This is a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective series (ie. a sane person's marathon of the MCU). All entries can be accessed by clicking here.
Director: Jon Favreau
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Domestic Gross: $318,412,101; International Gross: $266,762,121; Total: $585,174,222
So this is how it all started. No matter how expansive a vision Marvel executives might have dreamed of, 2008 was certainly a simpler time for superhero movies. Iron Man came out the same summer as The Dark Knight, and as foreign as it might seem nowadays, people crowded the theatres with the expectations of seeing a self-contained superhero story. Even with the post-credit scene hinting at the Avengers initiative, the concept of being part of a cinematic universe was not in the collective minds of any assuming viewer. But that didn’t matter, the film was a solid debut for what many tended to label as a ‘B-list’ comic book character, and was a success both critically and financially. It was the start of something much bigger, and we (most of us, at least) just didn’t know it yet. Iron Man was for all intents and purposes a standalone film, which isn’t a sentiment you necessarily carry into a Marvel movie nowadays. But watching Iron Man again, knowing exactly how gigantic the MCU becomes, does the film still hold up?
The long and short answer to that question is a solid yes. Iron Man is a film that has aged so well, and is without a doubt a blueprint of what makes a Marvel film successful. Watching Iron Man again, there’s no sense of forgotten nostalgia. Tony Stark as a character might not be as well developed, but this feels like a MCU film from beginning to end. I’ll admit, a large part of this might come from Robert Downey Jr.’s captivating performance and constantly leading presence in subsequent MCU entries. It’s hard to imagine the MCU without Tony Stark, and that much is clear even from this first film. However, it is nice to see a more vulnerable (but still overly confident) Stark, and be reminded that there's a genius mind behind all the fancy technology and armour.
But it’s more than just the robust characterization of Tony Stark. Jon Favreau should also be credited for creating a perfect balance between serious heroics and steadfast comedy, which serves as the fabric that meshes together most of the subsequent successful Marvel entries (which nowadays, is essentially every entry). The overall tone and pacing that we see in Iron Man is still something that I think permeates all the current Marvel films, even in something as recent as Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Even though we’re in 2018 and 18 films deep, this 2008 kick-starter of a film has no suggestion of a being a dated Marvel film. In fact, despite being somewhat minuscule by comparison to subsequent MCU entries, Iron Man doesn’t feel small at all. This is a full-bodied cinematic experience that stands alone, while suggesting a bigger and brighter future. I’ll defer from commenting on the other standalone origin stories until I re-watch them in the coming months, but I’m not so sure that all MCU films carry this kind of qualified significance. This might not be the biggest film that Marvel has produced, but looking back, it’s certainly their most important one.