Jan 3, 2018

The MCU Roundtable: Iron Man 1

If you’re anything like us, than you were blown away when the first Avengers: Infinity War trailer dropped.  The extended Comics Cube family was so excited that we have decided to embark upon a full re-watch of the Marvel Studios film series.  Every week we are going to watch and provide a roundtable discussion about each Marvel movie in release order.  First up, is the movie that launched the Marvel cinematic universe and created a multi-film franchise.

Countdown to Avengers: Infinity War
Iron Man

Iron Man was the first self-financed and produced Marvel Studios film.  It was released on May 2, 2008 and made $140 million opening weekend.  It ended its theatrical run at $318 million in the United States and $585 million total worldwide.  It was the second highest grossing movie of 2008 behind The Dark Knight

BACK ISSUE BEN: I’ve written about this before, but the theme of this movie is “heart.”  Tony Stark lived a life of excess, devoid of compassion for anyone but himself.  It took an injury to his heart for him to care again.  It took him becoming a ‘tin man’ for him to become a real human being.

DUY: I remember being so resistant to this movie, because, well, I hated Iron Man in the comics and I hated that he was getting the movie.  Even the first notes for AC/DC’s “Back in Black” was something I hated.  They were associating this annoying arms dealer/businessman with my favorite genre of music. Rewatching it now, I’m cool with it.  I always associate Guardians with the rock area of this universe, but it really started with Iron Man (and now it’s moved to Thor).  It’s always gonna be tough for me to see Iron Man as cool, but RDJ worked wonders and eventually won me over over the years.

MAX: I remember thinking at the time it was the perfect superhero film, though there’s clearly been better since… but at the time it ticked all the boxes I’d hoped for, that none of the superhero movies had till that point.  No wonder it became the blueprint for Marvel’s success.  And it made me like the Iron Man character for the first time in my life.

MATT: Yeah, I have never been a comic Iron Man fan, but this movie actually made me care about that rich asshole.

TRAVIS: I have to admire how they let Tony Stark be a dick.  It’s very different from the melodramatic flailing of then-Batman, Christian Bale.  “Oh ho ho!  I hate you all, you spineless rich people like me!  Ha ha ha!  Get out!”  Tony doesn’t have to try.  He’s just a dick.  His assistant looks compassionate next to him, and she’s a horrible person.

BEN: That’s funny, I never looked at it from that angle.  By contrast, Pepper appears better because she at least escorts his “conquests” to the door.

TRAVIS: Only so she has an excuse to call her “trash.”  She could let her walk of shame out of there or call her a cab and be done.  Pepper is so jealous.

BEN: Gwyneth Paltrow had the exact amount of natural “coldness” for that role.

TRAVIS: She’s perfect in the role.

DUY: I know Paltrow and RDJ nail their roles individually, but I still don’t feel any chemistry between them.  It’s the most forced coupling in the entire MCU, I think.

"I remember thinking at the time it was the perfect superhero film, though there’s clearly been better since… but at the time it ticked all the boxes I’d hoped for, that none of the superhero movies had till that point." -Max

BEN: Every time I watch this movie again I think “oh yeah, Terrence Howard originally played James Rhodes.”

SAMANTHA: Apparently Terrence Howard had issues with RDJ/their respective paychecks, so he was recast?

BEN: From my recollection, Howard was actually paid more than RDJ in the first movie, and that dynamic couldn’t continue with the second.  Howard refused to take less.

SAMANTHA: Oh, well “deuces Terrence!”  The movie’s IRON MAN not ‘Rhodesy!’

MATT: Terrence also has other issues that Don (Cheadle) doesn’t.  He’s there to humanize jackass Tony, which works fairly well.

SAMANTHA: Though I enjoyed that scene on the plane where Rhodes insisted he wasn’t there to drink, but two cocktails later he was throwin’ down life knowledge while the stewardesses stripped.

DUY: Six minutes into this movie and I’ve already thought Don Cheadle was a huge improvement.

SAMANTHA: I’m trying to picture Terrance Howard in the War Machine suit and… I can’t.  And I don’t know if that’s a reflection on him or Don Cheadle.

LAMAR: Don Cheadle is a superior actor and human being, by miles.

TRAVIS: The more shit that came out about Howard, the more I think Disney, especially, lucked out there.

LAMAR: I think my favorite thing about this movie is the “test run” feel that it has.  Not like they don’t know where things are going, but that “oh you ain’t seen shit yet,” feeling the end provides.

BEN: Reportedly the script wasn’t even finished when they began filming, so most of the dialogue was improvised.  That definitely contributed to the loose feel of the movie.

LAMAR: That probably worked in their favor because I could see this movie being a lot worse with more stiff dialogue.

BEN: Gwyneth Paltrow’s “at least three olives” line definitely felt like it was improvised to me.

TRAVIS: There’s also less pressure to sell upcoming moments, because the upcoming moments weren’t sure things.  There’s no “this is our last BAAAAATTTLE!” or *subtle* selling for future events.  Everything is pure in its moment.  And, oh god, compared to recently, there’s no need to sell future sort of connected franchises.

DUY: While I think it may hurt each movie to sell future sort of connected franchises, I do like how free and loose they are with just getting someone to show up for a scene or two.  “Hey Mackie, can you come in and get beaten up by Ant-Man for five minutes?”  It reminds me of classic Marvel comics.

SAMANTHA: Was there a deliberate inconsistency with Tony’s dad?  (Gerard Sanders is credited as Howard Stark in the film.)  Why not just age Dominic Cooper like they did Hayley Atwell?

BEN: I assume they didn’t anticipate or plan that far ahead for the role.

MATT: Why pass up casting John Slattery?

TRAVIS: Iron Man is even more a DTV-feeling movie than The Incredible Hulk.  They’re just shoe-string and earnestness doing their job.

BEN: I remember the cast describing it as a small-studio feel, only the budget happened to be $200 million.  The cast and director looked more like a Miramax arthouse production than an action blockbuster.

DUY: Interesting bit of trivia: the Urdu dialogue in the beginning of the movie apparently gives away the big twist about Stane, so if you spoke the language (or, y’know, knew who Stane was in the comic) you knew all along.

SAMANTHA: Do you think Tony would have eventually realized the conflict going on within Stark Industries, or did he have to nearly die for his eyes to open?

BEN: As we learn, Stane was working on eliminating Tony, so I think if he hadn’t created the Iron Man suit he wouldn’t have survived long enough to learn the truth.

DUY: The entire sequence in the cave where they’re making the armor is really cool.  It’s well-directed, they look like they know what they’re doing, and the tension is palpable.

BEN: I remember being fascinated by how much work they had to do just to make one piece of the arc reactor for his heart.  You usually only get a few scenes of the actor banging on things and then they’re done making whatever it is they’re making.  It really sold the challenge they faced.

DUY: So much of this movie is telegraphed, like Stane, and Yinsen’s sacrifice, but I don’t think anything suffers because of it.

TRAVIS: Yinsen’s sacrifice is, but I think it plays well with Tony being so obtuse about it.

BEN: “I never got to say goodbye to my father” has a lot more emotional weight after Captain America: Civil War.

MATT: The product placement was also excellent during that scene.

BEN: He wants an American burger and the best they can do is Burger King?

SAMANTHA: They could have at least done Shake Shack or Five Guys… waaay more believable.

MATT: He’s from California, how is it not In & Out, those people won’t shut up about them.

SAMANTHA: Good point!

 "I think my favorite thing about this movie is the 'test run' feel that it has. Not like they don’t know where things are going, but that 'oh you ain’t seen shit yet,' feeling the end provides." -LaMar

BEN: A fun new wrinkle to these movies is the fact that it is essentially the Vision talking to Stark as Jarvis.  I’m sure that will delight Duy.

DUY: I instantly hated Jarvis when he first starts talking, so yes.

SAMANTHA: It delights me too!

DUY: How did they know to use Black Sabbath’s "Iron Man" for Iron Man, but it took them six years to figure out Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" was the Thor song?

MAX: It’s all Waititi.  Brannagh is talented, but I can’t see him rocking out.

BEN: “Tony Stark was able to build this in a cave!  With a box of scraps!”

DUY: The single best line delivery in the movie.  “Well, I’m sorry.  I’m not Tony Stark,” really sells Tony’s genius.

BEN: Now, for some nitpicks.  Would a weapons inventor be that famous?

JEFF: Stark’s fame would be tied to his wealth and his father’s name.

DUY: He’d be more of a “famous for being famous” person, not because he’s a weapons inventor, like how Mark Cuban is famous for being Mark Cuban.

"(The post-credits) scene trained me to sit in the theater all the way to the very end of the credits.  I don’t think I ever bothered to do that before, but now I do it for every movie, even non-comic movies." -Peter

BEN: What is Stane’s motivation?  It was his attempted hit on Tony that turned him into an idealist.  Before that, he was the perfect distracted eccentric company figurehead.

JEFF: I always just pegged his motivation to greed and wanting to be in charge on his own, or perhaps he was worried that Tony would find out about his double dealings with the terrorists?

DUY: Stane’s motivation is pretty nebulous.  You could infer that he was resentful of stepping down from being in charge, but none of anything really should logically lead to him putting on his own suit.

MATT: I thought he wanted to sell the suit?

BEN: The suit only exists because of the assassination attempt.

DUY: But then why put it on?

BEN: I guess maybe he was sick of Tony being the one that gets to do everything?

DUY: He had a virtual army at his command.  It just feels like an overreaction.

MATT: Assassination was just about company control.  Though, that doesn’t make sense if Stark is publicly traded.  Doesn’t need to kill him to get control of the company that way.

BEN: It certainly seemed like S.H.I.E.L.D. was this new branch of the government that hadn’t even nailed down their acronym yet.  Continuity error or explainable by them being a secret spy organization?

MATT: S.H.I.E.L.D. makes sense in that they had no idea if this was going to work, so let it be a little obscure.  Post-Avengers, it’s not really tenable, but I think by Captain America: Winter Soldier, they go too far in the other direction.  I have quibbles about geography in that movie when it comes up.

DUY: I’m willing to say S.H.I.E.L.D. was deliberately throwing people off the trail.

MATTHEW: Biggest nitpick, it’s not as good as Thor.

"Iron Man is even more a DTV-feeling movie than The Incredible Hulk.  They’re just shoe-string and earnestness doing their job." -Travis

DUY: Thoughts on the post-credits scene?  Recollection of your thoughts back then, and how it comes to you in retrospect?

TRAVIS: I fully believed it was a throwaway, a gag.

BEN: I was excited about the possibilities, but sort of like Travis I was skeptical that it would ever actually make it to that point.  Rarely had we ever gotten to see teases like that ever actually executed, at that point.

JEFF: I never looked at it that way, being an Avengers fan my concern wasn’t for them actually making the movie but being disappointed with the end result.

PETER: Obviously that scene trained me to sit in the theater all the way to the very end of the credits.  I don’t think I ever bothered to do that before, but now I do it for every movie, even non-comic movies.

BEN: Casting what-ifs, Nicholas Cage and Tom Cruise were both attached to the property at various points in its long development process.  Clive Owen, Timothy Olyphant, and Sam Rockwell were all considered for the part of Tony Stark once it became a Marvel Studios production.  The role was offered first to Hugh Jackman!

MATT: But Jackman’s too tall to be Iron Man!  They did get Rockwell for 2 though, sadly.

JEFF: I think RDJ was too perfect for the part for me to picture any of those what-ifs as Stark now (especially Cage) it would be interesting to speculate if the MCU could have happened with any of them in the role instead of Downey.

BEN: I think an actor like Hugh Jackman would give a much more straightforward heroic performance as Stark.  The sarcasm and humor of RDJ blends so much better with, and provides a nice contrast to, the rest of the Avengers cast.

DUY: If, as we’ve established, a big part of the movie is its improvisational feel, I don’t think it’s possible to have replaced RDJ with any of the mentioned actors.

"Yinsen gives a masterful performance.  When he sacrifices himself and tells him 'Don’t waste your life,' you completely buy that this would have a profound effect on Tony." -Ben

BEN: Rachel McAdams was Favreau’s first choice for Pepper, how does she change the movie?

MAX: I think Rachel’s the stronger presence in almost every way.  During the improv, she’d have taken things to another level and really pushed RDJ.

SAMANTHA: Rachel might have won the movie, in that case.  She would have definitely been the stronger presence and would have also been super relatable – but then, Rachel McAdams is a fave of mine.

BEN: Yes, I think she’s too likable for Pepper.

SAMANTHA: I assumed we weren’t reeeally supposed to like Pepper when they cast Gwyneth… like, only just enough to ship her with Tony.

DUY: Obadiah Stane’s performance is so underrated.  He’s never mentioned as one of the great villains, and sure, maybe he’s not Ledger or Hiddleston tier, but he makes such a big part of this movie, telegraphed though his “turn” is.

SAMANTHA: Such an obvious villain name.  STANE.  STAIN.  BAD GUY.

BEN: Since Duy touched on it a bit, who wins the award for ‘Best Actor in a Supporting Role.’  Candidates include Howard as Rhodey, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane, Shaun Toub as Yinsen, Faran Tahir as Raza, and Leslie Bibb as the reporter Christine Everhart, or anyone else you want to nominate.

DUY: It has to be Yinsen.  He sells that entire arc.

BEN: Yinsen gives a masterful performance.  He alternately supports and challenges Tony.  When he sacrifices himself and tells him “don’t waste your life,” you completely buy that this would have a profound effect on Tony.  Even for all the sarcasm and bluster of his subsequent appearances, that motivation is still underneath it all.

DUY: The only other candidate for me is Stane.  But he more fills a necessary conventional role than a role that takes a good arc and puts it over the top.

BEN: Everyone knew Loki was going to “turn” in Thor, but he ended up getting more chances to shine after that movie.  How much better is Iron Man 3 if Stane is the mastermind behind the Mandarin?

DUY: Stane needs a comeback.  He’s my number one candidate for a Masters of Evil.

MATT: In that movie, it’s definitely Yinsen.  Scene chewing villains are tough to pull off and Bridges does a good job, but he’s sort of pigeon holed in that role.

TRAVIS: Toub really makes Yinsen count for something.

LAMAR: Yinsen could have totally been a plot device that got his ass blown off within five minutes, but Toub was the pound for pound champ of that movie.

BEN: Now for the "Val Kilmer in Tombstone" award. Which actor “wins” the movie?  Considering that I believe Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is one of the transcendent performances in superhero movie history, it has to be him right?  Anyone have a different take?

DUY: Tony runs away with this and anything related to this award since Christopher Reeve.

LAMAR: I think it has to be him.  He’s basically playing himself with exaggerated circumstances, it’s almost unfair to everybody else in the best way possible.

PETER: Not only did it rescue his career, but it turned him and his character into the centerpiece of a massive multi-film franchise, with cameos and supporting roles in several Marvel movies after that.  Yeah, I’d say Downey Jr. emerged a winner here.

SAMANTHA: There’s also the leftover warm gushy feels of “RDJ made it out of the rabbit hole, look at him GO.”  His comeback was actually what excited me the most when this movie dropped.  Ending up an MCU fan was really just a happy accident.

MATT: Yeah, he is the shining star out of this.  Maybe Clark Gregg and Samuel L. Jackson in supporting roles.

DUY: Finally, if you had to recommend a comic to anyone who liked this movie, what comic would it be?

TRAVIS: Ironic, now, but Extremis.  Or, Hypervelocity.

BEN: Extremis is the only one that comes to mind.  Certainly not any other comic made before 2008.

LAMAR: We need that Iron Man vs Fin Fang Foom arc to hit the silver screen.

PETER: Recommended reading – I’d suggest the first three trades of Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca’s Iron Man, with volumes 4 and 5 as optional.  Their run peaked with volumes 2 and 3 though with the "World’s Most Wanted" storyline and then unfortunately it go boring gradually after that.

BEN: Fraction’s Marvel work is polarizing, but I did like that run quite a bit.

PETER: Other recommended readings: If you liked the idea of a wisecracking, high tech hero having outrageous science adventures and being all swashbuckler-y, why not try Atomic Robo, starting with the Everything Explodes Omnibus. If you liked Iron Man and also liked the Russell Crowe Gladiator movie and wondered what it would be like if you combined them, I hear that the XO Manowar comics might have you covered. If you like comics about rich guys fighting crime with no powers but with smarts and tech, well there's lots of those, including a fairly popular DC character so you're in luck. If you wanna see different characters donning the Iron Man armor, Marvel's got several of those too. There's a teenage girl genius, a super villain slash dictator, and and predictably even Pepper had her own armor for a while.

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