“I am Iron Man.”
It’s actually a little hard to recollect the time before Marvel Movies came to dominate the theatrical landscape, but it’s only been eight years, less than a decade since dinosaurs roamed the earth.
We take it for granted now that this was always going to work, but it’s worth remembering what a huge gamble a ‘cinematic universe’ was at the time. Marvel had pawned off their best assets -Spider-man, X-men and Fantastic 4- and were left with a galaxy of backbenchers. I mean, Iron Man? Are you kidding me? Thor? Nobody cares about Thor.
But it worked. With Captain America: Civil War coming in out in a few weeks(!), the MCU is 13 movies in and going strong. No, it’s a fucking beast is what is. So it’s worth looking back at the evolution of this apex predator that has so come to dominate the movie food chain. (For proof, look no further than the imitation Universes trying to ape Marvel’s success: DC, Fox, Universal, Sony.)
And I don’t think it’s overstating the case to say that without Robert Downey Jr., you don’t have an MCU. If Marvel and it’s clones bring about the end of cinema as we know, it’s safe to say we can lay the blame at RDJ’s feet, because the man is electricity. Lightning in a bottle, from the first scene he’s in to that bombshell of a last line. Much like Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, Tony Stark brings this movie to life, elevating otherwise mediocre material to something near greatness.
Because for all of it’s many faults, Iron Man is a great movie and it achieves this largely on the strength of it’s cast: I’ve gushed over RDJ already, but it’s worth pointing out that his chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow feels amazingly lived-in and completely believable. She doesn’t have a lot to do in this movie, but she does more with it than Natalie Portman will a few movies hence – and without the benefit of a quirky sidekick. Jeff Bridges is glorious as he chews the scenery and Shaun Toub brings a strong moral center as Yinsen, the doctor who saves Tony’s life, and inspires him to be a hero. He’s also 50% responsible for this exchange, which I love:
Tony: … they’re gonna kill me and even if they don’t, I’ll be dead in a week.
Yinsen: Then this is a very important week for you, isn’t it?
Terrance Howard as Rhodie is a bit of a sour note, though it’s hard to tell how much of that is simply because he’s recast in subsequent films. Certainly he plays the character as much more of a buffoon than Don Cheadle will, and the contrast is a bit jarring.
I hesitate to point out the other contrast which I found -initially- jarring, if only because it paints me as a shitty, privileged white person. But when Nick Fury showed up in the post-credits scene all like this:
When I was expecting this:
I had to challenge myself, and my assumptions. And I did. And it pleases me to say that my google image search for Nick Fury was all Samuel L. Jackson, as far as the eye can see. I had to modify the search parameters to find the above picture.
Racism is over guys, we did it. And Nick Fury is now a bald and beautiful Black man.
As for the actual movie itself, it’s really good. A tad generic in the way that Marvel Origin Stories can be, but not tedious yet (looking at you, Ant-Man; your time will come). I’m going to give Marvel’s Iron Man 8 Jarvis’s, out of a possible 10 Jarvis’s. I loved it the first time I saw it, and that love endures to this day. And it changed the world, crazy and stupid as that sounds. And it does sound stupid and crazy.