*Note from the Editor: This contribution is from “ironmima,” a member of the FoCC forum.
16 days until Avengers: Infinity War
As we count down to Avengers: Infinity War, we’ll be watching one Marvel Studios film per day beginning April 9 with Iron Man, and ending with Thor: Ragnarok on April 25. Put on your pajamas, grab some popcorn, and join us on an adventure throughout the entire MCU. Don’t forget to put your thoughts in the comments!
It’s hard to believe that the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe started with an independent film. It’s even harder to believe that at one point, Robert Downey Jr. may not have played our favorite shellhead. But everything turned out the way it was supposed to—Favreau convinced Marvel to cast RDJ as Tony Stark, the production had fun in Los Angeles and at the Olancha Sand Dunes, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I have a confession to make though: I didn’t grow up as a comic fan, so I never saw Iron Man in the cinema. I never cheered in a dark room with hundreds of people as Tony blasted his way to freedom in that cave wearing the Mark I, nor did I watch in awe as the Mark II blazed through the screen for its first flight. But despite the absence of that very unique experience, Iron Man remains in my top five MCU movies (number four; see the ranking we have so far at the end of this article). And the fact that we’ve had 17 more MCU movies since then (as we await the 18th one with bated breath) proves the significance and timelessness of this film.
It helps that Iron Man is actually a good movie—it has solid direction, impeccable pacing, a tight script, and great characterization. It becomes an even better film when you find out what a mess the original New Line Cinema script was, and how Favreau and company were making it up as they went along during production. The flexibility with the script allowed RDJ to develop Tony Stark and his narrative with such care, and that gave the character a very strong foundation for future films. It’s no wonder why every Marvel actor says that Robert Downey Jr. is the heart of these productions, because he truly is, just as Tony Stark is the heart of the MCU.
Iron Man has a myriad of iconic scenes that fans will keep talking about for as long as Marvel Studios keeps churning out movies (“I am Iron Man” and that post-credits scene, anyone?), but in my opinion the most important scene of not just this movie, but of the entire MCU, is the press conference after Tony’s return from captivity. “I saw that I had become a part of a system that is comfortable with zero accountability,” Tony says, and that line reverberates throughout the entire MCU ten years and 17 films later. As much as this universe is about heroes, it is also about responsibility and the duty and sacrifice that comes with that responsibility. Avengers: Age of Ultron dips its toes into this, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War dives head first into this theme, with their ramifications being the undercurrent of the next two Avengers movies (I mean, seriously, what is that Avengers 4 title, Russo Brothers? GIVE IT TO ME).
But Iron Man started it all. Iron Man was half of the pot Marvel Studios put all their chips in for their biggest gamble. For all intents and purposes, it shouldn’t have worked—RDJ said himself that days before shooting, they were just “running around being an insurance risk.” And now, ten years and 17 movies later, that gamble has paid off a billion-fold.
The Incredible Hulk was the much more organized half of that pot. This is the first Marvel Studios movie I remember watching in the cinema, but my only memory of it is the audience screaming when Tony Stark showed up on screen during the post-credits scene (which, in hindsight, was pretty bizarre—I’m glad they found a way to retcon that). Because the film was shot right after Iron Man wrapped and already had a completed script, there was less pressure on the part of the cast and crew to deliver a cohesive final product. It wasn’t as critically and financially successful as Iron Man, which at first glance seemed strange given the popularity of the Ang Lee version released in 2003.
Trying to figure why this was the case was the main objective of my Incredible Hulk rewatch. It didn’t take long, though—after fifteen minutes, it was clear that the movie tried too hard, and somewhere along the way lost the wit and authenticity that Iron Man brought to the table. I found the final battle scene between Hulk and the Abomination anticlimactic and unimaginative (that “Hulk, smash!” was just terrible, really). It also has a villain problem (and I have no doubt we will revisit this in Captain America: Civil War), which is unsurprising given that this seems to be a recurring issue in most MCU films.
But overall, it was still an entertaining movie, and it set up Bruce Banner’s role in the MCU pretty neatly, despite my reservations with Edward Norton’s performance. I’ve always found Mark Ruffalo’s understated treatment of Bruce Banner to be far more effective than Edward Norton’s, and it also helps that Ruffalo has great chemistry with the rest of the Avengers. Then again, that may just be my bias talking.
Nonetheless, Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk put into perspective exactly what Marvel Studios risked to create the behemoth that is now the MCU today. It is a sensational feat—one that other studios are desperate to replicate without the same successful result—that has given fans ten years worth of phenomenal movies. Rewatching these two films has gotten me extremely excited for Avengers: Infinity War, and I bet the remaining 15 movies we’ll be going through in the next two weeks will intensify this excitement and my love for this universe even more.
Our movie schedule for the next few days: Iron Man 2 (April 11), Thor (April 12), and Captain America: The First Avenger (April 13). Check back on April 14 for the next feature on our countdown to Avengers: Infinity War!
Top 5 MCU movies ranking so far:
- Iron Man
Bonus: Iron Man never released a director’s commentary, but both Jon Favreau and RDJ had an unofficial one in 2008 hosted by the American Cinemathique as part of their “Live Commentary” series. The event was never recorded by the venue, but someone in the audience did and posted the audio online. Enjoy!