So, Iron Man! Where it all started. It's easy to forget, so many years and films later, that without the commercial and critical success of this movie, we wouldn't even have a Marvel Cinematic Universe. I think I've probably seen this more times than any other MCU film (except maybe The Avengers), in part because it's the oldest, in part because it's on TV a lot, and in part because it's T's favorite film in the series, so it's the one he's most likely to watch. I might also argue that it's the best film of the lot, in terms of a piece of filmmaking, except for CA: TWS -- it's certainly one of the more tightly written, the pacing is excellent, and it has one of the better villains in Stane. Even now, after TWS, this is my benchmark superhero film, the one against which all others are judged.
And yet, much as I like it, Iron Man isn't a movie I was fannish about when I first watched it, or for some time after. I paged a bit through my archives to see if I'd ever done a full write-up of Iron Man, and as far as I can tell I didn't even mention the Marvel Cinematic Universe on LJ/DW until I watched The First Avenger, and even that was a throwaway -- I didn't get truly sucked into the series until The Avengers. (Perhaps not surprisingly, my first Tumblr reblog tagged "iron man" is a character study of Tony based on that movie.) But of course it is a part of my fandom now, both individually and as part of the greater whole. I might be a Steve girl, but that doesn't mean that I don't see Tony's charms, especially as played by Robert Downey, Jr. (who might as well have been born to play Tony Stark), or love Rhodey to bits, or ship Tony/Pepper and Tony/Rhodey (and all three of them together) like it's going out of style.
So that's the background; now some thoughts about the actual movie, and its relationship to the rest of the series.
This movie lays the groundwork for a lot of things, especially given that it was conceived of as a standalone. One that I noticed was Tony's distant and difficult relationship with his father, Howard. Tony mentions Howard a few times in this film, and always paints him as brilliant, heroic, and a staunch supporter of the military. But that's not quite the Howard Stark we meet in later entires, especially in Agent Carter -- he didn't trust the US government with his more dangerous inventions, he dodged out of a military contract after seeing the horror of Finow, and he destroyed his work rather than letting anyone else have it. It's a little hard to reconcile all of that with a man who worked on The Manhattan Project, and talked about "the weapon you only have to fire once" as the ideal. (Also, I find myself wondering when Howard would have had time to work on The Bomb, given that he was running around Europe with the SSR.) A retcon, to draw greater parallels between father and son? Or is it just meant to show just how little Tony knew about Howard, and how little he really understands his father?
Something that I notice this time and every time are all the parallels between Yinsen and Erskine. Older mentor figure, nominally from the "enemy" culture, sees the potential for greatness in Tony/Steve, dies violently before that potential can be fully realized. When Yinsen tells Tony not to waste his life, I see Erskine tapping Steve on the chest, and I find both moments equally moving -- and heart-wrenching. How awful, that neither man will ever get to see his protege become the hero that he helped make him. (And yes, it's a classic trope of the genre. I just find it executed quite well in both cases.)
Even though I own this movie on Blu-Ray (and that's what I watched this time), the version I've watched most often is a showing that our TiVo caught some years back. In that airing, the deleted scenes were restored, so I forget that these scenes weren't in the official version of the movie. The ones I remember best give expanded characterization to Rhodey -- Rhodey and Tony chatting in the casino, Rhodey insisting on going back to Afghanistan to keep looking for Tony -- and I miss them when they aren't there. Rhodey is one of my favorite MCU characters, and I wish he knew more about him. I also wonder about the alternate universe in which Terrence Howard signed for later films, or where Don Cheadle played Rhodey from the very beginning. They hit enough of the same beats in their performance that I don't have too much difficulty seeing them as the same character, but the change is still a bit jarring. And there are some subtle differences -- Cheadle plays a more buttoned-up Rhodey, and it's a little harder to see the two of them getting up to hijinks as kids at MIT.
Obadiah Stane on his Segway with the cigar is such a perfect picture of a corporate douchebag. The complete lack of Obadiah in later entries is a little odd. If he and Howard were lifelong friends, where was he during World War II and after? We get a brief moment with Ivan Vanko's dad in Agent Carter, and it seems like at least a mention of Stane would have been appropriate. I do wonder if Obadiah's betrayal is where Tony's dislike of being handed things comes from, though. It never comes up in this movie, but the only people to hand him things are Pepper, Rhodey... and Obadiah. Tony already had trust issues before this; how much worse did Obadiah make them? Geez.
I get why they they went this route (to preserve the reveal at the end), but it's a little weird the way Coulson throws around the full name of SHIELD as though it's a new organization. I'm amused, in retrospect, that our first look at SHIELD is four random g-men in non-descript suits and sunglasses at night, plus an unassuming and somewhat nebbishy Phil Coulson. As many times as I've seen this film, I'm still always startled by our first look at Coulson, popping up next to Pepper at the first press conference, swimming in off-the-rack couture. I've heard that Coulson was a much smaller role at first, without even any name besides "Agent" ("Phil? His name is 'Agent'"), but Clark Gregg's chemistry with the main cast was so good that they kept expanding his role -- and now he's co-lead on a TV series. Funny how these things develop and grow, in ways we never would have expected. Calm, cool, and hyper-compentant: that's how I like Coulson best, and sometimes I wish he would have been left that way, a background character who pops up in small doses. Not that I don't like him on AoS; I do. But I wonder if I would have liked him even better with more mystery preserved.
I'm not the first person to notice that, despite Tony's protestations to the contrary and his claims that he's getting out of the weapons business, the Iron Man suit? Is a weapon. Tony has total control over when and where this weapon is deployed, but it's still a weapon. And for all his talk of being angry about Stark Industries' lack of accountability, Iron Man operates with total impunity, and in fact Tony resists any attempt to place him within a framework that might hold him accountable (the DoD hearings, joining SHIELD -- and Rhodey enables that choice when he tells Tony to keep him in the dark). This might not strikes us as a problem, since we're inside Tony's head and we sympathize with his goals and trust his motivations, but I can certainly understand why other people might be suspicious, particularly given that Tony comes off as an arrogant, self-interested, immature asshole even to the people who know and love him.
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