Greetings from the Edge!
This week, for the tenth anniversary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ll be taking a look at the movie that started it all: Iron Man. As a nearly lifelong fan of the comics, will I still enjoy it ten years on as much as I did when it premiered, or will a decade of ( mostly ) outstanding Marvel movies knock some of the shine off this groundbreaker? Can the humble story of a weapons manufacturing billionaire genius playboy still move us, or will all the Avengers, Guardians, Panthers, Asgardians and Men ( both Spider & Ant ) eclipse it? Let’s find out!
Starring Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and his alter ego Iron Man, Jeff Bridges as the charmingly evil Obadiah Stane, Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony’s girl Friday Pepper Potts, and Terrence Howard as Tony’s much put upon and faithful friend James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes.
We open up with a column of Humvees and a boozy Tony Stark carousing with a group of service people and generally being the charming s.o.b. that he is. At least, until the column comes under heavy fire and upon fleeing the vehicle he is injured by one of his own anti-personnel weapons. Waking up with a burlap sack over his head, he soon discovers that he has been captured by insurgents operating under the banner of the “Ten Rings.” He has been critically wounded, with only an improvised electromagnet keeping fragments of shrapnel from shredding his already damaged heart.
Now he must not only escape his captors and survive his injured heart, but face his inner demons while his hidden enemies still plot against him. Can a merchant of war become a hero, or will his past ultimately destroy him?
Okay, right up front I have to give all my love to the effects in Iron Man, not only for doing ten years ago what a lot of blockbusters aren’t capable of pulling off now, but for also being the last project of effects artist and titan Stan Winston of Aliens, Terminator, Jurassic Park, and The Monster Squad fame. ( What, I love The Monster Squad! )
The armor itself is fully realized, both in the chunky, almost steampunk prototype armor constructed from scraps and in the streamlined “Golden Avenger” that became so iconic of the character.
I’d feel remiss if I didn’t bring up the villain of the piece, “Iron Monger.” The brutal, industrial aesthetic of the armor fits as a perfectly done counterpoint against the high-tech visage of the Iron Man armor. The Iron Monger is a two-handed axe the rapier that is Iron Man.
It really makes me wish that they’d chosen to go with one of his more iconic foes for the second movie. I mean, they pretty much make Whiplash into an ersatz Crimson Dynamo, why not go all the way?
I hadn’t recalled how fast paced Iron Man is: it drops you into the deep end, and only after it sucks you in and introduces you to the lovable jackass that is Tony Stark does it start world building ( something DC is still trying to learn. ) Iron Man manages to mix humor, action, and character development in a way that pleases both the avid comic fan and the casual movie goer.
Lately I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the proliferation of Marvel superhero movies, but when compared with the likes of Bay’s Transformers series and Disney’s own Pirates series, the heart and good feelings that the Marvel movies seem to engender puts them head and shoulders above the competition. I don’t count the DC movies because, besides Wonder Woman, those dark ( in both tone, lighting, and general color scheme ) films fail to capture DC at all for me ( and to be honest, Wonder Woman was pretty damn dark in itself. )
If you can’t guess by now that I love this film, I’m just not gushing hard enough! I was actually a little afraid that reviewing Iron Man with a critical eye might ruin it for me, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Going back and looking at it as less of an extension of the comics and more as an exercise in movie making and myth building only pointed out the excellence lurking where I might have been tempted to draw fault before.
The characters are fully realized, both supporting characters like “Happy” Hogan and “Pepper” Potts who have gone on to be mainstays of the Marvel cinematic universe to Jeff Bridges’ excellent turn as Obadiah Stane. Shaun Toub does a standup job as Professor Yinsen and really helps make Tony Stark’s transformation from selfish industrialist to altruistic crusader more believable.
If you haven’t seen Iron Man yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough, and if it’s been a few years for you, give it another try. I know that seeing it again has really helped me give scope to the still expanding Marvel cinematic universe. In fact, it’s actually remarkable to see how true the MCU has stuck to its roots, both in tone and in quality.
Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!
I don’t think it needs to be said, but Robert Downey Jr. does such a good job portraying both Tony Stark and his alter ego Iron Man that he has left an indelible mark on not only the Marvel cinematic universe but the comics themselves. In fact, for more than a few years when Marvel was going through the original comic version of the Civil War storyline and decided to make Tony Stark the villain of the piece ( don’t worry, Captain America came across as an idiot, too ), Mr. Downey’s version of Tony Stark was just about the only bright spot for Iron Man fans out there, and for that I’d like to say thanks for doing such a superlative job.
Also, Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson is always a joy! Yes, I am a huge fan. No, I have no shame in this regard.
Is it wrong that I feel bad for Terrence Howard? Trust me, I love Don Cheadle, he is a great Rhodey, but I can’t help but feel that Howard didn’t get much of a shot.
Somehow they manage to make me feel bad for a mechanical assembly arm. C’mon Tony it’s doing it’s best, you don’t have to be so mean!
As has been pointed out many times before, the Ten Rings terrorists hint at the Mandarin in the original Iron Man movie. This really got the hopes of comic nerds all over the world sky high. I have to admit that the reveal in the third movie was a personal disappointment. However, there is a short subject that was released after Iron Man 3 that once again hinted at the real Mandarin. Sadly, after all this time, unless the Iron Man series of films receives a reboot, I don’t think we’ll get to see the Mandarin in all his ring slinging glory.
Of course, Iron Man also wins points for opening with AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and then actually having the gaul to play Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” over the ending credits… you filthy whore, you make me love you I… I may have issues. ( Back issues, that is! )
Come back next week for more filmatic fanaticism, cinematic scandal, and sophomoric silliness here on the Edge!