Countdown to Age of Ultron – Iron Man Revisited

Are you guys excited about The Avengers: Age of Ultron? WE ARE!!!!

And because we look for basically any excuse to watch any or all of these movies, Dave and I are re-watching all of the Marvel Studios flicks, in order, leading up to the new one.

With the exception of the Thor movies, I think Dave and I saw all of the Avengers-verse films together on opening night, or advance screening night. Now we are watching them separately and sharing our thoughts. I thought it would be fun to compare our thoughts now that we know how huge this Marvel movie thing was going to get to how we felt when the movies were first coming out. We are also going to pull quotes from old interviews with the cast members and directors, just to add a little historical interest.

Some questions we hope to answer: Is Iron Man 2 as bad as we remember? Why am I so lukewarm on the Thor movies? Does The Incredible Hulk with Ed Norton fit in at all? Which is the best movie of the bunch so far? Why is Hawkeye so shitty?

So, starting where it all began, Dave and I watched Iron Man this week.

I’m between two phases right now, pre-Iron Man and post-Iron Man, and the transition can be tricky…It’s not an algorithm anymore. It’s a fixed number. Things have been zeroed out; it’s the beginning of something.
— Robert Downey Jr., Rolling Stone, 2008

RG: I don’t think I’ve watched this movie since like 2009. But I watched it a LOT of times before then. I’m trying to mentally go back to a time before any of these legit Marvel movies had come out.

DH: I’m a few years older than you, so I have even more years of crushed hopes and bitter disappointment with superhero movies (both planned and executed) under my belt. Deals were always being struck with studios and directors for comic movies that never came to pass, and until X-Men, Marvel was basically selling their movie rights for pennies to anyone who asked. Adding insult to injury was the fact that, when a good superhero movie like The Rocketeer came along, nobody went to see it. So Iron Man kind of had a lot riding on it.

Is it too soon to say that Iron Man is going to be the greatest movie of all time? I don’t care. I’m saying it anyway.
— Rachelle Goguen, Living Between Wednesdays, 2007

RG: Ok, it’s early 2008. In the past eight or so years we’ve had three Spider-Man movies (and I like all three of them, haters!), two terrible Fantastic Four movies, a weird Hulk movie, three kind of ok X-Men movies, a Superman movie that I really liked but most people didn’t, and one very promising beginning to a new Batman trilogy.

DH: I like Superman Returns too, and I also like all three Spider-Man movies. I even like the first Fantastic Four movie! Johnny and Ben at least were perfect. And I liked that it didn’t take itself too seriously, a “problem” that the upcoming reboot looks to have “fixed”.

RG: I secretly don’t hate that first Fantastic Four movie either. Any movie where Chris Evans burns all of his clothes off has some redeeming qualities. And it is fun.

I remember hopes being sky high for this Iron Man movie. The trailers looked great, seemed to be perfect casting, and Marvel Studios was actually making it. Most importantly, it looked fun. I also remember a general feeling that it seemed risky to be making an Iron Man movie. If Superman Returns didn’t draw big, how could a movie about a hero who isn’t Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man?

DH: It’s kind of hard to remember that RDJ was NOT one of the biggest stars on the planet before this movie, isn’t it? And that Tony Stark & Iron Man weren’t household names?

RG: Yeah! He was like stunt casting. Recovered alcoholic to play alcoholic super hero.

When I went to see it opening night I was both excited and worried. But the cold open of this movie is genius. It sets the tone and I think I was immediately sold on the whole thing within 60 seconds.

DH: Yep, it packs a lot of character information into a very short amount of time and is super fast paced. By the 45-minute mark, he’s already built the Mark 1 and blasted his way out of Afghanistan. Not bad!

 Perfect.

Perfect.

RG: Watching it now I am still blown away by that opening scene. It not only sets the tone for this movie, it sets it for the entire Avengers franchise that is to follow. Robert Downey Jr, obviously, nails the character, and there’s a great blend of humour and real world drama.

Everything just looks perfect in this movie, too. From Tony Stark himself to his Malibu cliffside mansion to Pepper Potts to the suit(s) to Tony’s workshop. And the Robert Altman style dialogue-on-top-of-dialogue is a great idea.

DH: Robert Downey Jr. pretty much steps into this role fully formed, right from his first dialogue. He and Tony are interchangeable--I don’t think Marvel can ever recast this part. This one piece of perfect casting was basically the foundation stone of their entire empire.

There’s no harm in being locked into a potentially lucrative franchise, and that’s why I did it.
— Terrence Howard, The Guardian, 2008

RG: Remember how Terrence Howard was in this movie? They fixed that. Good move.

It's kind of sad when Terrence Howard looks at the new Iron Man suit and says "Next time, baby," because, y'know. Nope. I feel like that (awesome) scene on the plane where Tony and Rhodes are supposed to be drunk and Tony looks really annoyed with him...I don’t think that was acting.

 Hate you so much.

Hate you so much.

DH: I’m not sure he was right for the part--he was the first person they cast in this movie, hot off his Oscar nomination for Hustle & Flow, and I’ve heard that because of that, he was actually the highest-paid actor in this movie.

RG: WHAAAAAAATTT??!!

DH: That, combined with rumours of those good old “creative differences”, was reportedly why he was replaced with Don Cheadle. I don’t know that Cheadle is the best fit for the part of Rhodey either, but I’ve always really liked him so I’m fine with it.

RG: Agreed, but I love Don Cheadle and he seems like a very nice person. It’s important to me that they only cast nice people in these movies (even though they totally cast known assholes like Josh Brolin sometimes).

Iron Man could have been a real flag-waving, anti-Muslim, racist garbage movie. I remember being concerned that both this and a Captain America movie could be total propaganda, especially given the political climate at the time they came out. Instead they made Stark a victim of his own arrogance and greed right off the bat. I liked that.

DH: It’s a fine line but they walk it really well. Just that shot of the grenade landing, and sitting there long enough for Stark to see his own company logo on it...pretty sharp.

RG: Watching this movie now, knowing where the franchise ends up and how important a role Tony Stark plays in it, I am kind of extra impressed by how well RDJ nails the character in this first movie. You are very emotionally invested in the character pretty much right away.

Not to get ahead of myself, but I remember being annoyed by Iron Man 2 because Tony Stark gets reduced to an annoying cartoon character and lacks the emotional levels that we see in this first movie and then later in The Avengers and in Iron Man 3. I’ve only seen Iron Man 2 once so I’ll see if I still feel that way when I re-watch it.

DH: Yeah, you’re not far off there--and the Altmanesque style of dialogue that seems so effortless & breezy in the first movie gets tired really quickly in the sequel.

RG: Again, not to get ahead of myself, but the emotional layers that Marvel Studios gave all of the characters (except Hawkeye) in these movies is, I think, a huge part of their success. But the humour keeps them from being overly angsty (Man of Steel).

DH: I feel like they truly are some of the first comic book movies where the filmmakers actually saw the value in the source material and honoured it (even while updating it for a moviegoing audience). As much as I enjoy pretty much every Batman movie ever made (well, maybe not the Shumacher ones), you can tell that the filmmakers in each case really just made the movies they wanted to make and didn’t really look to or care about the comics that spawned them. Even Donner’s Superman--as much as I love Hackman’s Luthor, he’s basically a Bond villain in comic book drag. But Iron Man set the template for how these movies could work if you actually acknowledged that the original comics were on to something. And that they could be fun without being TOO goofy, yet serious without taking themselves TOO seriously.

And maybe one day they’ll get Hawkeye right. He’s one of my all-time favourites in the comics, but I feel like they really missed the opportunity to give us a younger, cockier Hawkeye who had no interest in taking orders from a relic of the second World War. But maybe they’ll actually give him a personality in Age Of Ultron!

My whole thing is that that I saw ‘The Dark Knight’. I feel like I’m dumb because I feel like I don’t get how many things that are so smart. It’s like a Ferrari engine of storytelling and script writing and I’m like, ‘That’s not my idea of what I want to see in a movie.’ I loved ‘The Prestige’ but didn’t understand ‘The Dark Knight’. Didn’t get it, still can’t tell you what happened in the movie, what happened to the character and in the end they need him to be a bad guy. I’m like, ‘I get it. This is so high brow and so f–king smart, I clearly need a college education to understand this movie.’ You know what? F-ck DC comics. That’s all I have to say and that’s where I’m really coming from.
— Robert Downey Jr., Moviehole, 2008

RG: They spend a lot of the first act in the caves, which I think is ballsy but important. I think they could have done an Iron Man movie without a Mach 1 suit, but I’m so glad they took the time to include that. I love how the Mach 1 suit looks. And I love that he immediately gets his arm caught in the wall when he’s wearing it.

 Perfect.

Perfect.

DH: That Mach 1 suit really is great. Even watching it again this time, I was struck by how cool it looks--how they obviously modified it and updated it, but how it’s still instantly recognizable as the original armour from the comics. And the fact that it’s largely done with practical effects is the icing on the cake.

They had no script, man…They had an outline. We would show up for big scenes every day and we wouldn’t know what we were going to say. We would have to go into our trailer and work on this scene and call up writers on the phone, ‘You got any ideas?’ Meanwhile the crew is tapping their foot on the stage waiting for us to come on.
— Jeff Bridges, In Contention, 2009

RG: Jeff Bridges is so goddamn good in this movie. The scene where he rips the arc reactor out of a paralyzed Tony's chest and holds it in front of his face while he monologues is so badass. He’s a fun choice for a villainous war monger. I don't think I've ever seen a villain quite like him before in a movie. I mean, the seemingly nice but actually evil father figure is nothing new, but he's just so loose and funny. The scene where he brings pizza back from the NYC board meeting is great.

DH: I love that he rides a Segway! That detail is both instantly dated and a dead giveaway that he’s the villain. Who the hell else beside Gob Bluth would be seen on one of those other than an evil bastard? Also, if I can get really nerdy here (and believe me, I can), the whole thing is kind of a reversal of the power dynamic he was a part of way back in the original Tron. This time though, instead of being the hotshot techy whiz kid, he’s the evil corporate dickbag!

 Hee!

Hee!

RG: I’m kind of amazed that the tech in this movie doesn’t really look dated. Except the phones. It's weird to see Tony Stark with a regular old cell phone. I'm writing this on my iPad and it kind of makes me feel like Tony Stark. I probably couldn't even fathom an iPad in 2008.

DH: The phones and, again, the Segway.

 SHE WAS TOLD TO LOSE 12 LBS FOR THIS ROLE!

SHE WAS TOLD TO LOSE 12 LBS FOR THIS ROLE!

RG: Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr are so great in every scene together. I remember getting really annoyed with them in Iron Man 2, but I love them in this and in Iron Man 3 and The Avengers.

I read one interview with Gwyneth Paltrow where she talks about how she had to lose 12 lbs of “baby fat” to play the role. Like…who told her that? “Listen, Gwyneth, we’d love to have you in the movie, but, y’know, you’d have to deal with this whole situation. I mean, who would ever believe that you could be Robert Downey Jr’s love interest when you are such a fat mess?”

DH: I feel like this movie was a turning point of sorts for non-powered female characters in superhero movies. Previously, the female lead--Vicki Vale, Lois Lane, MJ--was usually just a screamy hostage. But the filmmakers really make Pepper into more of a sidekick. And, for the most part they haven’t really gone back, which is nice.

RG: Yeah, that’s a good point. Enough with the female characters just getting tied up and gagged!

They do a great job introducing the suit. Without dragging it out too much, because we already watched Stark build the Mach 1 suit in the cave, the scenes where he’s working in his lab with the cool 3D blueprints are very fun. That scene where Stark tests the boots for the first time in his workshop and immediately goes flying backward and hits the wall is so damn funny.

DH: The robot stuff in this movie was particularly interesting this time, given where everything is headed with Age Of Ultron.

 This is how I want to get dressed in the morning.

This is how I want to get dressed in the morning.

RG: I love how complicated the Iron Man suit is. It “makes sense” the way they present it, with all the intricate pieces being attached to his body by robotic arms. The "inside the helmet" tech view looks really great, too, and allows us to see more of RDJ while he’s in the suit. Jarvis is very well done too.

DH: For sure. But as a longtime Avengers nerd, I really would have loved to have seen human Jarvis in these films (portrayed by the guy who plays Molesley on Downton Abbey, ideally). I mean, I know there’s a human Jarvis on Agent Carter, but one of these days, I just really want to see Jarvis bringing Captain America a cup of tea or something.

 "Hey, would you watch a show that's mostly about me and some other agents? It will be set in the Marvel Universe, but with no super heroes..."

"Hey, would you watch a show that's mostly about me and some other agents? It will be set in the Marvel Universe, but with no super heroes..."

RG: I completely forgot that Agent Coulson was in this. Already! Man, what if this movie had somehow failed? Would we have gotten any more?

DH: It’s fascinating to think that somewhere out there in the multiverse there’s a world where this movie flopped, and there are petitions and Kickstarter campaigns to have the rest of the Avengers movies made, while Green Lantern made a billion dollars worldwide and spawned a DC movies dynasty.

RG: Terrifying.

I like that Tony Stark likes his drink, but they don't go full drunk in these movies. I expected, mostly due to RDJ, that they were going to get into Demon in a Bottle territory, but they never do. I much prefer this version of the character to drunken downward spiral Tony. And they kind of are able to use his PTSD in the third movie to tell a similar story.

DH: I don’t know that they could pull off an entire movie about his alcoholism. Would anyone want to watch that? I don’t think I would. It’s an interesting character detail for him to have that he likes his cocktails a bit too much, though--just a nice bit of shading, and a hint at a darker side of his personality.

 I think I remember actually applauding this moment in the theatre.

I think I remember actually applauding this moment in the theatre.

RG: The first action scene with the suit is so awesome and fun and funny and also brutal. Stark goes on a crazy killing spree right off the bat. He's also so full of stubborn idealism in the aftermath scene back at his workshop with Pepper, it got me thinking about how his character kind of always was on the path that we now know leads to a 'Civil War' with Captain America.

My husband Matt's comment during the final fight: "I don't understand why the Transformers movie couldn't have looked like this." Exactly. These are some great looking robots.

DH: Whenever a new Transformers movie comes out, I always think of the Hugh Jackman movie Real Steel and think, “Why couldn’t the Transformers looked like the robots in this movie?” Those are some fun and cool robot designs, and the movie’s a lot of fun besides.

 I'll bet the family in that car never stops telling people this story.

I'll bet the family in that car never stops telling people this story.

RG: Here is what I am struggling to remember: was the Nick Fury appearance at the end of the credits a total surprise, or did we know to expect it? In my memory it was a total surprise and we all lost our minds. It was early days of social media, so it wasn't as hard to avoid spoilers. But was it a closely guarded secret? Dave?

DH: I remember it being one of those “worst kept secret in Hollywood” kind of things, like Sean Connery’s cameo at the end of Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. Why else would we all have stuck around through the credits, unless we knew the key grip or the craft services people or something? I had a pretty good idea what we’d see, but the notion of connecting this movie to a planned series of Avengers solo movies, leading up to an Avengers movie...this was pretty impossible to comprehend at the time. I wasn’t really going to believe it until I saw it for myself.

I love Jackson as Fury and I like that scene overall, but I always thought the dialogue in it was a little too on the nose. “You’ve just taken your first step into a larger universe…” Way too nudge-nudge-wink-wink for me. Reportedly that scene was an uncredited Brian Michael Bendis job, and I can believe it. Subtlety is not his strong suit.

RG: Iron Man has a strong suit!

I feel like Iron Man 2 is what it would sound like to live in a Bendis comic. But we’ll get into that later!

RG: Marvel made a rare and very smart move when this movie came out: they re-launched the Invincible Iron Man comic series to align more with what people saw in the movie. This sort of thing is rarely done, for whatever reason. When The Dark Knight came out later this same year, DC killed off Bruce Wayne in the comics for awhile. And now that everyone is interested in Winter Soldier, he's living on the moon. But with this movie Marvel really nailed it with the comic book series. It was just really nice, working at a comic shop at the time, to have a good comic to recommend to people who had been introduced to the character via the movie.

DH: Yeah, the Marvel comics right now are kind of going out of their way right now to have their comics universe be basically unrecognizable to movie fans. Captain America is Sam Wilson, Thor is a woman, Iron Man is evil, and yeah, Winter Soldier lives on the moon. Ballsy, and some good comics (particularly Thor) have come from it, but is it wise? Probably not.

RG: Now that I think of it, the best bet comic for people interested in the film characters is the Black Widow series, which is awesome.

DH: I really feel like Jon Favreau’s part in helping to kick off the Marvel Cinematic Universe has kind of been swept under the rug after the first sequel was poorly received. Iron Man 2  is a mess, no doubt, but I don’t know that it can all be blamed on him; the expectations were impossibly high, not just for the movie but for its part in setting up all the other Marvel movies that were still in the planning stages. I also get the sense that Mickey Rourke just kind of did whatever the hell he felt like (another recent Oscar nominee throwing their weight around!).. However, I think he deserves a lot of credit for pulling the first Iron Man off so successfully--I’m not sure anyone else could have.

RG: It’s true! Jon Favreau: Man of the Century!

 "No, the whole movie will be about me running a food truck. Do you think people would watch that?"

"No, the whole movie will be about me running a food truck. Do you think people would watch that?"

So next we’ll be watching Ed Norton’s short-lived contribution to the Marvel Movieverse, The Incredible Hulk. Stay tuned!