Devin Carter, A&E Writer
We are just over two weeks from Avengers: Endgame being released, and Marvel once again taking the country (and, dare I say, the world). I know it has not been released yet, but here is a spoiler: It’s going to be a pretty darn good movie.
I can say that because Marvel has won. Through the usage of some voodoo magic, they have managed to crack the movie-making code. They can roll movies out as if they were made on an assembly line, take home enormous amounts of revenue from the box office, and somehow keep their content high-quality and astonishingly consistent. I will be the first to admit that I think it’s all a bit much- and, to be honest, I grew sort of tired of the Marvel hype years ago. But the reality of the situation is that these movies seem here to stay. Marvel has been pumping out movies for a decade now, and mere fads do not last that long. Marvel, and to an even greater extent, Disney, holds the entire box office in the palm of its hand.
But there used to be a time when that was not the case. The numerous details involved in the production of their first film, Iron Man, are too often overlooked and under-appreciated. And it’s hard to blame us- after all, that was ten years and what, like, 25 movies ago? But let’s mention just a couple of the risks that Marvel took in making their first film. For starters, they decided to launch their studio with Iron Man who, while popular, was nowhere near the popularity of their bigger characters. In addition to this, they casted Robert Downey Jr. as the lead role. It’s hard to look back on Downey Jr.’s career and life back before Iron Man, because so much has changed since then, but casting Downey was actually a big risk on Marvel’s part. He was undoubtedly talented, and had a decent track record of films, but he also had a lengthy drug history that made him a major liability. If he went on yet another downward spiral, all of Marvel’s plans could be shattered.
But, obviously, this did not happen. And Downey deserves praise for sincerely transforming his life for the better. Oddly enough, and not in-coincidentally, his life followed a similar path that his Tony Stark character seemed to, especially in his first film. I give Marvel films a hard time for being, in my opinion, overly-safe and formulaic in numerous instances. But Iron Man is a different beast than the sorts of films I am critical of- it’s creative, engaging, gripping, and easily Marvel’s greatest film to date.
Whereas many Marvel movies nowadays feature largely static characters, where events may change relationships, but the characters themselves are largely the same person at the end of the day, the central theme in Iron Man involves change to the most positive degree, and how one can achieve it. The hero, Tony Stark, has led a life of vice, and his company, largely unbeknownst to him, has been indirectly responsible for numerous acts of atrocity. When he has a near-death experience, and goes through traumatic events, Stark decides to use his natural gifts to make the world a better place. And it isn’t just a bling sense of moral goodness- Stark wants to change the world so that he has a chance at changing himself.
That sort of depth simply does not exist within most Marvel films today, and it is hard for it to when characters can appear in up to two or three… or four movies in a single year. But even looking beyond Marvel Studios, it is hard to find a comic book movie before Iron Man that has its sophistication. Sure, you have Nolan’s Batman films, and I’d even give Tim Burton’s Batman movie the same classification. But beyond those there are very few movies that are as expertly crafted in regards to how it treated it characters. And yes, I just used the plural word. Because Iron Man’s supporting cast is great as well. I don’t need to spend time describing them, because you probably know them all quite well. And, in my opinion, they come together to create the greatest overall supporting cast of any film in the Marvel franchise. But, to be fair, they had better material to work with than most others.
I know that I have spent most of my time comparing Iron Man to other Marvel movies, but I think that is necessary in order to discuss it in a proper context. And I have left out discussions of specific scenes, or talks about the quality of the action and effects, because you probably already know all about that. But, if you were to go back and rewatch this movie, I think you may be very surprised at the power of the dramatic elements, especially when compared to other Marvel movies.
And no, I do not hate Marvel Studios, or their movies. But I am critical of most of them, especially post-Avengers, for being largely lacking in genuine drama and character arcs. I feel like I could skip six Thor movies and, other than new characters and events, feel like I haven’t missed anything. Thor would be the exact same person, with the exact same character traits, strengths, and weaknesses. I feel that way about almost every Marvel character. But that is just something you have to deal with if you make thirty movies with these people. But Iron Man is different. It is a genuinely deep, entertaining movie, and after all this time, it should still stand as the greatest achievement of Marvel Studios.