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Last summer I went back through and reviewed all the episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter that came out before I started this blog. I actually enjoyed doing that, so I’m going to pick something else to go back and review each summer. This summer, it’s the MCU movies. And what better way to start than with the little film that started it all, Iron Man?
When you first saw Iron Man, did you know that this movie was going to spawn a franchise with thirteen movies to-date (and an additional eleven scheduled), five short films, five TV series (and counting), and a whole bunch of tie-in comics? I have to admit, the first time I saw this movie I had no clue that it was going to come from it. And I didn’t realize just how much it had expanded until about 2 months before The Avengers premiered when I discovered that all these Marvel movies I hadn’t seen yet were connected to this other Marvel movie I’d seen back in college! I probably wouldn’t have been so caught off-guard if I’d actually seen the Iron Man post-credits scene… but I hadn’t. And I mean, who stayed for the credits back in 2008???
Obviously I stay through the credits these days.
But now, down to business: Iron Man.
Just about everything about Iron Man works, particularly where it concerns Tony Stark himself. At the beginning of the movie he is absolutely narcissistic and cares about nothing but himself. He’s a brilliant inventor, but he’s more interested in living the high life than what he can really do with his gifts. And I’m sure Tony is not alone in his industry in being a fan of war because it drives up demand for his merchandise. In short, Tony Stark is a self-absorbed billionaire playboy—exactly what he is in the comics.
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Casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was a bit of a risky proposition when it was first announced: not only had he never appeared in a “blockbuster” film before 2008, but he was still bouncing back from major drug abuse problems. And ironically, RDJ’s history with addiction and partying actually made him the perfect Tony Stark. He was a reformed playboy trying to remake himself as a better man. Since then the RDJ has proven to be the perfect Tony Stark and the perfect poster boy for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To-date he has appeared in no less than seven films (3 Iron Man, 2 Avengers, Civil War, and The Incredible Hulk), with references to either Tony, Howard, or Stark Industries appearing in nearly every MCU offering. And moving forward he is pretty much guaranteed to appear in at least another 2-4 movies before the end of Phase 3. Oh, and Marvel’s highest-grossing films have all included him. All told, I think this worked out!
The change in personality in Tony after his capture is very much believable. When he finally sees what his weapons can do firsthand—and when he discovers that his weapons have been making their way into the hands of terrorists—he radically alters his way of thinking and radically alters his behavior. At the end of the movie Tony is still Tony: he’s still inwardly-focused and he still enjoys the spotlight (the final press conference is evidence enough of that!), but his character has progressed. He is now taking responsibility for his actions and using his talents for more than just his own enjoyment.
I really enjoyed watching Tony work through the process of creating his armor, particularly with the testing when he discovers the flaw in having an all-iron suit. Of the three armors that he uses in this movie, I think my favorite is the Mark 1, based on the challenges he faced while constructing it. That is Tony Stark in a nutshell: he’s always the smartest man in whatever room he’s in, and he can use his intelligence to get himself out of any problem.
Turning to the effects, considering that this movie is 8 years old now, you would think that the effects would not hold up well. However, the effects actually hold up quite well: I can definitely believe that there’s a guy in a metal suit flying around and killing terrorists. The fight sequences are all really good, though the final fight between Iron Man and Iron Monger isn’t quite enough after the wild and over-the-top fights against the Ten Rings. It was still very good, but I liked the first fight best.
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A movie can only really be as good as its villain, and Obadiah Stane actually works very well for me. His connection to Tony as a mentor and surrogate father figure is definitely present in the movie, though they could have done a better job showing how their relationship looked before Stane decided to have Tony killed. Why did Stane decide that the company would be better off without Tony? Is it just because he wants to take over (simple greed), or is there more to it? Personality-wise, Stane’s over-the-top personality matches Tony’s very well. He also makes an interesting contrast to Tony in their different focuses: Tony is very self-centered, while Stane talks a lot about “history” and “legacy.” Stane is certainly not an intellectual equal of Tony—his suit isn’t a match for the sleekness of Tony’s—but is more of a businessman who turns to his people to do the actual developing.
The supporting characters in this movie are all really good. Pepper makes a good romantic interest, especially for someone like Tony who just doesn’t do long-term relationships. I like the way that they interact, and particularly the lack of overt romantic interaction between them. This stands in sharp contrast to the one woman with whom Tony actually does have sex in this movie, Christine Everhart. She’s really just a plot device in this movie: she highlights Tony’s playboy nature (and that he really doesn’t care about any of the women he sleeps with), then she tells him about the attack on Gulmira that gets him out of the basement to fight terrorists, and then she goads him into announcing “I am Iron Man.” Every movie needs one or two minor characters like this, so I figured that she really wouldn’t turn out to be all that important. However, Marvel has done quite a bit with her in the last few years in viral marketing for Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and Captain America: Civil War.
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Terrence Howard makes a very good James “Rhodey” Rhodes—I was disappointed that they recast him for Iron Man 2, even though Don Cheadle does a very good job with the role. Howard brings a little more energy to the role, particularly as someone who can push Tony without getting pushed away. This movie doesn’t really explain the history between Tony and Rhodey—and really none of the MCU movies have done so yet. We know that they are friends, and we know that they go back to at least college, but that’s about all that we’ve learned so far. The background of their friendship isn’t exactly vital to understanding their relationship, but at some point it would be nice to know.
Now let’s talk about how this movie sets up the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
There are really only two ways in which Iron Man directly connects to the rest of the MCU. The first is the presence of Agent Phil Coulson representing the “Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division” (“S.H.I.E.L.D.”). Since then S.H.I.E.L.D. has made some appearance in every single MCU movie as well as both network TV shows, serving as the connective tissue tying everything together. Coulson in particular has played a major role in the MCU, with appearances in four movies before his death brought the heroes together to fight Loki. Then his resurrection played a major part in the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., where he has become the new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and spearheaded the introduction of the Inhumans to the MCU.
The second direct connection is in that final post-credits scene when Samuel L. Jackson shows up to talk to Tony about the “Avengers Initiative.” And honestly, that was the moment that put the rest of Hollywood on notice: Marvel was really going to try to do something different by introducing a number of different heroes in their own movies before bringing them all together into an ensemble movie. It was a small scene, but it was awesome.
But the most important element of this movie for the MCU is the fact that it all succeeds. If Iron Man had flopped, then that post-credits scene would have been just as embarrassing as the final scenes of Green Lantern, The Last Airbender, and the like, where the first movie flopped so badly that an entire series was scrapped. Because Iron Man was such a success, however, it became the first movie in a massive cinematic undertaking.
Iron Man was probably my second-favorite MCU movie after The Avengers up until Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out. Since then it has fallen down the rankings a little, but only because it seems like each MCU movie improves over the previous ones. At some point Iron Man may just be an above-average MCU movie, but it will always hold a special place as the movie that kicked the whole thing off.
What do you think of Iron Man? How often have you watched it? Do you like Stane as a villain? Let me know in the comments!