MCU March has officially begun! Every weekday this month I’ll be talking about a different film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, hence the name. This is in addition to the upcoming last episode of WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s premiere two weeks later, and maybe something else. Gonna be busy, but I’m a huge comic book nerd, so really I’m in my element. With that, let’s talk about Iron Man!
Tony Stark (Mr. Robert Downey Jr.) is an arrogant tech billionaire–or maybe millionaire, this movie did come out over a decade ago–visiting the Middle East to demonstrate his latest weapon, the Jericho missile, to the US government. His convoy gets attacked and he’s abducted by the Ten Rings, a terrorist group demands Tony build a Jericho for them. To add more complications, shrapnel from the ambush is dangerously close to Tony’s heart and only a powerful electromagnet is keeping him alive. With help from fellow prisoner Yinsen (Shaun Toub, AKA Uncle Iroh from everyone’s favorite movie, The Last Airbender), Tony secretly builds a better magnet/arc reactor and a suit of armor to wreck the terrorists. Yinsen sadly dies, but the experience changes Tony and he tells the world his company is no longer making weapons. This does not go over well with his business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), as well as Tony’s friend James Rhodes (Terrence Howard before they replaced him so he could spend his time trying to prove that 1×1=2) and loyal employee Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). There’s also Tony’s personal AI Jarvis (Paul Bettany) and Tony’s chauffeur “Happy” Hogan (cameo role for director Jon Favreau), who don’t do a whole lot now, but will be important in later movies. Turns out Stane was not only selling weapons to the Ten Rings, but he wanted them to kill Tony so he could take over Stark Industries. Tony improves on his suit’s design and uses it to fight back against injustice, but Stane builds his own bulkier suit. While Stane doesn’t technically get a supervillain name, the name “Iron Monger” was said earlier and that’s what we call him. Pepper is instrumental in defeating Stane, and by “defeating” I mean “killing him in an explosion.” Tony gets a cover story from Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) of SHIELD saying Iron Man is actually his bodyguard, but Tony’s ego has him blurting it out to the world. An after credits scene has the director of SHIELD, Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) break into Tony’s home and mentions something called the Avengers Initiative.
This is how you build a cinematic universe! Everybody wants one these days, but they don’t do the groundwork the way that Marvel Studios did. Sure, they lucked out with a B-tier hero after they sold off their more popular characters to Fox and Sony, but they ended up with a fun solo movie with hints that it could lead to something more. They didn’t jump into the deep end with an ensemble movie and boldly declare, “This is an Expanded Universe now!” before reviews are in (I’m looking at you, Justice League), and they also didn’t include the tease in the main movie in case it bombed (I’m looking at you, Super Mario Bros.).
So I’m a little guarded when it comes to movies and comic books changing each other. In theory I absolutely don’t mind when a movie changes a character to fit its medium–as long as it’s good–but I’ve been burned by a movie doing so well that the comics change to match. Yes I am still mad that Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are no longer mutants and that the reveal was done just to clean up movie rights! That being said, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is a work of art and the comics did a smart thing modeling their version of Iron Man to match. The character of Iron Man was originally conceived by Stan Lee to be a contradiction–a hypercapitalist weapons manufacturer that fans would grudgingly come to like–and RDJ threads the needle on that just right. I mean, sure, in later movies Tony’s actions absolutely would have me building a guillotine on the outskirts of his property, but Downey is just so fun and likable!
COMIC BOOK FUN FACT! Iron Man’s secret identity used to be a big deal. Hell, when he helped found the Avengers, he kept that he was more than just Tony Stark’s bodyguard a secret even from them. But times change and in Iron Man #55 (2002)–which happened to be the 400th issue factoring in the previous two Iron Man runs–he revealed his secret to the world in order to save a child’s dog from being run over by robbers. A bit anticlimactic, but whatcha gonna do?
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