The following was commissioned by Flickering Myth
Henry Bevan on why Iron Man is the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe…
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown into the blockbuster behemoth it is known as today, many people have forgotten about the film that started it all. Iron Man has become overshadowed by team-ups, civil wars, and a talking tree. With the release of Doctor Strange on the home entertainment system of your choice, it is now time to remember why Iron Man is the still the hallmark of Marvel’s universe.
In 2008, Iron Man was a big risk. The first film Marvel was producing in-house, featuring an actor who was still a red flag, and a superhero whose “Man” was not preceded by “Bat”, “Spider” or “Super” – there was no guarantee Iron Man would be successful.
Then Jon Favreau’s film grossed more than $500 million. It was so the money. The rest is cinematic history. Without Favreau’s work, there would be no MCU. The blueprint for the studio’s special blend of quips, action, and melodrama had been laid out.
Marvel has replicated the “Iron Man formula” many times, but they’ve never bettered it. That is because Iron Man has a firm grasp of storytelling. The franchise’s future wasn’t just dependent on box office returns. Marvel needed a great film. A film that understood how to tell a story.
This is an unpopular opinion, but Marvel’s 2016 stock didn’t understand storytelling. I agree with my fellow writer Anghus Houvourus when he says Marvel movies are just moments. I prescribe to the idea that the plot is the “what” and the story is the “why”. Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange confused the plot for the story.
After watching the film a dozen times, I still don’t understand why Captain America was against signing the Accords? Steve Rogers not liking people with agendas is not good enough. On the other hand, Tony Stark had a clear motivation. He may be approaching the situation from an emotional and illogical place, but his desire to prevent the mass casualties he could be responsible for makes sense.
Doctor Strange, 2016’s best superhero movie, understood storytelling better than its immediate predecessor. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Strange had an arc, and Scott Derrickson did a great job at replicating the comic’s psychedelic visuals. Yet, rewatching Iron Man reveals how Doctor Strange‘s magic was all surface.
Lots of people have noted how both films are similar. Both central characters are rich white dudes who overcome their egos. It is the start of their superhero origin that shows Iron Man’s superior storytelling.
In Doctor Strange, his accident is tangential to his overall arc. His ego is not responsible for his car crash; his recklessness is. I understand his on-screen origin mirrors his comic book one, but this is an adaptation — things can change. The car crash is just a moment, an accident that enables Strange to start his journey.
Whereas, in Iron Man, Stark is injured by his own weapon. The small detail of the missile being branded with his logo shows the film’s control of its storytelling. Stark ditches his ego (partly) because it was responsible for turning him into a superhero. Before the accident, he didn’t care about the consequences of his actions. He is the man who has never wanted for anything. Like Spider-Man, he learns Stan Lee’s favourite piece of advice: with great power comes great responsibility.
Stark learns responsibility. He goes from zero to hero. As New York’s best surgeon, Strange could already be considered a hero. All he learns is how to get on with people. Strange overcomes his ego by being less dickish. Stark becomes a hero.