The Road to Infinity War – Part 1 Iron Man

Recently I came across an infographic online that presented the idea that if you started watching all the Marvel films in order starting with Iron Man, the first week of January, that you could watch one film a week leading up to the release of Avengers: Infinity War. As the DC Extended Universe struggles to find the same level of success while Marvel stands on the precipice of releasing a superhero movie unlike anything we have ever seen, I thought it would be interesting to take this weekly journey through the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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It’s sometimes easy to forget that when Iron Man was released in May of 2008 it was a bit of a risky proposition. Marvel was a brand new studio. At the time, director Jon Favreau having found great success with Elf, was coming off the disappointing returns of Zathura. Robert Downey Jr, was rebuilding his career one successful indie film at a time but was still not considered a sure thing. It’s widely reported that Favreau had to fight for Downey’s casting. Marvel was not looking ahead to The Avengers, they were just hoping that this $140 million first step would pay off.

And of course, it did pay off – big time. Watching the film again for the first time in quite awhile I was more impressed than ever. There are weaknesses sure; it’s not a perfect film. As fun as Jeff Bridges always is on screen, his Obadiah Stain is a bit of an arbitrary and underwritten villain. He’s an interesting foil for Tony Stark but he’s a bit blah as a big bad. And honestly, I think that is due in part to one of the film’s major strengths – its dedication to developing Stark in a real way. Downey Jr is so charming and magnetic that we’re drawn to and rooting for Stark from the minute we’re introduced but let’s be honest, he’s a pig. By the end of the film we’re more firmly in Tony’s corner than ever and yet he’s not a man transformed, but he has grown quite a bit.

Speaking of real development, I think it’s also important to note the grounded and realistic touches throughout the film that lend it some real pathos. I was struck with the mechanics of the Iron Man suit for one. It may seem like random praise, but in a world where you can’t work out how any of the Transformers manage to morph back into vehicles of any kind, it goes a long way to see a suit that makes sense. The first time we see Tony try on his Mark 2 armor, the suit flexes in a manner of speaking along every hinge and seam, showing your brain how it all fits together. Secondly there is a real bit of body horror to Iron Man that I think goes underappreciated. Following a disorienting attack and painful fever dream-like surgery, Tony awakens in a cold, dark cave and finds a foreign object implanted in his body and hooked up to a car battery. As someone familiar with Iron Man’s origins it can be easy to gloss over details like this but in conjunction with Downey’s performance they add a real edge and believability to a story that could easily be cartoony and over the top. Watching the film more critically this time around the scene honestly shook me in a way I wasn’t expecting.

Overall Iron Man holds up incredibly well with its bravado soaked opening and closing scenes & Robert Downey Jr’s insanely charismatic performance alone. But it has more going for it than that. Favreau’s assured direction and patient development of Tony Stark as a human being first and foremost provided a strong foundation for Marvel to build their cinematic universe on. Without a mostly successful execution of this first film, I don’t think we’d be looking forward to Infinity War at all. And as pretty much every movie studio out there scrambles to recreate what Marvel has carefully built over the last decade, I think Iron Man deserves another look from fans who may have forgotten just how good it is.