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(Spoilers ahead)
The playboy genius billionaire
Tony Stark does not much care
About concerns he made his cash
From weapons that guerrillas stash,
Until this vain and selfish man
Is kidnapped in Afghanistan.
When locked up by some terrorists,
A fellow prisoner assists.
Life-saving Yinsen does his best
To stop the shrapnel in Stark’s chest.
When he is stable, Stark is forced
To build a missile he endorsed.
Instead of building what they’ll shoot,
Both he and Yinsen build a suit,
An Iron Man that Stark will drive
To get out of this cave alive.
Though Yinsen sadly meets his end,
Stark finds freedom, thanks to his friend.
When good pal Rhodey rescues him,
Stark then announces on a whim
That he’ll leave weapon tech behind,
And most believe he’s lost his mind,
Like partner Obadiah Stane,
Who makes his reservations plain.
Intrigued by his initial suit,
The terrorists find it to loot,
And Tony builds a better one
To stop the violence he’s begun.
An arc reactor in his chest
Protects his heart and fuels his quest.
His exploits mess with certain plots
And scare assistant Pepper Potts,
Who cares too much to just stand by
And watch her dear employer die.
He urges her to help him hack,
And they learn Stane ordained the attack.
Stane’s had another suit created,
Bigger, stronger, more ill-fated.
Powered by Stark’s tech he stole,
Stane has great power at his control,
Which proves too much, when it’s revealed,
For agents from a group called S.H.I.E.L.D.
Though weakened, Tony swoops right in
And battles Stane but cannot win.
Through streets and skies and rooftops too,
They duke it out in public view.
With Pepper’s help, they finish Stane,
But to the press, Stark must explain.
Though S.H.I.E.L.D. would have him stick to plan,
He tells the world he’s Iron Man.
Now that his cover has been blown
And his identity is known,
Ol’ Tony Stark’s enjoying it
And showing off his suit a bit.
The Stark Expo his dad began
Now showcases his Iron Man.
His rival Justin Hammer tries
To copy Tony’s “iron” prize,
And senators are less than thrilled
That Stark won’t share what they can’t build.
In any case, he’s flying high,
And yet he fears he soon will die.
Palladium inside his chest
Is killing him and leaves him stressed.
He names his girlfriend Pepper as
The CEO of all he has,
But while he’s at a grand prix racing,
There’s a brand new foe worth facing.
Ivan Vanko, wielding whips,
Removes the smirk from Tony’s lips.
Though Tony beats him, he can tell
That Vanko forged his tech quite well.
It seems that both their fathers had
Been partners ere Vanko’s went bad.
From jail, the Russian brute is sprung
By Justin Hammer, who has hung
His hopes on Vanko to provide
Something that Stark has not supplied.
Meanwhile, Tony’s recklessness
Distresses Rhodey to excess.
Rhodes takes a suit for Air Force use,
While S.H.I.E.L.D. stops Tony’s booze abuse.
Director Fury urges Stark
To visit matters in the dark,
His distant father’s expo plans,
Which may hold clues his life demands.
He halts his health’s unseen descent
By forging a new element
To spare his heart and fuel his suit.
Meanwhile, Hammer’s new recruit
Builds robot soldiers for his goal,
And they are under his control.
The Stark Expo is quickly made
A battleground by this upgrade,
And Rhodey in his borrowed suit
Is forced to battle Stark and shoot.
Because of his involvement, Hammer
Gets a ticket to the slammer.
Agent Romanoff from S.H.I.E.L.D.
Frees Rhodey on the battlefield,
And he and Stark take out the bots
And barely rescue Pepper Potts.
Once Vanko’s vanquished, Stark is told
By Fury he’s too brash and bold.
Stark is confused but not upset:
He won’t be an Avenger…yet.
Since Stark helped stop a space invasion,
He’s been panicked on occasion.
Memories of nearly dying
Scare him, though he’s still denying.
In his basement, he grows roots,
Constructing countless high-tech suits.
The world is threatened once again
By someone called the Mandarin,
A terrorist with frightful voice
Who gives world powers little choice.
One Aldrich Killian tries selling
His A.I.M. technology compelling.
When Happy Hogan, Tony’s guard,
Is injured by a bomb and scarred,
Stark calls the Mandarin to fight,
And missiles answer him outright.
Both Maya Hansen, an old flame,
And Pepper flee the strike by A.I.M.,
But Tony’s suit instinctively
Flies him to rural Tennessee.
While there, he meets a lonely kid
Named Harley, who assists off grid.
They check a bomb-like suicide
With clues to how some others died.
When suitless Stark locates the foe,
He finds the Mandarin’s a show,
An actor, Trevor Slattery,
Who faked his crimes on live TV.
It’s Killian who is to blame
And his Extremis, backed by A.I.M.
With Rhodey’s armor, Killian’s bent
On kidnapping the President.
With him deceased, he’ll own and guide
The leadership of every side.
He’s kidnapped Pepper too, but soon
Stark’s suit returns when opportune.
A fleet of suits at Stark’s command
Attacks and makes a final stand.
The President saved, Stark gets aid
Defeating Killian’s tirade.
When all is done, Extremis ended,
All the villains apprehended,
Stark negates what he began,
But still, deep down, he’s Iron Man.

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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