By James Rocchi,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
First MCU adventure has violence, Islamophobia.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The world isn't black and white, and a patriotic "us vs. them" mentality can oversimplify complex issues. It's important to question the morality surrounding the place of weapons in maintaining peace. New understanding can lead to change, but it can take courage to stick to your beliefs.
Positive Role Models
Tony is a carefree, arrogant playboy who eventually discovers a conscience and tries to do good. He's captured by terrorists, which leads to a wider view of the war and the place of his weapons within it. Fellow hostage Yinsen offers him aid, assistance, and moral guidance, ultimately sacrificing himself for Tony's mission. Pepper Potts is smart and capable under pressure, though her loyalty to Tony leans into subservience. The villain is manipulative, double-crossing, focuses on greed and power over morals.
Stereotypes Muslims as terrorists. The original comic book set the cave in Vietnam, and this movie changed it to Afghanistan, likely to update for a post-9/11 audience. The women Tony interacts with are objectified and portrayed as beautiful trophies who easily fall for his charms. Even a successful, well-educated Vanity Fair journalist is quickly reduced to the latest of Tony's conquests. While the main character is White, Colonel Rhodes is a prominent Black character in a position of authority and is portrayed in a positive light as both influential in his job and a good friend to Tony.
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Violence & Scariness
Extensive, constant sci-fi action and war violence. Characters (including kids) are held at gunpoint; adult villagers are rounded up and separated from their children; wounded characters bleed; a character is tied up with a bag over their head; people perish in explosions or at the hands of guns and other weapons; and scenes of torture include being held underwater and threatened with hot coal. Iron Man's armor shoots energy rays, micro-missiles, flames, and fireballs. Characters in high-tech armor have superpowered fistfights and cause damage to cars and buildings around them. Wires and a device are inserted into a character's chest. People are seen on fire, and glimpses of injury detail, including burns to the head, are shown. Iron Man drops a baddie at the feet of Afghani villagers, saying, "He's all yours."
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Making out and tumbling about in bed. A young woman wakes up in a bed covered only by a sheet, presumably after sex, and then walks around wearing just a man's shirt. Flight attendants dance suggestively (a dance pole is present but not used); much is made of Tony's reputation as a playboy. Flirting and sexual innuendo. Tony pressures his employee, Pepper, to dance with him at an event. She is reluctant at first but gives in.
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Infrequent language including "son of a bitch," "pr--k," "Jesus," "damn," and "hell," as well as the shortened term "B.S." Sexual innuendo.
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Products & Purchases
Tie-in to vast quantities of related Marvel merchandise. Contextual references to Burger King, and characters drive Audi cars (both companies have promotional agreements with the film). Verizon cell phones. A montage includes several mock magazine covers with visible logos: Time, Newsweek, Wired, Rolling Stone, etc. On-screen, Tony's wealth is glorified.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Alcohol is consumed on occasion, including spirits and cocktails; one character enjoys a cigar, albeit mostly as a prop.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Iron Man is the first of three popular movies centering on the superhero, and the film that set the stage for the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Although much of the violence is clearly meant to be based in the realm of sci-fi and fantasy -- or is shown at a distance -- there's plenty of it, from massive explosions to children being held at gunpoint to superpowered fistfights. Some of the violence is war themed, and some characters get hurt and/or die. While much is made of lead character Tony Stark's (Robert Downey Jr.) devil-may-care lifestyle of being a rich playboy, viewers also see him turn away from its more irresponsible aspects. Language includes "son of a bitch," "damn," and "hell." Characters drink and gamble. Sexual content is more suggested than shown. The portrayal of Afghan kidnappers perpetuates Islamophobic stereotypes, and women are frequently objectified by the lead character.
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Based on 86 parent reviews
Good movie but kids are the wrong demographic, take PG-13 rating seriously and don't listen to marketing that implies otherwise
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Iron Man is great!!!!
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What's the Story?
IRON MAN begins as brilliant billionaire industrialist/inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is abducted during a weapons demonstration tour in Afghanistan. Grievously wounded by the very weapons his company manufactures, Tony is forced by his captors to build a missile; instead, he designs a high-tech suit of armor to make his escape. Returning to America, he wonders how his company's products fell into the wrong hands and vows to set things right with the help of a rebuilt, stylish new iteration of the powered exoskeleton that makes him Iron Man.
Is It Any Good?
Director Jon Favreau keeps the film light and bright; special effects are impressively crafted, and the setup for the next film is handled gently and well. Iron Man knows that it's a comic book movie; not only does it have all the plot points and moral messages that we're used to from Spider-Man, Batman Begins, and others in the genre, but it also subtly mocks and twists them. The plot touches all the bases of the traditional "origin story" (how our hero becomes a superhero, his first outing with his new powers, etc.), showing plenty of hustle and style as it does so. However, offensive stereotypes of Muslims as terrorists and some disturbing violence make aspects of the story hard to watch.
But if there's any one thing that makes Iron Man more than just a run-of-the-mill superhero film, it's Downey Jr. His work here is funny, human, heroic, and completely engaging, capturing the brisk, breezy laugh lines, the adrenaline-fueled action, and the moments of bold purpose that every superhero has to have as they start out. He gives both Tony and Iron Man a little swagger and coolness -- something that would go on to become a calling card of the MCU style, in contrast to the stiffer, straight-laced heroes that came before him.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the popularity of comic book movies like Iron Man. Do they speak to escapism or darker fantasies about power?
How does the fact that much of the movie's violence is based in fantasy affect its impact? How is it different watching human characters get hurt than robots and other beings?
Iron Man may work toward doing good, but he's no Boy Scout. Can heroic characters still be flawed? Does that make them more heroic, or less?
How does Tony Stark demonstrate curiosity and courage in Iron Man? Why are these important character strengths?
Discuss the portrayal of terrorists and how the film plays into stereotypes. Can you think of other examples of Islamophobic representations in films?
- In theaters: May 2, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: September 30, 2008
- Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Robert Downey Jr.
- Director: Jon Favreau
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Superheroes
- Character Strengths: Courage, Curiosity
- Run time: 125 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content
- Last updated: February 18, 2023
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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