the Cave Escape. Oh yeah.
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Robert Downey Jr was no stranger to audiences prior to Iron Man. The actor got his start playing a puppy in his father, Robert Downey Sr’s, film Pound. The film takes place in a dog pound with the roles of the canine characters all played by people. An odd start to a long and storied career, no doubt. In the years that followed he’d go on to star in major films like Heart and Soul, U.S. Marshals, and Chaplin where he portrayed real-life silent film icon Charlie Chaplin and received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
However, in the mid ’90s, Downey’s career came to a screeching halt when drug addiction and run-ins with the law landed him behind bars on more than one occasion. After flunking out of numerous drug rehabilitation programs Downey stood in court and pleaded with the judge, saying, “It’s like I have a shotgun in my mouth, and I’ve got my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gunmetal.”
It was a dark and dire time in the actor’s life, but by the early 2000’s he was ready to turn things around, telling Oprah Winfrey in 2004, “I don’t think I can continue doing this.’ And I reached out for help, and I ran with it.” Following a string of critically lauded performances in films like Shane Black’s Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly and David Fincher’s Zodiac, Robert Downey Jr landed the lead role in Iron Man, and would eventually go on to become one of the highest paid actors of all time.
Today, Robert Downey Jr and Iron Man are inseparable. He IS the character and it’s unlikely that any other actor will ever be able to play the role without standing in the massive shadow he leaves behind. The decision to cast Downey was a significant one as Marvel Studios were trusting him to lead the expansive shared universe they were planning. Director Jon Favreau said “Downey wasn’t the most obvious choice, but he understood what makes the character tick. He found a lot of his own life experience in ‘Tony Stark’.”
Those shared life experiences are likely what enabled Downey to commit so fully and submerge himself so completely into the role. Similarly to Robert Downey Jr. coming face to face with the demons of his past and overcoming the significant negative impact of his own life choices, Tony Stark makes the decision to change the course of his life after coming face to face with deadly implications of Stark Industries and the weapons he had introduced into the world. This change of heart would be the driving force for the character over the next decade and play a significant role in future storylines, such as Captain America: Civil War. But it all started here, in a cave somewhere in the middle of war-torn Afghanistan.
The film opens to AC/DC’s Back in Black. Tony Stark travels in a humvee with American Soldiers across an empty and expansive desert, setting the stage for WAR and the significant role it will play in the film. The humvee is attacked, the soldiers are murdered and Tony is nearly killed by one of his very own missiles, used by the enemy to kill innocent people and American Citizens.
Following the attack, Tony finds himself held captive by a terrorist organization calling themselves The Ten Rings. Comic fans were no doubt familiar with this organization, and they would come back into play in 2013’s Iron Man 3 and 2021’s Shang-Chi. The Ten Rings have a singular mission here, to force Tony Stark to build them a Jericho missile, the newest, most high-tech, and deadly weapon from Stark Industries. Tony at first refuses, but faced with the merciless actions of his captors, he begrudgingly agrees.
Prior to this point in his life, Tony had never been face to face with the danger and destruction of the weaponry his company manufactured. To him, war was profit. It was simply business and by never acknowledging the life-ruining implications of his work, he was able to maintain a cheerful, “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. Now, that mentality had been shattered.
We learn from his fellow hostage, Doctor Ho Yinson, that shrapnel from the missile blast remained embedded in his chest, threatening to move deeper into his heart until he dies. Yinson utilized a magnet to hold the metal shards in place, saving Tony’s life. These shards will go on to play an important role in the future of Iron Man, but none more significant than acting as a constant reminder of the violence and death he’s chosen to ignore his entire life.
With the assistance of Yinson, Tony begins to build a suit to ensure his escape, under the guise that they’re building the requested missile. Terrorists aren’t exactly the most patient of people, and they give Tony a deadline. Finish the missile by tomorrow… or else. With their backs against the wall, Tony and Yinson are forced to move forward with the suit, despite it not being ready yet. The end result is a comic accurate depiction of Iron Man’s first comic book appearance in 1963’s Tales of Suspense, Number 39. A bulky, silver, metallic suit capable of withstanding attacks from significant weaponry and enhanced strength and power.
The two manufacture an explosive and attach it to the holding cell’s door, rigged to detonate when the Ten Rings come to make good on their threats, which they do before the suit is activated. What follows is a scene of pure adrenaline-pumping tension, crafted primarily from the depiction of a progress bar on a computer. The progress bar tracks the suit’s power, and it’s inoperable until the bar fills. The door detonates and the bomb ignites, alerting the remaining members of the Ten Rings. The suit still isn’t powered yet, and it’s clear that it won’t be in time, prompting Yinson to retrieve a gun from one of the downed villains and creating a distraction, giving his life in the process of saving Tony’s.
As the terrorists enter the cell, they move cautiously and slowly, searching for the unseen threat they assume must be present. The moment plays out like a horror film. Like something you’d expect to see in Ridley Scott’s Alien, rather than a Marvel superhero movie. We see this moment mirrored near the film’s finale, as Pepper Potts and Agent Coulson are searching for Obadiah Stane, played to perfection by Jeff Bridges as one of the MCU’s most under-appreciated villains.
Part of what makes this scene so significant, especially in the long run of Iron Man’s cinematic career, is seeing the character at a time when he wasn’t perfect. In later films, it seems there is nothing that Iron Man and his nanotech suits can’t accomplish, but here, at the beginning of his journey, he’s still figuring things out. A perfect example of this is the moment we see Iron Man’s arm become stuck in the rock wall of the cave prison. The suit’s enhanced striking capabilities allow for Tony to send his enemies flying ten feet across the room from a single punch, but that same strength allows the arm to become wedged within the rock.
It’s a realistic downside to the power of the suit and showcases the fact that Tony is learning as he goes. We see another example later in the film when the Suit begins to freeze and ice over in high altitudes. As Tony struggles to free his arm from the wall, one of the terrorists comes in close and attempts to execute Tony with a single shot from a pistol to the head. The bullet ricochets, striking the gunmen and killing him instead. It’s a moment that proves just how strong and durable the suit is, while also adding a bit of comedic relief, dark as it may be.
As Tony is leaving the cave he finds a mortally wounded Yinson and is once again faced with death in an up close and unavoidable manner. More than anything, more than the action, more than the comedy, and even more than the suit, it’s Tony confronting the trail of death and destruction left in the path of Stark Industries that makes this scene so significant and so perfect.
In a lot of ways, Iron Man is the perfect superhero origin. He’s not a hero with a dark and traumatic past and his intentions aren’t driven out of trauma or vengeance. It’s built out of necessity. The suit was designed for the sole purpose of Tony’s own survival and the continued use of the suit is in order to make amends and right the wrongs that he himself has committed.
A Lot of significant aspects of 2008’s Iron Man would carry over into the future of the MCU, like fighting a villain with the similar powers or the use of brightly projected beams jutting into the sky.
But in a lot of ways, the MCU never made another movie like this one. It feels far more contained and personal than the space-traveling, magic-wielding ensembles that would follow and a lot of the heart of this film can be traced back to this one scene. The BIRTH of a hero who would capture the hearts of audiences and entertain millions for years to come.
Do you agree with our pick? What’s your favorite Iron Man scene? Let us know in the comments. And don’t forget to subscribe to FandomWire for more amazing content. I’ll see you next time.
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