Get ready for a whole bunch of PG-13 movies in a row, guys. As part of a binge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (I'm going to be writing "MCU" a lot, guys), there are just some things that are absolute constants. There are going to be a lot of recurring motifs. There is going to be discussion about humor and why DC sucks. And there's going to be a lot of theories about why every Marvel movie is PG-13. There's some language and the Afghanistan sections terrified my kids. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
I'm really dumb, guys. For a guy who tries to write an essay a day on a movie, I decide to binge, something like, 19 movies that hit a lot of the same beats. The thing is, so far, I'm having a lot of fun with it. I own these movies and I think I live in an era where I never have to watch the same movie twice. If I watch a new movie a day, I'll still continue to discover great movies. My wife, if she's reading this (she's not), gets kind of annoyed that I buy movies. I have an amazing collection, but I admit that it is hard to get back to some of the middle movies in the franchise. I have yet to watch my copy of The Return of the King because my marathons never really get that far. But before Avengers: Infinity War, I want to see how these movies have progressed as a whole. Realistically, I've never binged this franchise. I've only experienced them when they came out and a second time when they've hit home video. Watching them back-to-back is a very different experience, one that I don't necessarily hate.
I honestly thought that Iron Man wasn't going to hold up. While writing reviews for the later entries in the franchise, I often refer to problems in the movies as "Similar to Phase One". I loved these movies when they came out, but the franchise really did learn from its mistakes in the early movies. The big thing that surprised me is that Iron Man is a great movie still. I'm not going to say this is true for all of the movies. But Iron Man, if it came out today, would be a solid entry in the universe. I know that Iron Man and Ant-Man were in development for a really long time. That might not be the worst thing in the world because this movie is extraordinarily tight. There is so much attention to world building and tone that makes this a fantastic foundational film. Realize, the entire series is built upon how well this movie works. I heard anecdotally that Favreau really liked the famous Avengers tease at the end, but also kind of treated it with a grain of salt. He knew that there were other movies in the pipeline, but he didn't have the foresight of how successful this franchise was going to be. It was an optimistic dream to think that the movies would get to The Avengers. But the movie still made sure that everything seemed air tight. The idea that there were Easter Eggs in this movie is just fun as heck. We have been so acclimatized to Iron Man being a popular character that it is fascinating to think of where Iron Man was in 2008. No one cared about Iron Man. He was a solid B or C level character. Yeah, he was in the Avengers, but he wasn't Captain America, Spider-Man, or Wolverine. He was Iron Man. He had a terrible mustache and he had no memorable villains outside of the extremely racist portrayal of Mandarin. It seemed impossible to tell a good Iron Man story, but Favreau crafted Iron Man into something that was not only fascinating, but genuinely fun. As an ourobouros, the movie turned Tony Stark into a fun-loving blowhard that was hilarious. Now, the comic book, its source material, has Tony Stark as a fun-loving blowhard that is hilarious. Guys, Favreau fixed Iron Man.
A lot of that has to come from Robert Downey, Jr. One of my students, the one who had been living under a rock, when it came to the MCU, didn't like this one. I'm floored. I think this movie is just so much fun. She saw Captain America: The First Avenger first. I can see if you love Cap that you wouldn't like Iron Man. I'm a fan of both. I'm Team Cap in Civil War, but I love Tony because of Downey's portrayal of the character. I like the fact that he is fundamentally his personality from the beginning, but has a complete moral shift. The reason why Spider-Man works is that he has this moral crisis in his origin story. Iron Man has the same thing, but it would be tempting for an actor to ride hard into that and completely abandon some of the things that made Tony Stark great to begin with. He is never evil. But he is fundamentally naive and selfish. From the moment that Robert Downey, Jr. is on screen, you get his personality. He is a bit of an archetype, but he's rocking it pretty hard. The cocky blowhard is hard to make likable, but Downey really nails that fine line when it comes to building that character up. Favreau immediately gives us everything we need to know in safely one of the most fun infodumps I've ever seen, but we get everything that we need to know. While I'm not the biggest Paltrow fan in the world, I always liked her Pepper Potts. I feel like Pepper is not the most rewarding role in the world, but she definitely establishes that she is interesting beyond a typical love interest role. I kind of don't want to let Pepper off the hook that easily though. There is more to Pepper to be explored and I don't think that this first movie really allows that as much as it should be explored. She is a strong character, sure, but this first movie really seems to be checking off boxes when it comes to building Pepper as a strong woman. I'm also a little bummed that Obediah Stane is the villain in the first movie. Phase One (I told you this would happen) always has the villain mirror the hero. The Iron Man movies do this more than most and I know that they had to get rid of someone in the first movie, but I love Jeff Bridges as Obediah. It's so weird to think that it is Jeff Bridges playing that role, but that's okay. It's so funny that he is either an extremely gruff character or a complete slacker. While Bridges in real life seems more like The Dude, I have to say that the guy knows how to command a scene. I'm a little bummed that Terrence Howard wouldn't return to this role. I loved him in Hustle & Flow and was jazzed to see him in this. Don't get me wrong. I love Don Cheadle too, but I would have loved to explore what Howard would bring to the role of War Machine. There's that tease and that never really gets explored like I would have liked. Don't feel bad for Terrence Howard. He's doing just fine. But I would like to see his War Machine is all I'm saying.
Iron Man shouldn't hold up. But it really works because of the sheer attention to detail and focus on tone / world-building. Honestly, look at the first movie in the MCU and the first film in the DCEU. The first Marvel movie, Iron Man, is so well made and so aware of what tone it wants to set. Man of Steel is one of the roughest movies I've ever seen. It's such a bummer. The MCU, from Iron Man, expanded into a fun franchise that discovered what works and what didn't while Man of Steel rode the misery card into the ground. I know that DCEU fans will defend it until their dying days, but there's so much crafting that went into Iron Man and Man of Steel was all about trying to stray from what made Superman work. I know. This can be contested and if you like the DCEU movies, continue doing so. Always be happy with what you like. But Iron Man is such a solid movie that I immediately went into watching The Incredible Hulk. (Okay, that movie didn't go as well for me.) But this movie works so well that I wouldn't be surprised if I find myself watching this one again next year or the year after.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.