So I’ve got a little project I’m working on over the next few months. With The Avengers: Infinity War coming out soon, I’ve decided to go back and review all the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (apart from the ones I’ve already reviewed, of course), and finish by putting them all in a definitive ranking. Some of the movies I haven’t seen in ages, and some I’ve managed to skip altogether, so this will be a way for me to get caught up in time for the big sorta-finale.
Let’s get started!
Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Marc Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway (wow, this really didn’t feel like a four-writer movie)
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr.
Music By: Ramin Djawadi
This is the one that started it all: not just the MCU, but the very idea of a cinematic universe as we know it today. It changed the way we think about superhero movies and the way we watch the end credits. And it arguably completed the process that began in the early 2000s of changing superhero movies in the public consciousness from cheesy, campy flicks for kids to serious blockbuster material for all ages.
In case you’ve gone as long as I had without watching it, here’s a refresher on the plot: Tony Stark is a billionaire, genius, playboy, philanthropist…but he’s also a massive jerk, until he gets a piece of shrapnel in his heart just before getting kidnapped by terrorists in Afghanistan. There he finds out that many of the hugely destructive weapons he’s been creating for the U.S. military have been ending up in the hands of their enemies. In order to escape his captors, he builds a mini mech suit with flamethrowers and jetpacks, with the help of this movie’s model of the guy-who-exists-to-die-inspirationally. Once Tony gets home, to atone for his past sins and honour that guy’s death, he decides to use his new Iron Man suit for good–after giving it a cooler paint job, of course.
I remember loving this movie when it first came out. 2008 was one of the crappier years of my life, and a movie like Iron Man provided just the escapism I needed, even if some of its jokes went over my head (for example, my sheltered teenage self had never heard Black Sabbath, so the little musical gag at the end was lost on me). It was cool, exciting, and funny, and it was just grounded enough not to feel like a kids’ movie (a very important consideration for teenage me).
Revisiting it now, I’m a lot more aware of its flaws, especially since a lot of them became recurring problems within the MCU. The villain is enjoyably hammy, but he’s still pretty generic, and he doesn’t have a strong motive. Product placement has to rear its ugly head a few times, although it’s nowhere near as blatant as it sometimes got in later Marvel films. Also, as much fun as the Iron Man action is, it doesn’t build to a very interesting climax–just a brief punch-out, with a couple screaming civilians in the way. Really, for a superhero movie, Iron Man doesn’t have a ton of great action. It’s always fun when Iron Man gets to just fly around in his suit or blow stuff up, but he doesn’t have any good fights with other people–mainly because he always outguns them all so easily. It would take later, higher-tech movies to really give him a challenge.
But even after noticing all this on the re-watch, I still thoroughly enjoyed Iron Man. And I think I have to give most of the credit for that to one man: Robert Downey, Jr. He carries the whole movie on his back and doesn’t seem to notice the weight. His rapid-fire witticisms in the “fun-vee” are what pull me into the movie, and his performance keeps me there until the last deadpan look at the camera. He makes Tony Stark’s two-hour journey from unrepentant jerk, to repentant jerk, to full-blown hero, completely believable without ever letting up on the jokes.
And that’s a really, really good thing, because when you come right down to it, Iron Man is a lot more about Tony’s character development than anything else. The plot is fairly thin, the action isn’t amazing, but the heart of the story is about a bad man finding a way to redeem himself, and that part works just fine.
I’ve read that when Stan Lee created Iron Man back in the ’60s, he was trying to invent the exact kind of character his young, hip, comic-book-reading audience would automatically hate–and make them love him anyway. So he wrote Tony Stark as a selfish billionaire who profits off war in other countries. When it came time to make a movie about this guy almost 50 years later, his personality didn’t change much, because that’s still the kind of person a lot of young nerds love to hate.
And why wouldn’t we? Tony Stark is the living embodiment of everything wrong with Western culture. He’s materialistic. He’s a hedonist. He’s arrogant. He reaps the benefits of violence and suffering that he never has to see up close, and he’s actually proud of that. But the great thing about this movie is that it makes me believe someone like that can change. Tony genuinely sees the error of his ways, and he uses that remorse to do something better with his life. After being humbled and losing some of his illusions about the world, he manages to use his talents to make that world a better place–to protect the innocents his technology once harmed.
And if a man like Tony Stark can change, then maybe I and my whole screwed-up culture can change, too. That’s where this movie’s true escapism comes in: it gives me a bit of hope for my stupid society.
The story of an arrogant jerk being humbled would eventually become a Marvel origin story staple, but I still think this movie did it best. And with the benefit of hindsight, knowing all the great stories this guy would eventually make possible…it just gets even better.
Instead of grades for these movies, I’m just going to list my ranking for them so far. Since Iron Man is the first, it’s obviously number one…for now.
- Iron Man