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Visiting and Revisiting the MCU – Iron Man

My daughter and I will be watching Marvel Cinematic Universe media in whatever order she feels like.

Our Progress So Far

She-Hulk got her into the MCU. The leap from She-Hulk to The Incredible Hulk was as obvious as a muscular green blob in the sky. With my daughter showing greater interest in the MCU, even after watching one of the less respected movies, it was time to introduce her to the movie that started it all.

Iron Man

2008’s Iron Man.

In 2008, we didn’t have a name for the MCU. We didn’t need one. We called movies based on Marvel comics “Marvel movies”. We didn’t know, for business reasons, how unlikely it was that Spider-Man, Wolverine, The Hulk, and Ghost Rider appeared on screen together. We just wanted our New Fantastic Four movie!

Also, it’s funny to think that even in 2008, entertainment industry news sites talked about superhero fatigue. Imagine being Marvel at that time. Over the past three years, you put up the ownership of your most recognizable characters after Spider-Man and the X-Men as collateral in a deal with the Merrill Lynch investment company. This gave you the funds to gamble the future of the company on super hero movies. Then the industry coins a term for being tired of the movies you’re producing shortly before the release of the first movie in your interconnected series of unprecedented scope.

Marvel’s board of directors must have been praying that, somehow, Iron Man succeeded.

The Iron Man That I Remember

Iron Man succeeded.

This film revitalized general interest in super hero movies. It introduced the idea of a shared universe crossing over. And it reinforced fan belief that sticking closer to the source material benefited film adaptations of comic books.

I remember loving Iron Man when I first saw it, but I didn’t remember why. It just satisfied. I do remember being surprised by how much I enjoyed Robert Downey, Jr and Gwyneth Paltrow, but beyond that? I couldn’t tell you why I liked the movie so much.

Revisiting Iron Man

Maybe I couldn’t remember what I loved about Iron Man because -and I mean this lovingly- there’s not much to it. Iron Man tells a simple story, the entire plot fitting into five story beats:

  1. Tony Stark, arrogant weapon profiteer
  2. Tony Stark, hostage of terrorists using his weapons
  3. Tony Stark, peace monger
  4. Tony Stark, Iron Man
  5. Iron Man vs Iron Monger

Each beat develops slowly, taking longer than the minimum amount of screen time than needed but never overstaying its welcome.

Surprisingly, Tony’s barely Iron Man in the first film. It’s an origin story, with much of the plot playing out in the background. Exposition from Pepper, Rhodes, and Obadiah Stane tell the story of how Tony’s antics affect his company and partnerships in scenes that Tony barely pays attention to. And yet, it’s shocking how captivating these scenes were.

This may sound obvious, but I think Iron Man works because it does everything so well. The acting? Amazing. The directing? Ingenious. The cinematography? Gorgeous. The writing? Spot on.

When Pepper’s trying to get Tony to understand how mad the board of directors is but Tony’s focused on experimenting with the Iron Man armor, I care because the writing, direction, and acting make me care about and understand both of their perspectives. It helps that Tony’s home, especially his workshop, is fascinating and fun to look at.

Iron Man gives 110% to film making 101, and that commitment to the basics somehow served as the foundation for the most financially successful film series of all time.

The Favreau Effect

I say “somehow”, but it’s largely thanks to Jon Favreau. He made a lot of decisions that established the MCU formula. In fact, the first Iron Man addresses some common complaints of later MCU movies. There are plenty of jokes, but it doesn’t feel like the movie needs to hit a quips quota. And not every character is funny. Really, it’s just Tony and Happy. Everyone else is serious.

Speaking of serious, the film takes its villain seriously. No jokes about the villain’s name, not off hand comments at the villain’s expense, no scene of the villain looking foolish. In fact, the finale is the longest stretch of the movie without a joke.

Director Jon Favreau knew when to emphasize the fantastic and when to ground Iron Man. Stark Industries weapons, for example, aren’t outside the realm of modern military possibility. And the Iron Man suit doesn’t have a technological solution to every problem. It has, like, two weapons. This emphasizes that without the suit, Tony Stark still has superpowers.

Jon Favreau got a lot of credit for directing the movie that launched the MCU, but these days Kevin Feige seems to be the name equated to its success. I know Favreau still regularly appears as Happy Hogan and he works with Disney on Star Wars, but I wonder if we’ll ever see him direct another MCU film.

My Daughter’s Thoughts

After She-Hulk and even The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man felt less sanitized than the MCU my daughter knew up to this point. She also went into Iron Man from a show where a wizard regularly appeared without explanation and a dozen super powered characters casually showed up in background roles. I wondered if Iron Man -a movie about a businessman building a couple of suits of super armor- would meet her definition of a super hero movie.

Ends up, whether or not she thought of Iron Man as a super hero movie, she liked it. She found Tony’s story arc compelling, following the nuances of his journey without needing too much of why things were happening explained.

My favourite part of watching her watch Iron Man was hearing her gasp when Obadiah Stane met with The Ten Rings. Even though Stane and Tony argued throughout the film, their relationship still seemed positive. Heck, Stane and Tony seemed to get along better than Pepper and Tony. So, for as simple as I found the film in retrospect, it delivered an unexpected twist, and a satisfying viewing experience.

What’s Next

Having already watched The Incredible Hulk, and riding the excitement of the original Iron Man, my daughter asked to watch 2010’s Iron Man 2.

Ryan Costello is the lead writer at Laughing Dragon Studios, currently writing Looking For Group, and developing projects for the entertainment company. He contributes blogs content to LICD.com and LFG.co