Countdown to Endgame #3: Iron Man Holds Up

As The Avengers: Endgame approaches, Team Midnight has committed to watch all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released to date in chronological (story) order: 22 films in 8 weeks. Follow along with us.

The little movie that started it all, Iron Man is the first MCU film, released 11 years ago. Its success — spearheaded by Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance as Tony Stark — inspired producer Kevin Feige and the Marvel team to go big.

Hero: Tony Stark / Iron Man

“They say that the best weapon is the one you never have to fire. I respectfully disagree. I prefer the weapon you only have to fire once.”

Billionaire, genius, engineer, son of Howard Stark, and CEO of Stark Industries – a company that sells the most advanced weaponry in the world.

Other heroes:

  • Agent Coulson
  • Lt. Colonel James Rhodes
  • Nick Fury

Villain: Obadiah Stane / Stark Industries

“We’re iron mongers. We make weapons.”

Former CEO of Stark Industries, a company that sells the most advanced weaponry in the world.

Villain Complexity Rating: 3/5

Although the unscrupulous behavior of arms dealers isn’t groundbreaking in any way, Stark Industries represents the troublesome dark side of American capitalism: corporations who benefit from war. Their PR campaign paints Stark Industries as protectors of freedom and the little guy, equipping the world’s best police with the world’s best technology; but behind the boardroom doors, Stark is about making money, which means making deals with anyone who can pay, no matter what cause they fight for.

“What’s at Stake” Rating: 1/5

If Obadiah wins, he’ll manufacture an army of iron man suits, escalating the stakes, and the body count, of war on earth. Though REALLY bad, there’s no apocalypse, fascist enslavement or genocide at stake here – so in MCU terms, kind of tame.

What did our hero(es) learn?

  • Guns and missiles and fancy weaponized technology are used to injure and murder people – sometimes innocent people, sometimes people you care about, and maybe someday, you.
  • Powerful weapons can only be entrusted to the powerfully brilliant (ie: only himself).
  • The Billy McFarland lifestyle is fun but it also means you’re pretty much a scumbag.

Heroism Rating: 1.5/5

To be fair, he does change his mind about the ethics of gun-peddling, save a village full of people (albeit while killing a whole bunch of soldiers and nearly causing an international incident), and saves Pepper Potts in the final confrontation with Obadiah – but other than that, most of what Tony does in this movie primarily benefits Tony. And though charming, he’s such a dick. That’s part of what makes him a great character – his humanness, his flaws – but it doesn’t necessarily add up to overwhelming heroism. At least not yet.

Visual Aesthetic/CGI Rating: 3/5

Most of the CGI in Iron Man is in-the-suit stuff, and so it’s very inoffensive. Suits don’t move like humans move, so you don’t end up in gumbi territory. Afghanistan is suitably horrifying, Tony’s house is spectacular, the close-ups of Tony’s face while in the suit work well, and the lab scenes all look great. The rest of the movie just looks like a flashy 2008 movie – totally fine, but nothing really that special.

Heroic Cinema Saturation Index

Betsy Rating: 3/5

I liked Iron Man more than I remembered. It’s really funny – especially the suit-building hijinks. Robert Downey, Jr is another miracle in impeccable casting; he nails Tony Stark’s charismatic egocentrism and brews up convincing chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow, who is surprisingly charming as Pepper Potts. I also like how much this story focuses on Tony’s engineering brilliance, his real superpower. I have a couple gripes too: Terrence Howard isn’t a great Rhodes, especially when compared with Don Cheadle, his replacement. The climax is a little confusing and not particularly climactic – and the central premise that pretty much anyone can build an iron man suit as long as they have a Tony Stark arc reactor seems like a major flaw in the whole Iron Man superhero mythology that archvillain-types should probably exploit more. These are minor complaints, though. The biggest reason this film isn’t more than a 3 for me is because it’s just not particularly inspiring. In the larger arc of the MCU, that’s totally ok – Tony learns a lot in the upcoming 5 (6?) movies he leads – and hey, you gotta start somewhere.

Justin’s Rating: 3.5/5

Now that we’re used to seeing Tony Stark do spectacular shit like wasting Ebony Maw in Infinity War or bump-starting the Helicarrier in The Avengers, it’s meaningful to revisit his genesis. Iron Man reminds us that before he was an Avenger, Tony was brilliant engineering mind and a massive prick, but also a man with blood all over his hands. He’s captured and tortured by people who recognize that his singular ability to create Costco-sized batches of hell on earth could be useful to them, and after he murders them, he has what Christians call an “Oh Fuck Me” moment.

Then a bunch of stuff happens where Tony’s really sinister-looking partner does some really sinister stuff behind his back while he “lays low”, which apparently means paying zero attention to the workings of your multinational military industrial complex megacorporation while you tinker with groundbreaking tech in your athleisure wear and listen to Suicidal Tendencies in the garage. I’m being sassy but it plays pretty well, though I wish they would have spent more time with Stark’s PTSD and/or him reconciling with his newly-minted conscience.

All this is to say that Stark/Iron Man does a lot of growing in this and subsequent films, but it’s important to remember that he’s got maaaaaaad red in his ledger. The dude is indirectly responsible for wasting more humans than most of the adversaries The Avengers mix it up with. It makes sense then that a person with such a huge ego would be willing to commit so many selfless acts – he’s got a lot of work to do if he wants to clear his name, which is actually pretty self-serving if you think about it. 

OVERALL: 2.8

Iron Man isn’t streaming through any subscription services right now, but you can rent/stream it through Vudu, YouTube or the Google Play/iTunes app stores for a few bucks. Certainly worthwhile to do so if you’re a newer convert to the Marvel world, or if it’s been 11 years for you too.

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