When Iron Man was first released in 2008, few could have predicted it would spawn a franchise that would comprise more than 25 movies and four television series with more of both to come. However, it did just that, and in the aftermath of What If’s “What If…Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?” re-imaging the events of Iron Man, we thought it would be worth going back to where the MCU all began.
The Beginning of an Empire:
Universal Studios originally purchased the rights to the character in 1990. From 2005, Marvel Studios had made plans to produce their own films with initial plans to produce character films with a team up over seven years. Believe it or not, there are alternate universes in which we could have seen Nicolas Cage or Tom Cruise suiting up as Iron Man as both had expressed interest in portraying the character.
While the comic’s source material had Iron Man’s origin story beginning during the VIetnam War, director Jon Favreau made the decision to set the stage in Afghanistan so as not to do a period piece. Favreau set out to focus less on the superhero and more on the superhero’s journey. This is where the strength of the movie can be seen best.
RDJ: A Real Life Iron Man?
Arguably a huge part of the reason Iron Man was so compelling to so many people was in watching the movie’s titular character played by Robert Downey Jr. Much has been written about Downey Jr.’s very public struggles with mental health and addictions having been born and raised in the film industry.
Downey Jr. is so compelling in portraying a man with everything, only to come face to face with not only his own mortality, but a complete shift in perspective. Downey Jr. embodied everything the character stood for during his time as Iron Man.
The Origins of the MCU’s Villain Problem:
Although Jeff Bridges gives an incredible performance as the movie’s central villain, Obadiah Stane (also known as Iron Monger), this was the first example of Marvel’s difficulty in portraying villains within the MCU.
It is the first example of Marvel Studio’s strategy to present a compelling villain and then immediately kill them off within the course of the movie. Iron Monger, the very epitome of the American Military Industrial Complex, would have been a fantastic villain to revisit in the course of the MCU, particularly in the context of broader issues of freedom and censorship explored later in the series.
Does Iron Man Stand the Test of Time?
On the re-watch, Marvel fans will enjoy seeing elements of the future MCU teased throughout the movie, including the recently released Shang-Chi’s Ten Rings. At the time it was released, fans were electrified by the end-credits scene, promising an Avengers team-up few expected.
No matter what you think of Gwyneth Paltrow as a person or as a public personality, it’s clear on the re-watch that Pepper Potts is a far more compelling character than Paltrow can manage. The story of a long-suffering woman working for a man who doesn’t initially recognize her talents or abilities is a universal one and Paltrow just doesn’t quite do it justice.
Jon Favreau showed that his skills extend beyond the director’s chair. He introduces Happy Hogan, a character that will become more beloved as the MCU has grown. In many ways he uses his background as a director to apply to this calm, steady presence that has become an integral part of Iron Man’s story.
Iron Man has stood the test of time as a classic example of a hero’s journey. Although subsequent movies centering this character never quite measured up to the poignancy of the first, Iron Man is an enduring part of the MCU legacy.
Iron Man is currently available to stream on Disney+.