“That’s how Dad did it. That’s how America does it. And it’s worked out pretty well so far.”

Iron Man is one of the five most recognisable superheroes in the world today and that is goddamn insane.
From pretty much the early forties to the turn of the millennium there were only two comic book characters that everyone knew, even if they’d never picked up a comic in their lives and that was the two DC icons; Batman and Superman. And despite the fact that Marvel’s actual comics had consistently outsold DC’s for most of their history, no one Marvel character had ever managed to achieve that kind of cultural purchase with maybe the possible exception of Spider-man. And if you were to pick a character that would upend that status quo and be the first Marvel hero to achieve that kind of instant, iconic, worldwide recognition…you probably wouldn’t pick Iron Man.
Here’s the thing, for most of its existence, the Avengers was not the cool kids’ table at Marvel. The Avengers comic book was a support network for characters who needed exposure and whose solo titles weren’t doing so hot (if they even had their own books). Know why Spider-man and Wolverine didn’t join the Avengers until 2005? Because their books were selling just fine thank you very much. So the fact that Iron Man is a founding member of the Avengers and has been with the team for almost its entire history should tell you a lot. This guy was kind of a B-lister, with more than his fair share of knocks from the bad story stick.
We do not speak of teen Tony.

We do not speak of teen Tony.

So how did this character go from perennial also-ran to the most recognised face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Sit down and I’ll learn ya.
The initial idea for Iron Man was Stan Lee’s because he is a massive, massive troll and we love him for it.
See, it was the sixties and Stan knew that most of his readers were college kids who hated the military and capitalism and bathing so he thought it would be an interesting challenge to sell them on a character that embodied all those traits.
iron man 160 b

He’s a capitalist arms-dealer in the shower. Can you handle that, hippies?

I don’t think this was really a political thing (Stan seems to be a fairly middle of the road Democrat) but simply came from Stan’s unwavering ability to find niches that hadn’t been filled yet. The great Jack Kirby did the cover and so created the character’s first visual design, and then the actual first issue that Iron Man appeared in was written by Stan’s brother Larry Lieber and drawn by Don Heck. Iron Man therefore had four daddies, which probably explains why he’s trying to form a gay polyamorous harem with Steve Rogers, Rhodey and Sam Wilson in every second piece of fan fiction featuring the character.
So why was this character chosen to launch Marvel’s massively ambitious experiment in inter-movie continuity porn? Basically, he got it by default.
By the mid 2000s Marvel had sold the movie rights to most of their major properties and were starting to feel like they were getting screwed. Sony had the rights to Spider-man, Fox had X-Men, Daredevil and Fantastic Four which combined represented a huge swathe of some of Marvels’ most iconic heroes, villains and supporting characters. When the time came for Marvel to set up their own movie studio they realised they were basically left with the Avengers who, at the time at least, were very much second stringers. It was deemed that the time was not right for another Captain America movie (too soon, we needed time to heal) and the corpse of Ang Lee’s Hulk was still warm. That left…Thor? Well, Thor’s great and all but…
Thor
Yeah, so they went with Iron Man. How did it turn out? Weeeelllllll it was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the year, completed Robert Downey Junior’s journey from washed up recovering drug addict to A-list superstar and created the future in which we now live. But does it hold up as a movie? Let’s take a look.

So our movie begins in Afghanistan where billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Junior) is being escorted through Kunar province in Afghanistan by the US military when his convoy gets ambushed by militants. Tony runs for his life only for a rocket with his company’s logo on it to land right beside him and explode. He doesn’t die (nice worksmanship there, Tony) but is knocked unconscious and wakes to find himself starring in what is sure to be an extremely highly viewed YouTube video.
"As you have refused our demandes for a sequel to Kiss, Kiss Bang Bang, we must take matters into our own hands. We demand that you send us the infidel Val Kilmer, so that we may make our own sequel that, inshallah, will do justice to this hilarious classic of degenerate American cinema."

“As you have refused our demands for a sequel to Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, we must take matters into our own hands. We demand that you send us the infidel Val Kilmer, so that we may make our own sequel that, inshallah, will do justice to this hilarious classic of degenerate American cinema.”

We now flashback 36 hours later to an awards ceremony where Tony is being presented with an Apogee award by his friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard), the Air Force’s liasion to Stark Industries. Unfortunately, Tony is too busy giving his trust fund a workout at the craps table so his mentor Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) has to accept the award in his place. Stane was a friend of Tony’s father Howard and totally not a HYDRA agent who’s basically looked after Tony as a father figure since his parents died.

He also bears an uncanny resemblance to the Judge from the Ace Attorney series.

He also bears an uncanny resemblance to the Judge from the Ace Attorney series.

Leaving the casino Tony gets doorsopped by a journalist named Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb) who asks basically asks him how an arms dealer sleeps at night. Tony shuts her down by saying that he makes the weapons that keep the world safe and follows it up by showing her exactly how he sleeps at night.

 The next morning, Leslie wakes to find Tony already gone and she meets his PA, Pepper Potts (Gwyeneth Paltrow) whose job is manage his affairs and also manage his…ahem, affairs. Basically, it’s Pepper’s job to sweep Tony’s floozies out of the house every morning with a sturdy broom. Goop is probably the biggest surprise of this movie in that 1) She’s not completely insufferable and 2) the relationship between Tony and Pepper is actually pretty darn sweet. If only I could say the same about Terence Howard as Rhodey. This version of the character is just…not fun to be around. I mean, he’s supposed to be the level-headed one trying to get Tony to take things more seriously, fine. But it’s just bitch, bitch, bitch, moan, moan, moan all the goddamned time. What’s worse, Rhodey comes across as less like someone who genuinely cares about Tony and more like someone who’s just trying to keep that sweet, sweet arms-tech flowing. Rhodey and Tony are supposed to be like brothers. I never once bought that these two men even liked each other. This got better with Iron Man 2 when Don Cheadle was brought in, but wouldn’t really be remedied until Iron Man 3. So Tony takes a fourteen hour flight to Afghanistan with Rhodey who takes the time  to lecture a man who runs a billion dollar company and built a circuit board when he was four that he’s wasting his potential. And you wonder why the man drinks.

In Afghanistan, Stark demonstrates the latest in cutting edge  terrorist limb dispersal technology, the Jericho missile.

"Gentlemen, I give you the weapon that will finally win the War on Mountains."

“Gentlemen, I give you the weapon that will finally win the War on Mountains.”

 All the army guys go sploosh and Tony gives Obadiah the good news over the phone. Then, convoy, boom, terrorists, YouTube, infidel Val Kilmer and we are all caught up.

So Tony wakes up in a cell with a man named Yinsen (Shaun Toub), and half a microwave oven strapped to his chest. Yinsen explains that it’s an electromagnet that’s keeping pieces of sharpnel  from entering his heart. They’re interrupted by the cuddliest terrorist in the world, Abu Bakar (Sayed Badreya), who welcomes Tony Stark “the most famous mass murderer in American history”.

Ha! Suck it, Jackson.

Ha! Suck it, Jackson.

Yinsen translates Abu’s demands for Tony; He’s going to build them a Jericho missle or they’ll kill him. But if he does, they’ll let him go. Tony says “No he won’t” and Yinsen’s all “No shit, Sherlock”.

Yinsen and Stark take stock of the situation. Tony’s got maybe a week before the battery powering the magnet fails and he dies. The terrorists (a group called the Ten Rings) seem to have gotten their hands on a shit ton of his weapons and if he doesn’t make them an even more powerful one they’ll kill both of them.

"You have to think of a way for us to escape."

“You have to think of a way for us to escape.”

"What are our assets?"

“What are our assets?”

"My hat. Your brains."

“Your brains. Fezzik’s strength. My steel.”

"Impossible. If I had a month to plan, then maybe, but this?"

“Impossible. If I had a month to plan, then maybe, but this?”

"I suppose it was too much to ask."

“I suppose it was too much to ask.”

"I mean if we had a cave and a box of scraps, that would be something."

“I mean if we had a cave and a box of scraps, that would be something.”

"We DO have a cave and a box of scraps."

“We DO have a cave and a box of scraps.”

"Then why didnt you list them amongst our assets in the first place?"

“Then why didn’t you list them amongst our assets in the first place?”

 So, while pretending to build the missile, Yinsen and Stark start working on some serious cosplay as well as a miniaturised arc reactor to power Tony’s heart. Something about this scene I also find kinda creepy. Tony is able to disassemble the missiles the terrorists provide him with from memory. He isn’t just some CEO who doesn’t understand what his company is making. He designed these weapons. The shrapnel that has made him a dead man walking was in that bomb because he put it there. Yeah. This was not a good man.

In their down time, Yinsen and Stark bond over backgammon and tea brewed in a sock (actually a little detail that Robert Downey Junior was able to provide the producers thanks to his stints in the big house. Although frankly, if you’d do that to tea you deserve to be in jail). Yinsen tells Tony that he’s from a village called Gulmira and that he has a wife and children who he’ll see when he leaves here.

Okay, okay, we get it it. Your family's dead and you're going to die too. Don't milk it, man.

Okay, okay, we get it it. Your family’s dead and you’re going to die too. Don’t milk it, man.

Seriously though, while Yinsen is OBVIOUSLY going to die (I mean, shit, he might as well be talking about how he’s going to marry his special gal and enjoy hotdogs and freedom while strolling through Viet Cong country) I have to credit both the movie and Shaun Toub for fleshing Yinsen out into an actual character rather than simply a plot mechanism. He doesn’t have a lot of screen time but he definitely makes an impression.

 Speaing of making an impression, the science bros get a visit from the leader of the Ten Rings, Raza (Faran Tahir, fantastically menacing) who storms into their workshop to show them what time it is.

clockface1

 He threatens to make Yinsen eat a burning coal and then tells them that they have one day to make the Jericho or else they’re both dead men. Tony and Yinsen boot up the Mark 1 Iron Man suit but it takes too to long start (McAfee, piece of shit I tell ya what) so Yinsen decides to buy Tony some time by chasing a load of terrorists blindly down a corridor while firing wildly. You can probably guess what happens.

Yinsen chasing

stormtroopers

 The suit is just a thing of beauty, a massive, hulking brute of a thing that perfectly captures the essence of Kirby’s original design. It also shows just how important practical effects are. The fact that this is an actual physical thing clanking around and tossing dudes around like confetti is awesome and it just wouldn’t be the same in CGI. Anyway, Tony finds Yinsen dying, and the old man guilt trips him into promising to not be such a douche and then croaks. Furious, Tony tears through the terrorists camp like a dose of the salts, blows up all their shit and then finally blasts away because he built a robot suit that can fly. In a cave. With a box of scraps.

He gets picked up in the desert by Rhodey and returns to the US and calls for a Burger King burger and a press conference, in that order. Blatant product placement? Weirdly, no.

Apparently, Robert Downey Junior’s return to sobriety was thanks to the good people at Burger King. While driving cross-country with enough drugs in the drunk to found a small narco-state, Downey stopped at a Burger King joint and ate a burger so thoroughly, repulsively awful that it caused him to completely reassess where his life was going and ditch the drugs in the Pacific ocean. The scene where Tony gets a whopper is a shout out to that.

Anyway, while Tony gets ready to speak to the assembled press, Pepper is approached by a nice, unassuming man who probably will never be seen or heard of again.

Coulson

Funny story. Clark Gregg was hired for one scene, to play a character called “Agent”. Eight years later he’s got his own TV series. Weird how these things shake out. Anyway, this is Agent Coulson who introduces himself as an agent of the Supreme Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division which Pepper has never heard of.

"Really? Weve been around since World War 2. We have that massive headquarters in Virginia. Were the guys with the flying aircraft carriers? Ring any bells?"

“Really? Weve been around since World War 2. We have that massive headquarters in Virginia. We’re the guys with the flying aircraft carriers? Ring any bells?”

Yeah, SHIELD is something that’s always been a little inconsistent in its portrayal in the MCU. Are they a super secret organisation whose very existence is classified? Are they just a small, obscure government bureau? Or are they a massive Deep State with resources and personnel that dwarfs the rest of America’s intelligence apparatus combined and whose existence is common knowledge? The movies never really seem sure. Coulson asks Pepper if he can debrief Tony about his escape and she promises to make an appointment for him.

Tony, meanwhile, sits on the floor and eats his burger and tells all the reporters to sit down too (this was Downey’s idea, as he didn’t want the extras to have to stand during the entire scene because he’s just a lovely, lovely man). Stark tells the reporters that he’s realised something: Those weapons that he’s been making for years hurt like a motherfucker and he’s had a change of heart. Tony says he saw young Americans killed by the weapons he created to protect them, which is of course how you know things have gone bad. When it’s Americans who are being killed. And then he tells them that Stark Industries no longer in the death business. Pepper’s ecstatic, Rhodey and Obadiah look like somebody’s peed in their porridge.

Later, Tony tells Obadiah that he wants to re-orient Stark Industries towards arc-reactor technology which is apparently a source of limitless clean energy that Stark Industries invented.

That works. And that they did nothing with. Obadiah says that it was just a publicity stunt to “shut the hippies up”.

"Remember? When we achieved the Holy Grail of human technology and didnt do anything with it? Because were brilliant business men?"

“Remember? When we achieved the Holy Grail of human technology and didn’t do anything with it? Because we’re brilliant business men?”

Stane then asks to see the device that’s keep Tony’s heart going and then covers it back up and tells Tony to lay low. Understandably, by the way. The company’s shares are already tumbling and the last thing the market needs to know is that all that stands between Tony and certain death is a glorified fridge magnet. Later, Tony enlists Pepper to help him install a new and improved arc-reactor in his chest which almost goes horribly wrong when she yanks out something important and then wastes time reassuring him that he’s going to be fine as he goes into cardiac arrest.

"Its vitally important that I spend your last precious seconds alive making sure you know that you are going to okay."

“It’s vitally important that I spend your last precious seconds alive making sure you know that you are going to be okay.”

Pepper asks him what he wants done with the old arc-reactor and he tells her to junk it. He then goes and visits Rhodey on an airbase where he’s giving some new pilots a tour and trying desperately to pretend that they’ll still have jobs ten years from now. This scene perfectly sums up why this take on Rhodey just doesn’t work. Look at these two reactions:

Thinks Tonys going to start making weapons again.

Thinks Tony’s going to start making weapons again.

Just found out Tonys not making weapons and that theyre not stopping for ice-cream.

Just found out Tony’s not making weapons and that they’re not stopping for ice-cream.

 Oh yeah. When he thinks Tony’s started building weapons again he’s all smiles and sunshine. When Tony tells him he’s out of the game he tells him he needs to “get his mind right” and walks off. That’s not a friend. That’s an emotionally manipulative parasite. Fuck this guy.

Tony starts working with his AI butler J.A.R.V.I.S (Paul Bettany) on designing a new Iron Man armour which leads to the following exchange:

Tony: Jarvis, you up?

J.AR.V.I.S.: For you sir, always.

Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan the extra crispy remains of the Ten Rings are searching the desert for Stark and find the remains of the Mark 1 armour.

Droids

“Look sir! Droids!”

Obadiah arrives at Stark’s mansion with pizza and some bad news: the board of directors is locking him out because they think he has PTSD and that his new direction is bad for the company. Tony explodes “I’m being responsible! That’s a new direction?!”

exxon-mobil

anglo_irish_bank_Sept052008

I’d go with “fucking revolutionary”.

 Tony finally finishes the Mark 2 armour and decides to take it for a test flight over J.A.R.V.I.S’ protestations. Things go great until Tony tries to break the fixed-wing altitude records and the suit freezes up, causing him to plummet to the ground.

LAZY BASTARD KOOKABURRAS!

“LAZY BASTARD KOOKABURRAS!”

Sidenote. Is Tony just being completely reckless here or is there something more serious going on? What I mean is, is it possible that a combination of guilt and lingering trauma is behind this? That on some level, he didn’t go up there to fly, but to fall?

Anyway, the suit reactivates before he hits the ground and he manages to fly home. Back in the basement he finds a gift from Pepper, his old arc reactor set in a frame with the words “proof that Tony Stark has a heart”. While waiting for J.A.R.V.I.S. to finish painting the armour, Tony heads out to a charity ball being run by Stark Industries at the Walt Disney Concert Hall…huh.

Probably just a coincidence.

Tony sees Pepper in half a dress and asks her to dance and she tells him that that’s kind of awkward since he’s her boss and he offers to fire her if that’d make things easier. She tells him that he wouldn’t last five minutes without him and he has to admit that’s probably true.

"The Peppertron 9000 is still in beta."

“The Peppertron 9000 is still in beta.”

He almost kisses her on the balcony (I prefer lips, but whatever) and Pepper tells him to get her a drink. At the bar he gets doorstopped by Christine.

No, no, not that Christine.

No, no, not that Christine.

She demands to know how a load of Stark weapons got into the hands of the Ten Rings who used it to level Yinsen’s hometown of Gulmira. Tony confronts Stane who basically admits that Stark Industries illegally sold weapons to the Ten Rings and wow that is stupid on every side. First of all, it’s insanely stupid for Stane to jeopardise SI’s military contracts and risk the company being listed as a terrorist financier simply to sell weapons to a group that will only be able to pay a fraction of what the US government can. And it’s stupid for the Ten Rings to buy them when they could just get them by killing whatever poor “moderate groups” the US has armed and taking their stuff for free like ISIS does. And lastly, it’s stupid of me because it took me like eight tries to correctly spell “jeopardise”.

Back home, Tony fumes in silence while listening to television journalism’s most emotionally manipulative reporter. Sorry, this is a pet peeve of mine, not just unique to this movie but plenty others. It’s like, Hollywood screenwriters know that television news exists, but they’ve never actually watched it themselves.

In between practically rending her garments about how there is “No hope! No hope at all!” for the refugees from Gulmeira she starts musing aloud about how they’re doomed unless somebody steps in to save them.
Reporter

“Maybe a man. Some dashing billionaire. Maybe in a flying iron suit. An iron man, if you will. Oh don’t listen to me, viewers, I’m just rambling in my grief at this hopeless situation.”

 

No doubt muttering “Alright! Alright! Sheesh!” under his helmet Tony flies off to Afghanistan and frees a load of hostages who are being held at gunpoint by Abu’s men.  By…um…gunning them down like frickin’ ducks in a shooting gallery.
So, this was early days in the MCU and I kinda doubt Marvel would have Iron Man doing something like this now. My guess is that since the whole “Superman snapping Zod’s neck” controversy Marvel are trying to present themselves as a more wholesome brand of superheroism. Stuff like Iron Man making sure there’s nobody in a building before slamming the Hulk into it in Age of Ultron, or Luis going back to save a security guard that he knocked out in Ant Man seem to suggest that Marvel is deliberately rebuking the grim tone and high bodycounts of movies like Man of Steel and broadly I welcome that. That being said, I don’t really have that much of a problem with this. I use to be something of a “Superheroes never kill” absolutist but over the years I’ve evolved to think that “Superheroes never kill casually.” I think if a superhero has to choose between their own personal abhorrence against killing and letting the innocent die, and there is no genuinely no realistic third option, then letting the innocent die is not particularly heroic. There are, after all, some things more important than one’s own personal scruples. So yeah, I think that in this situation, where the enemy are literally holding automatic weapons at the heads of children, Tony did the right thing.
Anyway, flying away from Gulmeira Tony almost gets blown up by the US Airforce and has to call Rhodey to get them to back off, confessing that he’s the guy in the suit. Rhodey says that he’ll drop by Tony’s house later to see the suit, and possibly shoot him in the head, get the suit off him with a can-opener, bring it to his bosses and retire a General.
Speaking of so-called friends, Raza meets Stane in the desert because it turns out that the Ten Rings was working for Obadiah the whole time.
Raza offers to sell Stane the Mark 1 armour and Stane shows Raza how real terrorists get their tech, by killing Raza and stealing his shit. He does this with a nifty little machine that creates a sound so awful it causes the human body to shut down.
"If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends!"

“If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends!”

Pepper walks in on Tony, the Iron Man suit and J.A.R.V.I.S. in a tryst that crosses human and technological boundaries in a scene whose sheer, raw, erotic passion makes me wonder how the hell this thing got a PG 13 rating. Tony blithely says “let’s face it, this is not the worst thing you’ve walked in on me doing”, presumably referring to the time she caught him making tea in a sock. Pepper is horrified that Tony’s putting himself in danger like this and tells him that she can’t be a part of it and Tony points out that it’s a little screwy that she had no problem with him essentially being merchandised death incarnate but thinks that he’s crossed the line by actually trying to protect people. He asks hers to hack Stane’s computer to get more information on the weapons sales to the Ten Rings and she’s all “Fine, but then I’m out” and he’s all “Fine. No Rescue armour for you.” and she’s all “Awwwwww man the Rescue armour is sick I want the Rescue armour” and he’s all “No. You have displeased me, Potts.”
Meanwhile, Stane is talking to a scientist who is Not Tony Stark who he’s got working on a miniature arc reactor and the scientist says that he can’t do it because he’s Not Tony Stark. Stane yells that Tony Stark built a reactor in a cave with a box of scraps and Not Tony Stark says that it’s not the absence of a cave or even the box of scraps that’s the problem, more the fact that he’s, y’know, Not Tony Stark.
Pepper searches through Obie’s files and finds evidence of the weapons sales and a whole lot more. Obadiah has built his own Iron Man armour and also he was the one who tried to get the Ten Rings to kill Tony the whole time.
Yes, the whole time. Pepper learns this when she finds the video on Stane’s computer that we saw being filmed at the start of the movie.
Michelle Monaghan

“Also, Michelle Monaghan is a fantastic actress who doesn’t get enough decent parts to show off her comic chops. Did you see that piece of shit Pixels!? And you wonder why we call you the Great Satan.”

Obie arrives in the office and Pepper manages to get the information out without him noticing but once she leaves he realises that she’s absconded with the information and that he’s got to act fast.
Pepper finds Agent Coulson waiting outside her office and decides to bring him directly to the site where Stane’s building his armour even though I’m pretty sure that’s the only thing she’s uncovered him doing that’s not illegal. Back at the mansion, Tony is ambushed by Stane who incapacitates him with the Spice Girls and removes the arc-reactor from his chest and leaves him to die. I really like this scene but there’s something weird about it. Namely, where the heck did Obie come from? From the way it’s staged the only thing I can think of was that he was hiding behind Tony’s couch like a kid when the Daleks come on the TV.
Bald
His heart failing, Tony staggers into his workshop to try and plug in the old arc-reactor that Pepper saved for him. He almost dies before Rhodey arrives (does Tony even lock his front door?) and helps him re-attach the old arc reactor. Rhodey asks how he can help and Tony asks him to keep the skies clear and then suits up and flies off to stop Stane. And then Rhodey looks at a silver iron man suit in the corner.
"Next time, baby."

“Next time, baby.”

"Ha! No."

“Ha! No.”

So it’s here that the movie kinda fumbles the ball. Stane attacks Pepper and Coulson with his new Iron Monger armour. My question is…why? What’s he hoping to get by this point? Is he going to march the suit to Washington and punch everyone until they declare him president? What’s the plan here? Stane has two options once Pepper’s got the incriminating data; either surrender himself to SHIELD and give them everything he knows on the Ten Rings in exchange for leniency, or the riskier but more potentially lucrative path of flying his private jet to a country with no extradition and selling the arc reactor to the highest bidder. There’s literally no reason for him to put on the suit and start stomping around all “STANE SMASH!” like this. Oh sure, they throw in a line of dialogue about how Stane’s gone crazy (nope) but it’s clearly all just setup for the obligatory robot battle between Iron Man and Iron Monger which at least is pretty cool.
Anyway, Iron Man gets his shiny metal ass handed to him because the old arc reactor is running on fumes but he manages to defeat Obie by luring him onto the roof and getting Pepper to overload the large-scale generator inside which fries Obie like an egg. And so his dastardly plan is foiled.
Whatever that might have been.
The next day Tony is giving a press conference to convince the world that he’s totally not Iron Man. Agent Coulson gives him some prepared remarks to read about Iron Man being his bodyguard but Tony decides halfway through the conference….meh, fuck it.
Press conference

“Look, secret identities are a relic of the Golden Age that really serve no purpose in the modern era so basically yeah, I’m the guy, love me, love me, love me…”

***

With a global box office take of half a billion and a Rotten Tomatoes score of 95%, it’s pretty safe to say that Marvel’s experiment in making their own movies was off to a great start. Looking back at Iron Man eight years on, it’s not exceptional but it is, very, very solid. Great performances, good special effects, witty banter. It’s not exactly ground-breaking, but sometimes you don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Sometimes you just need to build a really good wheel. In a cave. With a box of scraps.

Scoring
So if I’m going to review all the MCU movies my old scoring system just ain’t gonna cut it. I mean, scores for leads, villain and supporting characters are all well and good, but animation is obviously out and as for music? Whistle me the Iron Man theme. Which is better, the score for Thor of Hulk? Exactly. Music just isn’t that big a component in what makes these movies work or not work. So instead we’re gonna do a 25/25/25/25 scoring system with the fourth category for “Adaptation”. Basically, how successfully the movie is translated from the comic page to the screen. This, I should stress, is not a score for how faithful the movie is to the source material, but rather whether the movie does a good job of adapting what made the original comic work. Sometimes that means staying true to the original, sometimes that means fixing something that didn’t really work. Basically it’s a loosey-goosey score that will allow me to rig the results however I like. Let’s begin.
Adaptation 23/25
Basically an updating of the Iron Man origin story which shifts the action from Vietnam to Afghanistan because this tale is timeless in the most depressing way possible. Probably a text book case of how to do a successful superhero origin onscreen.
Our Heroic Hero: 24/25
It’s become accepted wisdom that Robert Downey Junior’s performance reinvented Tony Stark as a wisecracking loveable asshole but that’s not entirely true. The comics had already been moving towards that under writers like Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar (Millar’s The Ultimates in particular had a huge influence on this movie and the MCU in general). But Downey’s performance makes that version the One True Stark. Downey gives us a multi-faceted hero, snarky yet sensitive, brilliant yet troubled, compassionate but often dangerously obsessive.
Our Nefarious Villain: 18/25
It’s a little unfortunate that the MCU’s first villain has been so overshadowed because Jeff Bridges is a great baddy as Obadiah Stane…mostly. Bridges’ charm and the warmth of his scenes with Downey give a real emotional heft to their scenes, culminating in the fantastic sequence where Stane shows up at Stark’s house, almost literally tears his heart out and strides off into the shadows, leaving his adopted son to die on the couch. Unfortunately, in the movie’s rush to have a big robot battle climax, Stane’s complexity and motivations get thrown under the bus.
Our Plucky Sidekicks: 14/25
Mixed bag here. Paltrow has great chemistry with Downey and the romantic banter between them is hugely entertaining. Towards the end though, she becomes a bit more of a passive damsel in distress. Terrence Howard’s Rhodey does not work. Period.  But then, there’s always Coulson.
The Stinger
Tony Stark returns home to find a mysterious, eye-patched man waiting for him in a darkened room. He introduces himself as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of SHIELD, and says that he wants to talk to him about “The Avengers Initiative”.
And the Audience Went:
Kermit-Yay-Forever
WOW. HOLY…WOW. I can’t actually overstress the impact this one minute of footage had. The idea that Marvel were actually going to build an inter connected movie universe of different heroes leading up the frickin’ Avengers? This single-handedly kicked Iron Man up from being a really, really good superhero movie to Ground Zero in the dawning of a new age in movie history. For good and for ill.
Infinity Gem Count: 0
Nothing.
Hey, was that Stan Lee?!
That was Stan Lee, on the red carpet outside the Stark party, playing fellow sixties icon and boob enthusiast Hugh Hefner.
Any names of comic book characters clunkily worked into dialogue that no one would ever say in real life?
“Tony, we’re Iron Mongers, that’s what we do.”
Hey, what’s Thanos doing?
Thanos is sitting on his chair.

Thanos is sitting on his chair.

FINAL SCORE: 79%
NEXT UPDATE: 18 December 2015. How much more blood must be spilled? The Movie Deathmatch continues and we’ll be eliminating another three unfortunate fighters. Make sure to donate and vote so that your favourite movie/tv series isn’t one of them. Then…
NEXT REVIEW: 24 December 2015. Celebrate Christmas Eve with the perfect Christmas Movie
American_tail_fievel_goes_west
Alright, who’s been messing with my schedule?
Neil Sharpson aka the Unshaved Mouse is a playwright, comic book writer and blogger based in Dublin. The blog updates with a new review every second Thursday. A new chapter from his novel, The Devil’s Heir, posts every Saturday. Original artwork for this blog was commissioned from the oh-so talented Julie Android who you should definitely check out.  

64 comments

  1. All the current Avengers kill. They are soldiers, spies, warriors…naturally they kill when they feel that they have to. That’s all part of how their characters are portrayed. It’s different with heroes like Spider-man or Daredevil. But, yeah, Iron Man is the most casual movie about this fact. Tony never really changes his opinion that the one with the biggest stick creates peace…he just ensures that he is the one holding the stick because he realized that he can’t trust anyone else with it.

    Personally, I don’t like Stane that much, mostly because I had a hard time believing that Tony would fall for the lies of a guy as smarmy as him.

      1. Just everyone between him and the helicarriers…..I think we can safely say that a few people died in this fight. And he killed Chitauri left and right. Just because they are not humans it doesn’t make them less living and breathing beings.

        Ultron even outright says that all Avengers are killers. He is kind of right.

      2. Well the Chitauri were bio-engineered constructs remotely controlled by the mother ship and anyone killed by the helicarrier certainly wasn’t intentional. I meant that he doesn’t intentionally kill his enemies in combat.

      3. Intentionally not, but he does when it is necessary. In the first movie his people throw bombs in tanks and Bucky was acting as a sniper. Yeah, the shield usually doesn’t kill immediately, but I never got the impression that Steve has a no kill rule. Like he said, he doesn’t want to kill anyone, but he doesn’t like bullies.

  2. YES! FIEVEL GOES WEST!

    I KNEW my choice would win!

    I mean, it’s Rock-a-Doodle, but it’s still bad. It’s like a drug trip seen through a fish-eye lens.

  3. I still think Iron Man is one of the best solo Marvel movies. Great start to the MCU, but there are some things they messed up on. Like Coulson using the long name for SHIELD and saying “yeah, bitch we’re working on it,” then later movies revealing they’ve existed since the 50s or something. You mean it took them 50 years to figure out that the name they chose conveniently creates an acronym?

  4. So… I watched this earlier this week in preparation for this review, and… prepare the tar and feathers if you like, but I’m not exactly filled with hope when people say this is the best movie (or in the top tier) the MCU has to offer.

    Maybe I’m just at the Snarky, Cynical stage in life, but the entire movie just felt… manipulative. And that’s something all movies are, at heart, but this one simply felt more blatant about it. “Here’s our douche-with-a-heart-of-gold hero!” “Here’s his nagging but eternally faithful civilian love interest!” “Here’s the “ally” who’s certainly not going to turn out to be the bad guy!” “Here’s the thingy that’s going to be important to the hero’s survival later on *and* affirm his bond to the supporting cast!” “Here’s where you stand up and cheer as our hero wipes the floor with opening act villains who haven’t a hope of touching him!”

    There were really only two parts that pleasantly surprised me. One is that, despite Pepper casually calling her “trash” when they first meet, the movie never really villainizes Christine when tradition practically obligates it to do so. The other, naturally, is the Stan Lee cameo.

    Buuut all that said, it *was* a really fun movie, with a decently pulpy plot, endlessly quotable lines, and a rather enjoyable protagonist. Not something I’ll rush to rewatch anytime soon, but I can see why it made so much bank.

    (Side note: I can’t stop seeing Dan DiDio every time I look at Stane.)

  5. Funny story. My friends went to see this movie when it came out and didn’t know Iron Man was a comic book superhero. They thought the film was a wholly original movie. Personally, I think if a comic book movie can do that for the mainstream audience it’s a pretty impressive thing.

    1. I am oddly reminded of the old “I heard that before Spider-Man was a movie, it was a comic book. Is that possible?” exchange from The Simpsons. One of my Tumblr pals (who worked in a comic shop years ago) says those kinds of exchanges did in fact happen in real life.

  6. Thanks for the review. I was quite pleased with this movie when I saw it…but I never felt like I needed to see it again. Unlike Captain America. Or Avengers.
    I’m glad your reviewing these movies now – it gives me the motivation to actually see the ones I haven’t bothered to yet. Like any of them with a ‘2’ or ‘3’ in the title, potentially. Or that happen in space, without invoking pseudo-Norse gods. Movies like that.

  7. I agree, Stane selling weapons to the Ten Rings doesn’t make much sense, at least in this movie. Cap 2 however revealed/retconned that Hydra was behind them, as well as Tony’s parents’ death, the killing of Kennedy, 9/11, that time you lost your car keys, and the invention of country music. And since they basically OWN the US government in that movie, I daresay they could afford whatever price Obie asked.

  8. Ah yeah, I love this movie! I was lucky enough to see it in the drive in theater with my cousins while visiting them in Idaho. I was blown away, so funny, so much action-packed amazingness. I actually didn’t stay for the stinger the first time, but that’s probably for the best, because I didn’t know a thing about the Marvel Universe at this time. It wasn’t until after this movie that I started getting into comic lore… and I still don’t really read comics, I just watch the various animated series and Atop the Fourth Wall. (Yeah yeah I know, I’m a fake nerd, whatever)

    Also, “In a cave with a box of scraps” is one of my favorite memes and I love all the ways you played with it in this review, well done sir!

  9. Honestly, I’ve ended up hating the current superhero trend, only made worse by how unapologetically imperialistic the Marvel Cinematic Universe is. They may be entertaining popcorn flicks, but that’s it, and when popcorn flicks parrot US propaganda, it becomes unbearable.

    1. Huh? The movies actually do the exact opposite. The first attempt is a little bit messy (though they do address how sick it is to send weapons to the middle east which usually end up in the hands of terrorists eventually), but they get better with time. Especially the Captain America movies are very critical about the American government. The first one takes a really hard look at propaganda, the second one addresses the danger of giving up privacy and freedom in the name of a shaky security. And then there is Iron Man 3.

      1. I actually loathed the very concept of Captain America until I saw the movie and understood what the character is actually about. He is now my fav! (Followed by Black Widow, naturally).

      2. I think it is the fact that they managed to disconnect Captain America from the actual America in making him represents ideals we all can get behind rather than a particular country. It naturally helps that he keeps calling out America for not being what it wanted to be.

  10. My friend insisted me and a couple of others meet up for Marvel movies back in July. I really like them! I watched all but the Hulk film and the Iron Man sequels. I only watched the Thor sequel for Loki. Because Loki. I’m so excited you’re reviewing these!

  11. Ahh, Iron Man. My favourite series of the Avengers movie lineup. Though then again, it’s the only one I’ve really gotten into, Captain America’s appeal is a bit lost on Canadians (those who find Chris Evans incredibly attractive notwithstanding), and I seem to always miss the Thor movies for reasons that escape me at the moment. And the other 2 avengers don’t have movies for whatever reason. Iron Man though, I’ve always caught his adventures, and Stark’s snarks have their appeal for sure.

    I’ve got to say, I can never watch this movie without that part with Everhart feeling weird to me, because I always remember Leslie Bibb playing the 16-year-old cheerleader from Popular. I have no idea if anyone else remembers that show, but it was big enough during my tween years for that to be what my mind goes to when I see her, so watching her one-night-stand Robert Downey Jr. was a tad awkward to say the least. As for Pepper, I like her, I always have liked Potts and Stark’s kind of awkward, semi-dysfunctional relationship. And I’m totally not the only one who wants an Avengers/X-Men crossover where Tony meets Hank McCoy and asks Pepper to be his housemaid for a time period and hilarity ensues, am I? What with Disney owning Marvel now and all, I just can’t not think up bizarre shout outs.

  12. Dunno if owning a company worth a truckload of dough leaves someone off the hook for a life check. Maybe they especially need one if they only inherited that company and didn’t personally make it what it is. Certain current U. S. presidential candidates aren’t making loose-cannon rich company heirs look good right now, is what I’m getting at. Though Tony himself clearly at least knows something about the stuff his company gets at, being able to assemble and disassemble his merchandise himself.

    Ahhh, getting into the Star Wars hype, I see? Come to think of it, it’s a wonder no one asked for any Star Wars movies to be reviewed. Maybe that can be a special project whenever Marvel’s done or something? Seems like an appropriate step, being the next victim *cough* subject of Disney’s osmosis, no? Also, yeesh, hope you don’t ever compete on Wheel of Fortune when the show decides to make a shout out to other game shows. Speaking of wheels, liking your closing bit there. Ties up the review well.

    I can’t whistle for jack (geese don’t have the teeth for it), but I can hum the Iron Man theme just fine. In any case, I guess this adaptation score makes sense, and I’m liking the new coat of paint the scoring is getting, hope it stays. Also, the first of the survivors of the Deathmatch! …Wait, second, how’d I forget Nimh was in the running? In any case, hope Fievel does good his return, and it turns out to be worth chewing a dark fairy to pieces for it. Or do mice just do that for kicks? Eh, in any case, hope it’s good, and maybe ties any loose ends left for that Bluniverse Horned King made.

  13. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time! I was never a big Marvel fan (or hell, even a comic book fan) until my boyfriend introduced them to me through the films and now we’re both huge nerds. I remember thinking the first Iron Man movie was just fine (though RDJ more than deserved this as his big comeback), but the ending really caught me off-guard. Down with secret identities!

    Can’t wait to see your take on The Hulk (the only one I have yet to see all the way through since me and my guy only watched it from the halfway point when it was on tv once).

  14. I cannot wait for you to review the Captain Americas (’cause he’s my fave alongside Scarlet Witch and Black Widow) and the Avengers! I only got into Marvel movies over the summer, but I really love them. Who here is excited for civil war?

  15. This movie is pretty good. It’s not one of the best superhero films ever made, but it’s really good. The only thing I don’t like about it is the villain. Like in most Marvel movies, the villain in this movie is just your typical generic villain we’ve seen a million times before.

  16. This, along with Avengers and Guardians is one of my favorite MCU movies. It’s just one of the few that know how to stand on it’s own without being overloaded in setting up for the future. Speaking of which, I heard you might be doing the Spider-Man movies down the line? The Sam Raimi movies would obviously be a part of that, but would you add the Amazing films, and the pilot to that weird live action series in the seventies (not the Japanese one).

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