The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been around for just shy of 10 years at this point and Infinity War is set to serve as the epic culmination of an entire decade of interconnected filmmaking. This is something that nobody could have fathomed before the MCU took shape and, as we approach the release of Infinity War, we're having a look back at the movies that got us to where we are today. And we're starting where it all began, with the relatively modest but truly perfect Iron Man.
This is not necessarily to say that Iron Man is a flawless movie. Few big-budget blockbusters, if any, are. But Iron Man serves as the perfect beginning to the MCU and is easily the best origin story ever put to screen for a comic book character. These are not new revelations being made, but rewatching the movie today, it's amazing how incredible it still is and how much it sets up the future when that couldn't have possibly been the intention at the time. There's no way director Jon Favreau could have known where this was all going to go, but it's in many ways as if he did when watching Iron Man today.
One of the first things we hear from Tony Stark, brilliantly brought to life by Robert Downey Jr. in one of the best bits of casting, I'll just say it, ever, while riding the back of a humvee is,"I'd be out of a job with peace." At the time, he meant that as an arms manufacturer, but it's amazing how true that still is for the character of Iron Man. Not that Tony Stark wants the world to be in peril, but his job, over the years in the MCU, has become as an Avenger. With peace, he would no longer have that job. It's a fascinating bit of likely unintentional prophetic dialogue. There's stuff like that all over this movie, when watching it with the benefit of hindsight.
When thinking about the grand scale that the MCU has achieved in some of their movies since Iron Man, looking at movies like The Avengers, Captain America: Civil War and, in a very different way with something like Thor: Ragnarok, it's interesting to look at Iron Man now and see how it's a relatively small movie by comparison. Yes, there are some big set pieces, but it's really a much more character-driven movie and serves as a much more humble origin tale for the man Tony Stark ultimately becomes. It's not necessarily about the world being threatened by some unrealistic and (in many cases) underwhelming villain. That said, it's still easily one of the best MCU movies to date, and a case could be made for it being the single best.. Bigger doesn't always mean better.
Speaking of villains, does Jeff Bridges get enough credit for being a damn fine villain in Iron Man? It's no secret that the MCU sacrifices great villains for the sake of focusing on their heroes most of the time, but his turn as the father-figure-turned-supervillain is emotional, effective and carries that signature Jeff Bridges charm that only he could deliver. He may not have as much depth or intrigue as someone like Loki, but Obadiah Stane is a solid bad guy.
This is also the moment that Jon Favreau became the outstanding, blockbuster director he is today. Prior to this, he hadn't done anything on this scale. At least nothing that really hit. But Iron Man carved out his path for the future and gave us one of the better crowd-pleasing, big-budget directors working today. Without him, the MCU may not be what it is today.
And Jon Favreau deserves a hell of a lot of credit for making this movie feel very tangible. Sure, it relies on CGI to accomplish a lot of the actual Iron Man stuff, but it doesn't feel as jam-packed with CGI as so many comic book movies and blockbusters in general do these days. This movie feels incredibly practical and it's helped it age very well. There are plenty of movies from 2008 that absolutely have showed their age in not-so-flattering ways. Iron Man isn't one of them.
We'd be remiss if we didn't at least talk a little bit about Terrence Howard. Yes, he was replaced by Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2 and yes, it was for (allegedly) kind of lame reasons. That said, while he does a fine job in this movie, Cheadle feels like the right man for the part and it's hard to imagine it being any other way. Case in point, it actually feels very weird seeing Howard as Rhodey in this movie now. Also, how cool is it that they got Samuel L. Jackson to agree to be Nick Fury in that post-credits scene when there was virtually no promise that it would actually pan out and become something more? I'm not ashamed to admit, I missed that little gem the first time I saw this in theaters. It's easy to forget there was time when there was little or no pressure to say through the credits.
The MCU is now a galaxy-traversing, epic thing. But it started with an independent movie that focused on a character virtually nobody outside of regular comic book readers was familiar with, which turned into an unlikely blockbuster. A blockbuster that would turn Marvel into arguably the single biggest name in entertainment. At one point in Iron Man, Tony stark muses, "Is it better to be feared or respected? Is it too much to ask for both?" In the eyes of of Hollywood, this might as well be the mantra for Marvel Studios. It's hard not to respect the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it's also something that many studios fear, in the sense that it represents competition that simply crushes everything in its path. Iron Man is the humble beginning to a truly epic, amazing and unprecedented thing.