Next month’s Avengers: Endgame will bring a close to the third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and quite possibly be the last we see of a group of iconic characters. I’ve come to love the MCU quite dearly, and its existence pretty much exactly lines up with that of this blog, so I thought I’d take a chance to reevaluate these movies as well as my own writing, starting with my review of Captain Marvel and going through all the other films in chronological order every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. That’s 11 years and 21 moves to get through in just over a month, so let’s not delay!
Original Review: Iron Man Lives Again (four stars)
Iron Man does not open with the iconic Marvel Studios fanfare. A quainter version of it is still there, but the first thing we see is Paramount Studios’ big ol’ mountain. It is a reminder that just about every studio in Hollywood – by my count Universal, Fox, and New Line – had already passed on making this character into a movie. Back in 2008, Iron Man wasn’t very popular (a lot of people thought he was a robot) and Marvel Studios was still a scrappy little operation. Lest we forget, Disney wouldn’t buy Marvel until 2009, and we had no idea of the scope of Kevin Feige’s ambitions.
The movie wears that scrappiness on its sleeve; production famously began without a finished script, leaving the actors to improvise much of the dialogue. Jeff Bridges called it “a $200 million student film.” I actually really like the loose feel of Iron Man, it never seems like it’s just going through the motions of exposition-joke-action that some other movies succumb to. But it also does mean some of the scenes feel a little long or sloppy.
Of course, none of it would work without this great cast. In my original review, I wrote that, “Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges [get] as much mileage out of their screen time as they can, but this is Downey’s show.” And that still feels true, since Robert Downey, Jr. has gone on to basically be the star of the whole MCU. It’s a shame we never got more from Howard (because he’s bad at math) or Bridges (because his character died), but this definitely showed how the Marvel template of character first, action second could work.
There’s something to be said about the wish-fulfillment of origin stories like this too. Who wouldn’t want to be the brilliant genius/incorrigible playboy that Tony Stark is at the beginning of this film? Director Jon Favreau really puts the audience into the experience of becoming Iron Man, making the building of the suit a lengthy process, but also showing how it takes Tony a while to learn to fly and fight. Even the suit takes forever to put on and take off, and it seems heavy and slow in a way that it won’t in the later movies. Along the way, Tony also learns that he needs to be the one in the suit, he alone can atone for his company’s sins. This scene stuck out to me because I think it was Tony planning on asking Rhodey to be Iron Man… And also because it has a bummer transphobic joke in it.
A lot of people say they tune out the noise of the spectacular CG action sequences that are ostensibly the reason these movies get made. I’m going to try to be honest about how they effect me as I go. Iron Man doesn’t have a ton of action, but I like most of it. The cave escape is thrilling and emotional because Yinsen dies (Shaun Toub does a lot with a little). Iron Man’s first mission – saving the village from the Ten Rings – is equally entertaining because it shows just how crazy powerful that suit is. And the final battle with Iron Monger is fine, but easily the most boring of the three. I like Jeff Bridges’ monster voice, though.
Finally, I think there’s some veiled commentary about America going on here. Something about us filling the world with weapons that are too dangerous and us believing we’re the only ones with the right to use them? About our wealth and ego making us feel unaccountable or separate from the rest of the world? I don’t know, somebody else has probably figured this out. I responded to Tony’s hubris, the way the terrorists shatter it, and how he ultimately rebuilds himself not humbler, but actually with even more power.
Before I go, let’s talk cannon. Obviously the part of Rhodey ended up being recast as Don Cheadle. We also see an older Howard Stark played by Gerard Sanders, he’d later be replaced by John Slattery. The running gag of Coulson calling SHIELD the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division is weird since it would definitely already be called SHIELD by then, and Tony’s dad was one of its founders so everyone in the movie should know that. Other than that, everything works, I think. No magic stones here.
MCU Power Rankings: It’s close, but I think Iron Man still edges out Captain Marvel for me.