Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Reel 10: IRON MAN

“I am Iron Man.”

This month marks the 10th anniversary of Jon Favreau’s IRON MAN.

The first film in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, their connected series of films, IRON MAN was not only the launching pad for Marvel’s unprecedented universe-building, long-form storytelling, and box office-smashing movies…but it would become ground zero for the way the industry would do business.

In the mid-2000’s, superhero films had a very spotty record with critics and fans. Christopher Nolan was in the middle of his excellent Batman trilogy for Warner Bros., while rival studios Fox and Sony were putting out just as many bad movies as they were good ones with their respective X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN franchises. IRON MAN arrived in May of that year with a sonic boom; it was beloved by fans and critics, and its clever touches in hinting at bigger things on the horizon, without derailing the immediate story at hand, made us all eager for more. It was Marvel’s first step towards their domination of the box office and ongoing entries into pop culture, and right away rival studios began to copy the new template of success; from 2008 on, franchise-building became a priority for nearly every major studio in the blockbuster business. 

The success of IRON MAN began way back in 1990, when Universal Studios acquired the rights to the character. By 1996 the rights changed hands to Fox, and by 1997 there were plans for actor Nicolas Cage to play the lead role of Tony Stark. After several starts and restarts, by 2004 no production had begun, although names such as Joss Whedon and Quentin Tarantino were attached.

By 2005, the newly formed Marvel Studios with producer Kevin Feige worked to start all over, and announced IRON MAN as its first independent feature. Jon Favreau was hired to direct in 2006, and cited inspiration from the works of Tom Clancy, along with James Bond and ROBOCOP (1987). The story’s setting would be changed from the comic origin of Vietnam to present day, and the brilliant decision to make the primary villain hidden in the background…much like Sauron in LORD OF THE RINGS or the Emperor in STAR WARS, gave the film a hanging mystery which was very intriguing.

The role of billionaire and weapons dealer Tony Stark would go to a rejuvenated Robert Downey Jr., who was slowly making a comeback after years of addiction. Taking inspiration from the real-life aviator and eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, Downey would make the role his own, and likely the character he will now be most remembered for. The rest of the cast-list read like an Oscar nominee ballot…because it was; Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Terrence Howard were on board. Favreau took on a small role himself, and Faran Tahir appeared as the leader of a terrorist cell which would kidnap Stark and set him on his new life journey. The rest of the cast included Paul Bettany, Leslie Bibb, Clark Gregg, and in a special surprise cameo in a post-credit scene…Samuel L. Jackson.

The film would be a smash; earning box office gold and high praise from critics and fans. Its technical achievements would earn two Oscar nominations (Visual Effects and Sound Editing), and at the Saturn Awards,  Favreau would win Best Director and Downey Best Actor. Producer Kevin Feige would go on to become the overlord of the new, ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe.


As a wee-lad, the character of Iron Man wasn’t quite this Blogger’s favorite superhero, but he was definitely one of the coolest; a high-tech flying suit of armor which fired missiles and lasers…what kid wouldn’t love that? But in the overall public eye, the character was nearly obscure, and never seemed to get the attention and love that was horded by Hulk, Spidey, Batman, and Superman. But Marvel’s new knack for getting the right people for the right job, a skill they display to this day, would elevate Iron Man right to the top of the list of popular heroes…and suddenly make Tony Stark a household name. IRON MAN today stands as a perfect superhero film; a likeable character, stunning visual effects, some clever surprises, and a whole lotta cool. It set Marvel Studios on its ongoing trajectory, and reset the thinking of their rivals. We didn’t know it at the time, but this little film about a man in a can opened up something larger for us all.

“You think you’re the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe, you just don’t know it yet.”

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