tobacco Knights presents
Installment 1: Iron Man
2008 Directed by John Favreau
At first I thought it would be hard to rewind seven years back to 2008 – when Iron Man premiered and the first domino in the MCU toppled forward – and try to re-capture that perspective for this viewing. For days I went back and forth over whether that should even be an issue – maybe just say eff it and watch with today’s mindset and reflect back only when it comes naturally. Not wanting to over-think it, I finally just plopped down on the couch one afternoon and put the Blu-Ray in with no real plans of “how” to watch. Should I take notes? Should I just watch all the way through without hitting Pause, and then write what immediately comes to mind. Should I sleep on it first? Maybe multiple viewings to make sure I don’t miss anything poignant. As I pushed Play on the menu and the disc started to spin, I feared I might be wasting the next two hours for being ill-prepared. But just a couple minutes in to the opening desert scene, I was sent right back to when I first saw the movie, and how it caught me immediately off guard as being ”good”.
Now to clarify, I regretfully didn’t see this film in the theater, and it wasn’t until much later that I actually got around to seeing it on DVD. I pretty much had no use for comic book movies up to that point, so I wasn’t exactly rushing to the box office when it premiered. But periodic word of mouth and occasional positive reviews from trusted friends and critics over the years led me to eventually give it a go. This was probably sometime in 2011, and I still hadn’t seen any of the subsequent MCU movies, so at least I was getting off to a chronologically accurate start, even if I was a bit late to the party.
As I said, from the opening scene I was sold. The following sequences in the cave confirmed that, while there would be a fair share of flashy action and effects (a good thing, to be sure!), there would be some great underlying substance of story and character, brought to life by good screenwriting, acting, and directing. Remember I had nothing to do with comic books growing up, so I knew nothing of the Tony Stark backstory or how he became Iron Man, so the whole storyline was new to me as it unfolded on the screen. Lots of character and plot elements to set up from the get-go, and Favreau and Downey pull it off effectively and efficiently amid an onslaught of tense action and sci-fi technology. But a scene-by-scene breakdown of these films is not what these entries are going to be about (thank God); rather an off-the-cuff comment on what I came away with. What I would want to elaborate on to any friend willing to listen and put up with the choking blue smoke filling the air from that evening’s cigar of choice. There’s an over-saturation of rambling opinion and high-brow critique out there, so I’ll try to keep these entries short and simple, and each time just elaborate on….
The One Thing: Every so often, an actor is given a role they were born to play. I think of Malcolm McDowell as Alexander DeLarge, Dustin Hoffman as Ratso, Judy Garland as Dorothy. Someone different could perhaps have been cast and done a marvelous job, but for that role, in that film, at that particular point on the Timeline they were the perfect choice, and gave the perfect performance, and nothing can ever take that away. Not from them, nor from the history of cinema. Some more recent members of this elite company might be Morgan Freeman as Otis “Red” Redding, Johnny Depp as Hunter Thompson, Heath Ledger as The Joker. It’s a category fun to think about…
I truly think Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark deserves to be on this list. We all knew he had it in him from early on. From the heart-wrenching portrayal of Julian in Less Than Zero to the title role in Chaplin, Downey proved he was an amazing talent that could hold his own with the best in Hollywood. As with so many artists, though, whose talents no doubt draw from tumultuous experiences during their formative years, Downey’s life and career skewed off the A-list path on to dark tangents that repeatedly threatened his health and marriages, and to varying degrees his career.
I say “varying degree” because Downey continued to work, even through some of his more darker periods. Most of it forgettable, however, with an occasional bright spot here and there that sadly reminded you of his seemingly lost potential. Resilience and raw talent kept the fire going, though, beneath the surface of ashes his career had become. But how long until it was snuffed out for good? When would studios and co-workers and ratings finally say enough is enough?
The potential for the MCU franchise to be the multi-billion dollar juggernaut it has become was there from the beginning. But it needed a catalyst, perhaps one more integral than just the allegiance of an already massive sub-culture of comic universe disciples that congregated at conventions and on fledgling versions of social media forums. Studios could always count on a sizable box office draw from these loyal enthusiasts as long as it was from a comic of some small merit and consecrated by some measure of time. But something more was needed. Some substantial element that would validate the Marvel franchise to a larger audience, and create a sturdy foundation that could be built on.
The tiny seed that would eventually produce this necessary central support for this burgeoning behemoth can be traced back to a single moment, a microscopic milli-second on the Timeline – the instant director Jon Favreau had the idea for Robert Downey, Jr to play the lead role. As Tony Stark, Stan Lee’s over-the-top answer to Bruce Wayne, Downey pours a high-octane performance into the iconic red and gold suit that single-handedly propels not only this film but kick-starts the whole MCU enterprise on its way to the inevitable Avengers culminations. It was the right role for the right actor at the right time. The planets truly aligned, Downey seized the opportunity full-force, and the rest has now become history.
And that’s actually where it always starts with these transcendent performances – with a whim of an idea on who to cast. Sometimes the choice is radical, sometimes it’s obvious, but it’s never vindicated until the actor brings his or her chops to the table and serves up a performance for the ages. And that’s just what Downey did for Favreau, and Favreau did for Downey. And together for the MCU franchise and its eventual legion of fans.
Just blowing smoke: The Illusione MJ12. I chose this for its metallic wrapper, in honor of our Iron-clad hero. One I have to travel a few miles north for, as my local tobacconist quit carrying it for some reason. Not for lack of taste or popularity, though, as this silver-sheathed favorite burns evenly and heavily, giving off a lot of smoke but at the same time not too harsh or overpowering. Great taste and strong finish. I also have noticed it’s popular among those who prefer a bolder smoke as well as those who prefer to stay with a milder one.
And now on to the “Hulk” movie of 2008 and see if Ed Norton can compete with RDJ….
To Read The Nerdling’s review of Iron Man click here.