Out of curiosity, especially since I still see people count Iron Man to be among their top three MCU films, I decided to check the decade old movie out again to see how well it holds up. As a “litmus” test, I also had my fiancee watch along with me and I was surprised – she still liked the film a lot, despite it being the first ever MCU film and despite seeing all the eighteen films that followed it. So I want to use my slot this week to talk about why the first Iron Man still worked so well for us, ten years later.
The movie is already a decade old so I don’t think spoiler warnings are necessary, so let me dig right into this:
- If we had to choose one thing, and only one thing, that worked really well for the first Iron Man movie, it has to be casting Robert Downey Jr. in the role. From Day One, RDJ has not only captured the essence of Tony Stark’s character, but he has also the role his own. I was still reading Marvel’s comic books during that time and (at least from my perspective) RDJ’s take on the role even influenced how Marvel’s writers were handling Tony Stark at the time. This isn’t the only thing that worked in Marvel’s favor, but I also think that the MCU wouldn’t have had such a successful start if another actor had been cast in the role.
- But RDJ isn’t the only actor who fit his role well. Now that I’ve watched the film several times already, I can say that the casting for this movie was really well done. Can you point out anyone who didn’t do a good job with his/her role? From main supporting characters Pepper Potts and James Rhodes to minor ones like Agent Coulson, all the actors were great fits.
- In one of the What Ifs of the MCU – What if Marvel Studios and Terrence Howard didn’t run into salary issues? No offense to Don Cheadle but I preferred Terrence Howard’s take on the James Rhodes character. Not that I have issues with Cheadle’s approach, but it was too straight compared to how Howard had a certain sense of roughness to the character. Howard’s portrayal had so much more personality, in my opinion.
- Marvel Studios have gotten so much negative criticism for their villains, but I’d say that Obadiah Stane is another thing that they got right. I’d even go as far as say that the Obadiah Stane character is such an underrated villain. He’s got a clear motivation (he wants to take Stark Industries for himself, after working in the shadow of Howard, and then later, Tony Stark) and he also posed as a believable challenge to Iron Man. Both in and out of “costume”, Stane served as a dark reflection of Tony Stark, especially since his armor was a larger and more menacing version of Stark’s original “cave” armor.
- I had forgotten about this because this eventually got corrected, and I don’t even remember when exactly, but the way Tony flew in the Iron Man armor, him using his palms to stabilize himself just looks awkward. It was explained really well thanks to a scene that showed Tony attempting to fly with just his boots propelling him in the air (spoiler, it didn’t work) so maybe that’s why people have been more forgiving unlike say, Bale’s Batman voice in the Nolan Dark Knight trilogy wherein no clear explanation was shown explicitly onscreen.
- “Subverting expectations” has been quite the topic this past year, given the fan backlash against Star Wars: The Last Jedi. While a small and subtle attempt, Tony Stark revealing to the general public in a press conference that he was Iron Man was quite unexpected, but still totally in character. One might say that the comparison is unfair since Star Wars is already an established franchise while Iron Man is just the start of a new one but then again the Iron Man character has been one of Marvel’s most popular characters for decades.
- It’s a little shocking to see Tony Stark actually kill people (during his escape from the terrorists and his attack against them later on). But I think that’s also what grounds this film in reality – the killing is never glorified and when it happens, you can understand why. On the flipside, Stark also goes out of his way to save people too, so Marvel got that part of “superhero” right as opposed to DC/Warner Bros. in Man of Steel.
- It’s amazing to look back at these Phase 1 films and see how hard Marvel Studios was trying to ground these movies in reality – perhaps they learned this from what Christopher Nolan did right and what Joel Schumacher did wrong with their Batman movies – and then watch Marvel’s most recent offerings. Nowadays, we can watch Rocket and Groot interact with Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes and not question the absurdity of it all, whereas Marvel had to work hard in selling the idea that a person can actually come up with the Iron Man armor. Just compare how Stark dons his armor in each of the Iron Man films and you can really see how closer Marvel Studios is moving towards fantasy and fiction with each film release.
- You can’t talk about the first Iron Man film without talking about its post credits scene. I mean, seeing Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, talking to Stark about the “Avenger Initiative” blew my mind then, and post credits scenes have now become a staple of superhero movies.
With all that said, I can definitely see why some people still consider Iron Man as one of the best MCU films of all time. Heck, re-watching this just now makes me want to reconsider where I’m placing this in my own personal rankings. Marvel Studios and everyone behind this movie did a lot of things right, from casting to establishing its characters, from telling an origin story effectively to their use of post credits scenes… Iron Man was the right movie to start an entire cinematic universe with.