Movie: Iron Man
Released: May 2, 2008
Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway (According to IMDB.com)
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow
Just kidding! I know the two have nothing to do with one another.
It is a little difficult to talk about Iron Man as the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe now. This movie is the start of what would later be called Phase 1 in the MCU, but Marvel Studios at the time was trying to set up a possible Avengers movie. And the set up doesn’t even come until after the credits. In the planning stages of Iron Man, Marvel Studios had a blueprint for an Avengers movie (a franchise Marvel Studios still had the rights to) and the whole plan hinged on the success of this movie. Everything about this movie seems genius now, but at the time it was a big gamble, even with the success of superhero movies that came before.
Iron Man had a fairly successful run in cartoons in the 60’s and 90’s and a following in the comic world, but was not nearly as well known in pop culture. Well there was the aforementioned song. The Batman and Superman movies had been successful at that point, but they had been staples in pop culture for several generations. X-Men had a successful run in theaters as well. The timely message of acceptance of those who are different (i.e. LGBT acceptance) helped with the popularity, but the atrocious Brett Ratner installment killed all the love the first two movies had earned. Spider-Man (another popular comic movie franchise that is adorkablly fun) was also stomped down by a really bad third entry in the franchise. I remember Venom from the cartoons, he was a psychotic asshole, not a scrawny dork playing (and failing miserably) at being bad. I don’t even want to touch on the Fantastic Four movies.
I honestly feel like Iron Man was chosen because Batman was (and still is) a very popular movie franchise and there are a few likenesses between the two characters. Before you start to yell at me in the comments, please just keep reading and remember that I AM NOT a comic book expert and I AM NOT talking about these movies from a comic book stand point. When you strip them down, they are both tormented, orphaned, playboy millionaires. They use their money and intelligence to right wrongs and fight crime they feel cannot be stopped by just the justice system alone. From what I gleamed from others talking about the comics, Tony Stark was written as a much darker character, much like Bruce Wayne. Those similarities are just on the surface of the characters. Reading the histories and inspirations of both characters, Iron Man was not created by Marvel as an answer to rival DC’s Batman. I am simply hypothesizing that maybe Iron Man was picked to go first in the MCU because of the very successful reboot of Batman a few of years before and a sequel was coming.
Talk at me in the comments section. Am I totally off base? Or did some of you feel the same way?
Marvel Studios and Jon Favreau took a big risk with casting Robert Downey Jr. I know, hard to believe because Downey seems so perfect for the role. Downey was in the middle of restarting his career after struggling with drugs and alcohol that nearly turned him into an episode of Where are they now? Downey was well on his way to a comeback when he was offered the role. He had a few roles in small, critically acclaimed movies and he had been cast in the fantastically funny roll of Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder right around the same time he was tapped to play Tony Stark. The risk was Downey was not considered a huge star and had not carried or stared in a big budget movie before. Favreau figured that if anyone was going to play a man who was a self-absorbed asshole struggling with the demons he created and do it with the charisma needed to make you love this guy, it would be Downey. He had been there, done that, and had the T-shirt.
It all worked. Downey was perfect, Jeff Daniels seemed to play a bad guy with glee, and Paul Bettany’s J.A.R.V.I.S. added a nice bit of dry, British sarcasm to the mix. My only problem with the movie was Gwyneth Paltrow. She started out great as Pepper Potts, able to verbally spar with Leslie Bibb and Downey, she acted like someone who was mentally tough enough to work with a personality as overwhelming as Tony Stark’s. Then Stark came back, started to become Iron Man, and Paltrow seemed unable to keep up with Downey’s charisma. She turned into the typical female love interest and the character became disappointing to me. I can’t blame Paltrow completely, it’s like everyone working on the movie didn’t know what to do with her after that.
The best part about the whole movie is how much fun it was to watch. Batman Begins was a great movie, but it was intense to watch. Dark and gritty, like the character of Batman, and there was not much in the way of happy moments. The Dark Knight, due out in July of 2008, was shaping up to be even more so with the intensity. Superman Returns was heavy with the bruiting and monologuing. X-Men 3 and Spider-Man 3 were tedious with the mind numbing dumbness. Iron Man was full of humor and heavy with the glee-inducing action. Lots of things exploded, the fighting was fast paced and full of one liners, and everyone looked like they had the time of their lives making the movie. Added bonus is the first Iron Man suit is seen 36 minutes into the movie. The building and testing of the new suit goes by quickly and gets us to the new badass suit as soon as possible. In Batman Begins, it is 61 minutes before you see the Bat suit and it is only a quick glimpse. The origins of Bruce Wayne, while fascinating, took up most of the run time and made the major conflict of the movie feel rushed. Iron Man got to the point and got to the fun as quickly as it could. The movie felt like your favorite roller-coaster, the one that may not have all the crazy drops and turns, but never disappoints. The whole time your hands are in the air and you are scream-laughing with joy.
The setup for the MCU did not really make an appearance until after the credits. Well, there was that throwaway line from Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson at the end of the movie about having done this before that hinted at something. He says, “This is not my first rodeo,” and everyone lets it slide, but when I say it, I get looked at like “you silly Texan and your rodeos.” That feels unfair. Sorry I needed a moment to bitch on that one. I was happy enough just to see an eye-patched Jules Winnfield lay the verbal smackdown to Tony Stark, but I had no clue what all he said meant. Avengers Initiative? Huh? My friend I saw the movie with was super excited though. He is a comic book fan and explained to me what the Avengers were and there was a possibility of an Avengers movie. Jackson’s cameo was used to introduce his as Nick Fury (the director of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and take the temperature of the audience’s reception. If it was going to be anything like Iron Man, I was in. The Incredible Hulk was coming out in the next month and the rumors were that it was going to continue the Avengers Initiative and a possible Downey cameo.
I know this column was heavy with the setup of what came before the movie and I didn’t talk much about Phase 1, but like Iron Man, I’m just setting the stage for what’s to come. There was not much going on with Phase 1 with this movie, just a hint of it.
Next up on the countdown to Phase 3 is The Incredible Hulk staring Edward Norton. Fire up those DVD/BluRay players and watch along. In the meantime, talk to me in the comments section. What did you love about Iron Man? Did you understand the end credits scene when you first saw the movie? Did you know what was coming before going to see it? Were you geeking out on the phrase “Avengers Initiative”?
To read UberApe’s review of Iron Man click here