With Avengers: Infinity War right around the corner, I thought it was as good a time as any to take a look back at the film that started it all: Iron Man. It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since Marvel Studios took a risk on Robert Downey Jr. to anchor an entire universe, but here we are.
Iron Man – 10 Years Ago
“I can’t believe they are making an Iron Man movie.” I was in as much disbelief 10 years ago as I am today. Iron Man? Iron Man?! How are they going to pull this off.
I’ve already spoken a bit about how absurdly risky it was to launch a franchise staring Iron Man, but it is worth restating. Brief history lesson: Marvel wanted to make their own movies but didn’t have the film rights to most of their top tier characters. In a desperate move from years past, Marvel licensed off character rights to various film studios. Spider-Man was gone. The X-Men were gone. The Fantastic Four were gone. Heck, even some of their lesser characters, Hulk, Punisher, Daredevil, were snatched up too. So Marvel searched their catalog for who was left, the characters that no one wanted. They found the Avengers.
Even for comic book fans, Iron Man was not considered A-league. Yes, he had a rich, complex history as most Silver Age characters do. And there was no denying his “cool” factor, what with his multitude of armors and futuristic ideals. But he was no Spider-Man or Wolverine in terms of popularity. Many saw Iron Man as Marvel’s Batman, the superhero whose amazing power was being rich. Except instead of dark and broody, Tony Stark is pompous and arrogant.
Would this really work? I had my doubts. Then Marvel released this trailer:
Well, okay then. It looks like they might actually pull this thing off!
“I am Iron Man”
Fast-forward to opening weekend and I’m sitting in the Neptune with a group of friends. Being the only comic book nerd among them, I have to explain the basic concepts of Iron Man. No one really knows anything about the character, only that this film stars the guy from Ally McBeal and is getting surprisingly good reviews. The lights go down and the movie starts.
Not since Raimi’s Spider-Man had a film so perfectly captured the comic book world without pandering to its audience. Iron Man is fun (and funny) but doesn’t shy away from the real world. Tony Stark is a larger than life character that the film grounds in reality. The story somehow finds the perfect mix of action, humor, and heart, without sacrificing the core essence of its characters. This wasn’t an adaptation of Iron Man, this was Iron Man!
Not only was it truly Iron Man, but it was also the first true Marvel movie. The film establishes the Marvel formula and the foundation for a larger universe. There are allusions to the Mandarin and Captain America (which were only caught by the most hardcore fans), but oh hey, how about let’s just make S.H.I.E.L.D. a thing. And when Nick Fury appears in a still novel post-credits scene and says “Avengers Initiative”, well, people shit themselves.
Coming out of the theater 10 years ago, I had no idea if any of this larger world stuff would ever happen. Just seeing Iron Man on the big screen was a dream come true. The film was awesome and was lucky even to be made. Would there ever be more to the Marvel Cinematic Universe? I hoped so, but I wasn’t holding my breath.
Iron Man – 10 Years Later
10 years and 18 films later, it’s safe to say the Marvel Cinematic Universe is more successful than anyone could have ever imagined. And it all started with Iron Man.
Looking back on Iron Man, it’s easy to see why. Despite the world already being bombarded with superhero films, this one gave us something different. Unlike any film before it, Iron Man fully embraces its comic book roots. A few plot lines are updated for modern times, but not to avoid any comic book corniness. Instead, the film is proud of where it came from and unashamedly goes all in.
Even putting aside the comic book qualities, Iron Man is just flat out good. Even 10 years after the fact, the film holds up well in almost every category. The plot and dialogue haven’t aged and are still just as funny and touching. The graphics, all things considered, are still pretty darn good. But the main reason the film holds up so well is that the story it tells is timeless. It is a perfect origin story not just for Tony Stark, but for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Before Iron Man, Tony Stark was a nobody. Now, Tony Stark is the hero. The film’s influence is undeniable and I imagine we’ll still be talking about it for decades to come.
All images courtesy Marvel Studios