Reliving the Past: ‘The Iron Man’ Franchise
Arguably the most anticipated movie of the year, and a movie that has the potential to shatter every box office record, Iron Man 3 premieres in the United States this weekend. The Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) movie returns Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle, while adding Sir Ben Kingsley and Rebecca Hall.
But how exactly did Iron Man get this big? Read on and you’ll find out…Please be warned that spoilers may come up (I’ll try my hardest to avoid them).
Fittingly, Jon Favreau’s 2008 Iron Man was an origin story into what made millionaire playboy Tony Stark (Downey, Jr.) into the almighty powerful “Iron Man.” The film has a slight advantage over other superhero movies because its origin story was the live action debut.
Even without the first-timer advantage, Iron Man was a wild success. Not only did it bring in the dollars, but it told a well-balanced story. It wasn’t overly long and still managed to introduce everything it needed.
After being taken hostage at the beginning of the film, Stark must use his weapons expertise to break out of confinement and make it back to America. Once back, he starts to develop his suit while swearing off Stark Enterprises (a major arms dealer). This gets the attention of his business partner, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges).
The basis for Tony’s development is special arc-reactor technology. Not only is it extremely powerful and dangerous, but it’s super valuable (because of the weapon implications). Greed gets the better of the situation, and Tony is forced to use his newly engineered Iron Man weapon to save the city.
Again, what works best, besides the visuals and Downey, Jr.’s spot-on portrayal of Iron Man, is developing a plausible (as plausible as can be) origin while creating enough room for a villain/conflict. It also succeeded in beginning a franchise.
With the fallout of the original, Iron Man 2 is tough to discuss without spoiling Iron Man’s end. Basically, Tony spends a great deal of the sequel trying to keep his newly developed Iron Man technology out of the hands of others. Even with the technological advances, Tony feels like he owns the market.
Tony’s slimy rival, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), wants the technology for himself. Without the mental capabilities, he hires Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) to try and bring Iron Man down. Tony is the biggest obstacle between Hammer and a whole lot of money and Vanko is conveniently smart enough and out for vengeance.
Iron Man 2 ultimately stumbles because it is too close to the first one. Without a comparison, Iron Man got away with a lot of things that might seem tacky or overdone now. However, the same can’t be said for 2 because Favreau (again the director) didn’t try anything particularly new.
This isn’t to say every single thing was the same. Pepper Potts (Paltrow) emerged as a stronger love interest and Lt. Col. James Rhodes (Cheadle, who replaced Terrance Howard) donned his own Iron Man-like suit.
Most importantly – and really the biggest justification available – Iron Man 2 was much more direct about developing the Avengers. S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Coulson and director Nick Fury appeared before, but they both get much more intentional development. The film also introduces Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).
There’s even a clever little nod to Captain America and a not-so-subtle nod to Thor after the credits.
Iron Man 2 didn’t go enough outside-the-box to challenge Tony’s story. While still not a horrible movie (in fact, it was much better the second time I watched it), the follow-up just didn’t give enough variation.
Yes, The Avengers doesn’t fit exactly into the Iron Man franchise. It’s more of a crossover. And technically it wasn’t the first crossover (Tony made a brief appearance in The Incredible Hulk). Still, with his role and the massive success of The Avengers, it definitely contributes to the franchise.
Releasing about a year ago, The Avengers was an amazing accomplishment. Never before had we seen five different movies (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger) come together so effectively. When Loki (Tom Hiddleston) decides to use his evil powers on Earth, S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together the A-team to stop him. This includes Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, replacing Edward Norton), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
I had reservations about the effectiveness of the film before it released simply because it was so star-studded (superhero and actor-wise). If they’re all working together, wouldn’t it be pretty easy for them to take down any villain?
Joss Whedon (Fox’s Firefly) wrote and directed the film and deserves a lot of recognition for the subsequent success. In his story, he pitted them against each other, trying to essentially show that a “dream team” isn’t a team without chemistry.
Although the movie is praiseworthy on the whole, The Avengers is somehow the most heavy-handed (and petty) in the portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man. Even with two movies dedicated solely to him, he was never as annoyingly arrogant. For me, it’s hard to buy the self-centeredness of Tony (just in The Avengers). Yes, he was (partially) this way in the other two films, but it seemed overdone even for Tony’s standards.
Still, it’s a small criticism in an outstanding ensemble. Box office-wise, The Avengers Hulk-smashed just about everything (except for James Cameron’s works). It was always meant to be more about contributing to S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avenger’s initiative than individual characters, so letting them slide on character inconsistencies is justifiable.
With Iron Man 3 finally releasing this weekend, from the outside, it appears to be a fine installment within the franchise. Appearances can be deceiving, though. However, with a bit of new blood (Black taking over for Favreau) and an iconic villain (played by Kingsley), the second sequel might break the mold – there aren’t many good sequels, and you rarely see good second sequels.
I guess we’ll find out soon!