Iron Man Launched the MCU 15 Years Ago Today

When Iron Man was released in American theaters on May 2, 2008, few people expected it to lead to movies with characters like Rocket Raccoon, Kang the Conqueror, and Namor, the Sub-Mariner. But now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe developed over a decade and a half, it’s worth looking back at what made all these great movies, Disney+ movies, and cinema debates are possible.

After years of scattered superhero movies that ranged from masterpieces (Spider-Man 2) to duds (Daredevil), Iron Man — and technically The Incredible Hulk next month – released with the intention of jumping into a cinematic universe. That goal will obviously be accomplished to a large extent, but a large part of why that’s the case comes down to one simple thing – Iron Man is a legitimately good film.

Within the first five minutes, Robert Downey Jr.Tony Stark’s Tony Stark is already on his journey that defines the character. We get a few flashbacks afterwards, but Iron Man has a great start that gets you interested right away. The flashbacks are essential additional background story, as Tony Stark’s snarky yet endearing character and his reputation as an arrogant weapons manufacturer are established quickly and effectively. Just as the flashbacks make you wonder if you should be rooting for Tony, we’re brought back to the present, where he’s a hostage in the Ten Rings with a low-budget surgical job keeping him alive.

We join present-day Tony and his savior/fellow hostage Yinsen as they build a missile for the Ten Rings, and we begin to see the human side of Stark. Here he begins to become the flawed but admirable hero that fans have followed for over a decade, as he and Yinsen talk to each other and realize the desperate situation they’re in – because of Tony’s own weapon. By the time the new Iron Man Mark I suit is complete and Stark is blasting the gunmen, you’re completely behind him. Yinsen’s memorable death instills that essential humanity in Tony, who is willing to see him become a superhero.

The seeds for the MCU to continue to evolve were planted when Phil Coulson, the beloved SHIELD agent who appears in many movies, showed up at Stark’s first post-abduction press conference. It’s fun to look back at this little appearance while knowing that Coulson will eventually be the driving force behind the Avengers teaming up. His small appearance in Iron Man doesn’t feel gratuitous — partly because he’s an original MCU character rather than a strict reference — but proves there’s a bigger world out there.

It’s also interesting to see Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts and Terrence Howard’s Rhodey at this point, albeit for their own unique reasons. The fact that this early Potts would go on to run Stark Industries, marry Tony, befriend Spider-Man, and don the Rescue armor is a wild thought. Howard is good as Rhodes, albeit in a different and more serious way than Don Cheadle. That might have something to do with the quippy humor that has become more prevalent in later MCU movies than here, but either way, Howard puts in a strong performance that could have made for a different Rhodey than Cheadle.

A good part of the second act of the movie consists of Tony being fun and funny while showing how he has changed since being kidnapped. From returning to Afghanistan and getting the Ten Rings in his new suit to trying to stop his company’s illegal shipments, we see Tony grow firsthand. It helps that everything he does looks cool, despite the very dated 2008 CGI.

It’s hard to overstate how amazing the first suit-up scene was for me as a 12-year-old comic dork. Although Iron Man is not exactly the top-level popular hero that he is today, his appearances in the video games Marvel Ultimate Alliance and X-Men Legends II: Rise of the Apocalypse make me of the opinion that he and his suits are very good. cold. Seeing a big budget remake of the movie with him wearing the iconic red and yellow suit was a huge moment for myself and many other comic book fans at the time. .

It seems Jeff Bridges doesn’t get enough credit for his portrayal of Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger, who serves as an excellent foil to Downey Jr.’s Stark. He’s a very nice and quiet villain for the most part, except when he yells at a scientist who isn’t as bright as Tony Stark. It’s funny to think now that that scientist, played by Iron Man executive producer and A Christmas Story star Peter Billingsley, will return in Spider-Man: Far From Home as a minor antagonist working alongside Mysterio by Jake Gyllenhaal. Just a retroactively neat bit of continuity.

Although the final showdown between Iron Man and Stane’s Iron Monger establishes the “hero vs. evil version of the hero” dynamic that will become a constant in the MCU, it works well the first time around. Seeing the two mechanical suits wail on each other with everything from fists to vehicles is a blast, but this mirror pairing also ties in with the theme. It shows that, for all Stane’s rants about controlling Stark Industries and Tony himself, his suit (and by extension, his mind) just can’t compete with Stark’s.

As for Stark, what’s left to say about Robert Downey Jr.’s brilliant portrayal? Even in the first outing, he has a charismatic confidence that feels at home in the character. It’s a superhero portrayal that’s done so well that it’s somewhat revolutionary over the comic book version of Tony Stark. In the comics, Stark is less attractive and somewhat antagonistic – mainly because of the recent events of Civil War. Downey Jr. the character of a likable and flawed spirit that makes this superhero billionaire genius feel relatable. He gets better as the MCU goes on, but from the get-go, this pairing is already a winner.

The movie ends with the iconic line, “I am Iron Man,” which would have been even more powerful if it had been uttered for the final time in Avengers: Endgame. That said, even without the entire future of the MCU in mind, Iron Man is a fun movie. Rewatching it years later, it makes sense that this movie was the spark for an entire cinematic universe. If it weren’t for this fun and easy adaptation of a B-list hero, we never would have gotten movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and cinema would be in a very different place. Wherever you stand in the MCU and Marvel Studios now, it’s hard to argue that the first Iron Man was, and still is, a truly excellent movie.

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