Iron Man was the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has grown exponentially ever since, including one or two films a year and an ongoing television series. The seminal superhero flick introduced lasting facets of this universe, such as Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark, Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, and the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division, better known as S.H.I.E.L.D. Even non-comic geeks probably knew the basics of the Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man mythos, but Iron Man was certainly less widely known, even if he too had a 1990s animated TV series (and was voiced by Airplane!’s Robert Hays). The 2008 feature film established Tony Stark as a household name, thanks predominantly to Downey’s utterly entertaining charisma and the awesome CGI armor. Gwyneth Paltrow also found her most recognized role as his girlfriend Pepper Potts, and who would have guessed that that unassuming Coulson urging for a debriefing would go on to have his own weeknight show? Of the villains in the three films, Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane is the best, offering both an intimidating presence (which Vanko had and Killian lacked) and a worthy showdown (which Vanko lacked and Killian had). Plus, Samuel L. Jackson’s incipient post-credits scene as Nick Fury opened up countless opportunities, referenced an Avengers film still four years away, and made the hearts of fanboys everywhere beat a little bit faster.
Iron Man 2 continued the all-around coolness factor that had made its predecessor such a success, starting off with some epic AC/DC. Downey had his usual banter down pat, and Don Cheadle stepped gracefully into the role of Rhodey, previously played by Terrence Howard, though I wish they had kept Howard all the same. (After all, he never got to wear the War Machine armor he was eyeing.) Iron Man 2 introduced another menacing villain in Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko/Whiplash, as well as Scarlett Johansson as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. Sadly, neither of them were utilized fully; after Vanko’s initial assault on Stark, he’s off in the shadows letting robots fight for him, and when he finally arrives on the battlefield, he’s taken out within two minutes. Likewise, Johansson is present mainly for eye candy and an overlong hallway melee meant to simply exhibit her strength and tenacity; otherwise, her role is minimal, though definitely bigger than Hawkeye’s cameo in Thor. I did enjoy the lighter villainy of Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, and the portrayal of Stark’s morbid spiral into drunkenness, his paternal issues, and his struggle to synthesize his needed element deepened his character and provided a very obvious Captain America reference.
Iron Man 3 was the start of Phase 2, Marvel’s post-Avengers period, and proved that they still had the right balance of humor, heart, and action. In a comic-book world where near-death experiences seem like an everyday annoyance, it was intriguing to see Tony’s recurrent distress from his time with the Avengers. From the trailers, I was sure that Ben Kingsley would steal the show as the threatening Mandarin, and he did…for the first half. The revelation of his true oblivious identity was a big let-down, for me and many comic fans, though a recent partial retcon in the Marvel One-Shot “All Hail the King” presents the possibility of future efforts doing the character justice. On the other hand, the treatment of the Extremis story arc was exciting, complex, and influential to the Marvel universe, since Extremis continued to pop up in the first season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (By the way, minor Lost alert: Rebecca Mader, who played Charlotte Lewis on my favorite show, portrayed a nameless Extremis soldier who took down Rhodey’s armor.) While I enjoyed Tony’s bonding with the boy in Tennessee, the threequel tried to cover a lot of territory, and some elements like Maya Hansen and Trevor Slattery were wiped away too quickly to make room for a slam-bang climax that was admittedly spectacular. Pepper’s role in the final battle did seem rather contrived, as if Paltrow had simply requested more action for her character, and Tony’s destruction of his suits may have been “sweet,” but it was also irresponsible, considering they weren’t sure all the baddies had been defeated. The denouement ties up the storylines with a contemplative bow, but its ambiguity left further entries in the series in doubt. Maybe Tony now lives in the Avengers Tower/Stark Tower.
Overall, the Iron Man films are a huge feather in the cap of Marvel Studios, and Robert Downey, Jr. makes the role his own so effectively that any distant reboot couldn’t hope to find a worthy replacement. Of the three, I probably prefer the original, a near-perfect origin story that displays a good reason for Tony to change (the dying words of Shaun Toub as Yinsen) and touches on themes of self-improvement and the War on Terror. All three are among the finest and most fun superhero films thus far.
Best line from Iron Man: (Nick Fury, speaking to Stark and moviegoers everywhere) “’I am Iron Man’. You think you’re the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.”
Best line from Iron Man 2: (Tony, reading Romanoff’s description of him) “’Mr. Stark displays textbook… narcissism.’ [long pause] Agreed.”
Best line from Iron Man 3: (Pepper, toward the end) “What have I got to complain about now?” (Tony) “Well, it’s me. You’ll find something.”Artistry: 8 Characters/Actors: 9 Entertainment: 9 Visual Effects: 10 Originality: 8 Watchability: 9 Other (violence): -2 TOTAL: 51 out of 60
Next: #108 – Shrek 2
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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