Marvel Cinematic Retrospective: Iron Man

Marvel Cinematic Retrospective

Fans today are living in a Golden Age of movies based on comic books. Kids, teenagers, and adults have grown up on the exploits of superheroes since the 1910's, and more recently in film as well. Among the many comic book producers, few were as prominent and beloved as Marvel Comics. It was small wonder that they began to produce movies of their own.

This is a multi-part examination of that effort.


Perhaps the most famous of the Marvel superheroes in recent years, Iron Man's roots also date to the 1960s, although he was not immediately one of the more popular characters in their collection.

Conceived in 1963, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby came up with a hero that was the antithesis of everything readers wanted. Born amidst the Groovy Sixties and coinciding with America's increasing involvement in Vietnam, Marvel gave birth to Tony Stark, a billionaire weapons seller and capitalist industrialist. While touring the front line, Tony Stark was captured by enemy soldiers and received fatal injuries. To prevent his death, fellow prisoner and scientist Ho Yinsin creates an electromagnet to keep shrapnel from entering his heart. Stark and Yinsin then plot escape, using Stark's electromagnet to power a mechanized suit to fight their captors. Thus Iron Man was born.

Like other heroes before him, Iron man had a somewhat complicated history of film production. In 1990, Universal Studios procured the rights to develop a low-budget film, but eventually passed in favor of 20th Century Fox. Fox managed to produce a script written by Stan Lee and Jeff Vintar, and a few actors including Nicholas Cage and Tom Cruise expressed interest in the role, but Fox also passed on Iron Man, in favor of focusing on their X-Men films.

In the end, Marvel decided to self-produce the film, and contracted Paramount Pictures to distribute. Jon Favreau signed on as director and was tasked with casting the titular character; he chose Robert Downey Jr. Marvel and Paramount did not agree with the choice, but Favreau argued hard in favor of Robert, who he felt epitomized the character. In addition to Robert Downey Jr., Favreau portrayed his bodyguard/valet Happy Hogan, and the rest of the cast included Terrance Howard as James Rhodey, Gwyneth Paltrow as Virginia "Pepper" Pots, and Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane. Additionally, Marvel decided to modernize the story, portraying Tony Stark as a weapons industrialist touring the Middle East, setting it cotemporal with the modern War on Terror.

Iron Man

The film released in 2008 in a budget of $140. It proved a veritable hit and earned back over $500 million. The biggest legacy of Iron Man was the establishment of what fans all over the world now know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In a post-credits scene at the end of the film, Tony Stark is visited by Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who teases the Avenger Initiative.

The film's success paved the way for many more films set in the fledgling Marvel Cinematic Universe. Aside from another post-credits scene with Robert Downey Jr. as Stark in The Incredible Hulk, the next outing for the character was 2010's Iron Man 2.

Iron Man 2

In the sequel, Robert Downey returns as the titular hero, alongside his best friend James Rhodes, recast by Don Cheadle. In addition to the return of Pepper Pots and Happy Hogan, they are joined by new characters Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson), Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and Ivan Vanko / Whiplash (Mickey Rourke). This film was also a success and proved the characters had staying power, while slowly teasing Marvel's coming project.

Iron Man returned in The Avengers as a member of the comic-book superhero team. He was joined by other characters who also recently had Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, including The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. Iron Man joins these three, along with Natasha Romanov and the briefly featured Clint Barton / Hawkeye from Thor, uniting to fight the villainous Loki. Stay tuned for a more in-depth take on that franchise later.

The Avengers proved a phenomenal hit, becoming the third-highest grossing movie ever at the time, in addition to impressive reviews. 

Around the time, Marvel Studios and its parent company came under ownership of the Walt Disney Co. Allowed to retain its autonomy and creative direction, Kevin Feige and the rest of the Marvel team pressed ahead.

Iron Man 3

The next, and final as far as titular films go, was Iron Man 3. Robert Downey Jr. returns as the titular character, struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as he faces new villain Aldrich Killian, played by Guy Pearce, who seeks revenge against Tony Stark for a previous slight. Most of the cast returned for the film as well.

Following Iron Man 3, Robert Downey Jr. continued to portray the character in other films, either as part of an ensemble cast or a secondary role. He next followed up in 2015 with Avengers: Age of Ultron,. In 2016's Captain America: Civil War, the Avengers team fractured into two groups, with Stark leading a group in-favor of government cooperation. During the film, he recruited Spider-man, played by Tom Holland, to assist his team against Captain America. Robert Downey Jr. continued to mentor his new ally in Spider-Man: Homecoming, before eventually returning in two final films.

In 2018, Marvel and Disney released the first half of their magnum opus, Avengers: Infinity War. Robert Downey Jr. again portrays Tony Stark, this time battling to protect the planet against the alien warlord Thanos in his quest to obtain the almighty Infinity Stones. He also portrays Stark in the direct sequel, Avengers: Endgame. In  both movies, Iron Man plays a particularly pivotal role.

As of present, there are no future plans for Tony Stark or Iron Man in upcoming Marvel movies, but who knows? Maybe we'll see them again!

Stay tuned next month when we cover The Incredible Hulk!

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