The Armored Avenger

Iron Man reinvented the way we see Marvel superheroes. As the first installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man became one of the most influential superhero movies ever made. Bringing the Armored Avenger to life on the big screen was easier said than done. Iron Man was created in 1963 with Stan Lee doing the story, his brother Larry Lieber doing the writing, Don Heck doing the artwork, and Jack Kirby doing the cover and costume design. Stan Lee challenged himself with Cold War themes and a businessman who should be unlikeable, but won over readers anyway. Tales of Suspense #39 debuted the Howard Hughes inspired Tony Stark fitted with a bulky suit of grey armor during the Vietnam War.

Until he upgraded his armor to the classic yellow & red look we all know today. Iron Man became another iconic superhero who founded The Avengers and made several animated appearances. Getting a movie made was tricky since Marvel foolishly sold most of their character rights in the 90’s. Iron Man ended up with Universal, 20th Century Fox, and New Line Cinema, but none of them thought he was popular enough. Of course I knew Iron Man from the comics I owned, but he was never my top favorite. Eventually Marvel Studios made the game changing decision to make their own movies with Paramount Pictures distributing. I was 12 years old in 2008, so I simply viewed Iron Man as just another Marvel movie I needed to see in theaters. Little did I know it would change the cinematic landscape forever…

1. Iron Man

Iron Man walks away from an explosion

Iron Man was definitely a risk that paid off. After developing a series of movies for every well known superhero in the 2000’s, Marvel Studios was left with mostly leftovers. Iron Man needed to appeal to a new generation of fans and become popular with general audiences. Needless to say, comedic actor turned director Jon Favreau wasn’t anyone’s first choice for an action-packed blockbuster. But we have Favreau to thank for taking a chance on Robert Downey Jr. His legal history with substance abuse actually made him perfect for the imperfect Tony Stark. I was too young to know Downey Jr. from any of his past work, but I still didn’t really follow a movie’s production at the time. Despite the incomplete script and independant feel, Iron Man was a box-office smash that became my newest obsession. My brother and I bought the toys, played the video game, and got some Invincible Iron Man comics.

We were immediately won over by the teaser trailer that appropriately incorporated “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath. Iron Man makes great use of a classic rock & roll soundtrack. The entire MCU opens with “Back in Black” by AC/DC. Instead of the Vietnam War, we’re introduced to genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist Tony Stark in the much more modern war in Afghanistan. Robert Downey Jr. immediately wins you over with his natural charm and comedic timing. Stark was never a jokester in the comics, but Iron Man makes it clear that humor will become a very important part of the MCU. It’s even more impressive when you realize a lot of the movie was improvised. Stark jokes around with the soldiers in his Humvee and dates himself with a MySpace reference. Everything goes wrong when Stark is attacked and blown up with his own Stark Industries missile. Days earlier we get to experience what Tony Stark was like before his origin kicks in.

Stark is extremely comic accurate right down to his signature goatee. They even use his classic theme song from The Marvel Superheroes show. Stark’s genius level intellect is a lot more natural than most adaptations of comic book scientists. His billionaire lifestyle is on full display with several fancy cars and a beachfront house in California instead of New York. Most of Stark’s playboy antics are at the beginning with him flirting with several sexy ladies and sleeping with Leslie Bibb as reporter Christine Everhart. She’s just a reporter for Vanity Fair instead of the Daily Bugle for obvious reasons. Although I wasn’t an expert of Iron Man’s supporting cast, all the major players are present. Iron Man has had many love interests, but none are more important than his redheaded secretary Virginia “Pepper” Potts. Gwyneth Paltrow has perfect chemistry with Downey Jr. as Stark’s caring personal assistant.

Tony’s longtime best friend has always been U.S. Air Force pilot James “Rhodey” Rhodes. One of the earliest black superheroes in comics. Terrence Howard isn’t as dark as the original character, but his charisma made him good for the role that only required him to be a liaison for Stark Industries. Jon Favreau himself played Stark’s chauffeur/bodyguard Happy Hogan. The second Marvel best friend he’s played after Daredevil. Instead of the usual butler, Edwin Jarvis is instead an all purpose A.I. called J.A.R.V.I.S. voiced by Paul Bettany. The movie’s final struggle was finding the right villain. Although the Mandarin is usually Iron Man’s archenemy, they couldn’t get him right for the movie. So they instead went with the lesser known Iron Monger. Jeff Bridges shaved his head to play Stark Industries business partner Obadiah Stane. The usually heroic Bridges is great at hiding Stane’s villainous intentions. It turns out he’s responsible for having Tony kidnapped by terrorists. Unlike most superheroes, Iron Man’s origin takes a lot of time to tell. Luckily Downey Jr. is so entertaining that you never think about how long it takes to get to his signature armor.

Like the comics, Stark deals with shrapnel making its way to his heart. Shaun Toub plays fellow captive Ho Yinsen. He keeps Stark alive with a car battery and helps him when The Ten Rings (a clever nod to the Mandarin) force him to build his devastating Jericho missile. Instead Tony uses the arc reactor in his missile to power his heart and a makeshift suit of armor. The bulky Mark I suit is ripped straight out of the comic pages with missiles and flamethrowers that take care of the terrorist threat. Yinsen is sadly killed, but at least Tony escapes with faulty flight tech. The whole experience gives Stark a new lease on life. So he asks for an American cheeseburger and a press conference to announce he will no longer be making weapons. His only mission is perfecting his suit to protect the people he put in harm’s way. Stark’s decision just makes his company nervous and features a cameo from Jim Cramer of Mad Money. Pepper is even approached by Agent Phil Coulson from the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division. Little did Clark Gregg know how crucial his role would become.

Tony’s lab looks like the not too distant future with a series of touch holograms and personal robots to help him build his new suit of armor. Mark II is primarily used as a flight suit with a sleek all silver look. The flight tests are hilarious and his first suit up is awesome. The best decision the movie makes is incorporating J.A.R.V.I.S. into the suit with a nifty heads up display that gives Downey Jr. more face time. The suit’s only flaw is an icing problem that keeps him from traveling to space. The next suit is briefly seen in its classic all gold design, but Tony quickly adds hot rod red to the armor. Tony makes his first public appearance at a charity event attended by Stan Lee’s cameo as himself being mistaken for Hugh Hefner. Tony and Pepper continue to have great chemistry as they get closer with a dance. They never kiss, but Pepper becomes very important when she discovers her bosses secret and comedically helps fix his arc reactor. Obadiah isn’t so friendly when he reveals himself to be behind more Stark weapons being sold to the terrorists who kidnapped him.

The Mark III suit up is seriously cool with obvious inspiration from Transformers being used in the complex armoring sequence. The special effects used for Iron Man suits still looks convincing today. Favreau utilized the same process of practical armor mixed with CGI that he used for Zathura. It’s a seamless blend that makes the suits look convincing in the real world. Iron Man officially comes to life when he swoops in to use his repulsor rays and shoulder cannons on several terrorists. If that wasn’t awesome enough, then Iron Man blowing up a tank with a single wrist rocket seals the deal. Tony’s problems aren’t quite finished when Rhodey gets involved. The Air Force thinks the suit is hostile, so they engage in a tense air fight. The planes are named Whiplash 1 & 2 in another reference to a yet to be seen Iron Man villain. Rhodey covers for Tony, but Pepper is concerned about his well being. In a humorous scene that features the pivotal easter egg of Captain America’s prototype shield.

Obadiah executes the terrorists that he employed and uses the Mark I suit to build his own bigger Iron Monger suit. Pepper secures his files and has protection from Phil Coulson and several agents. Obadiah double crosses Tony by stealing his arc reactor and forcing him to use the faulty one Pepper re-gifted him. Rhodey arrives to help Tony, but he decides to wear the suit next time (not for Howard though). The Iron Monger suit is definitely bigger with Bridges spouting several evil one-liners. He targets Pepper, but the climax officially commences when Iron Man flies in to stop his former business partner. Although Iron Man was the start of something new, it’s final fight is still similar to a lot of other Marvel movies before it. Especially considering Kevin Feige had to share his producer credit with Avi Arad.

The fight takes place at night with battle damaged armor and the hero ending up without his mask. Fighting a villain that’s basically an evil counterpart to the hero would become their own trend. Along with a sky beam that Pepper uses to short circuit the Iron Monger suit with Obadiah in it. Tony is in bad shape, but his arc reactor reactivates long enough for him to recover. The public dubs him Iron Man and Coulson tries to keep Tony’s identity a secret with the comic explanation that the suit is a bodyguard. Coulson also reveals his organization to have been the very important S.H.I.E.L.D. all along. Instead of keep things comic book accurate, Tony Stark changes things forever by saying “I am Iron Man” to the public. It’s the only logical ending, but it doesn’t stop there. I initially had no clue that there was an after-credit scene featuring an unexpected cameo from Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Director of Shield wanting to talk to Tony about the Avenger initiative. Iron Man would’ve been great as just an entertaining solo outing, but they went the extra mile by planting the seeds for Marvel projects to come. Iron Man is the perfect start to a bigger universe.

2. Iron Man

Iron Man vs. Iron Monger

Followed by: Iron Man 2

2 thoughts on “The Armored Avenger

  1. I watched this a few days ago as my boy was introduced to the MCU movies. It remains one of my favourite of the MCU movies – really great set pieces and you can’t help but be drawn to Stark.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe really hinged on Stark’s ability to draw a crowd. I’m happy to hear there’s another fan in the making. I look forward to introducing my own kids to the MCU one day.

      Liked by 1 person

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