I know you thought I forgot about this, but I have been diligently watching Marvel movies in preparation for the lamentations that shall come with AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. And reversing my decision not to watch the Agent Coulson Era movies, I decided I had to go back to the start. I know you’re supposed to start with Captain America The First Avenger, but I’m more interested in seeing how Marvel’s movie evolve into the cultural behemoth they have become. So let’s get back to it!
IRON MAN (2008)
This is where it all began! A tentative shot into the vast world cinema that eventually led to Disney buying Marvel and the franchise becoming the biggest in film history! How does it look after 10 years?
DID I FALL ASLEEP? No way!
DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? Black Sabbath, yes. The rest…meh.
WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: Would Marvel have ever ruled the world had Robert Downey Jr. not been cast as Tony Stark? Was there ever a more genius move? Although Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage had expressed interest in the role in the distant past – and director Jon Favreau had initially wanted an unknown – you have to believe everyone knew they’d struck paydirt. RDJ’s Stark is a hilarious asshole who never lets you forget he does heroic things out of ego, and not being a do gooder. His banter with Pepper and everyone else is priceless and keeps everything moving. The montage of Stark’s history is really Downey’s past, reminding you of what a long life he’s had in the public eye. In my original (!) review of the movie I wrote:
Finally, it’s hard to overstate just how perfect Robert Downey is in this role. No line is too corny, no motivation too stretched. He makes everything credible, witty and enjoyable. Freed from captivity the first thing Stark requests is an American cheeseburger. He eats it in the middle of a life changing press conference. Downey takes a bite and says his line but at the same time allows a brief expression of pure rapture at tasting a good old fashioned burger again. (Product placement declared it was from Burger King.) Suffice to say that immediately after watching the movie I made a beeline to Shake Shack. Those Shack burgers are tasty.
I actually still think of this whenever I go to Shake Shack. You shook me, Tony.
Looking back after 10 years, another amazing thing about this movie is how the tone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – the real world but with a few extra technological advantages – is set up in the very first scene in Afghanistan. Donner’s Superman lived in an idealized world; Burton’s Batman was a freak in a cartoon universe; Raimi’s Spider-Man inhabited a stylized, affected place. And other superhero movies were just embarrassed about their tights-wearing heroes.
Iron Man is confident from jump. It’s not ashamed of its battling cyborgs and radiated neer do wells. It’s a world we know, and people we aspire to be. It’s set right where we live, and this, more than anything, is why the movies have triumphed.
(PS: what ever happened to Afghanistan? One thing that has changed since 2008 is glibly using the Middle East for villains. Also a trans panic joke! Awful.)
I was never big into Gwyneth Paltrow, but her Pepper Potts has won me over on this rewatch as a smart, long-suffering minder for an impulsive, selfish man-child. Her running in high heels still bothers me though! Also, much as I love Don Cheadle, Terrence Howard was maybe a little better as Rhodey before he got bounced from the role in a money dispute with Marvel cheapskates.
Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane is the first of many Marvel villains who are older white men played by stars who were big in the 80s (William Hurt, Robert Redford, Kurt Russell). He’s not thought of as a good Marvel villain, but I liked the sinister look of his giant robot, kind of a scary mix of the Rocketeer and Geof Darrow. The man in a suit vs another, bigger man in a suit is also the first of many doublings “Man against himself” climaxes in the MCU (see the Hulk below). The fight was kind of silly but the whole movie holds up pretty well.
The most interesting thing to me, though, is the way that Marvel, then financing its own movies and distributing them via Paramount, approached movie making. They signed three marquis stars, a solid director (Favreau, who lost 70 lbs for the role and never looked as svelte again) and then a bunch of no names, and a workmanlike approach to filmmaking. It wasn’t flashy, but it got the job done and shocked everyone with how entertaining it was. Women liked this movie, teens liked this movie; it led to everything that would come.
WOULD I REWATCH: Yes!
THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)
DID I FALL ASLEEP? Just a little, during the fight at the university. CGI has come a long way since 2008 right? This Hulk looks so cheesy and unreal.
DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? In one ear and out the other.
WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: Oh man. This is easily the most forgettable of all the Marvel movies. I might like Thor The Dark World better. I saw it a couple of weeks ago and I’m struggling to remember anything about it. Released just a few months after Iron Man, this was cut from similar cloth, budget and formula wise – a few marquis names, forgettable supporting characters, and a solid director, Louis Leterier, who this time brought a sense of hand to hand combat over from his Transporter films, with a Bourne-like fight and chase in the favela.
The biggest problem with this movie is Edward Norton, who is just a generally unlikeable performer. I am Joe’s Gamma Ray Poisoning. There was a huge to do at the time over Norton claiming to have taken over the movie and rewritten the script. If that’s what you want to fight for, go right ahead but everything about the movie is joyless and drab.
In the end he refused to do press for the film over the squabble, although he later softened his stance to it being “a healthy process.” (This is why I never want to lose the Beat archives! 10 years of contemporary news.)
There were many things in this movie that were just stupid and annoyed me. WHY does Bruce take the CAP OFF THE USB DRIVE BEFORE HE SWALLOWS IT? Wouldn’t you want to PROTECT your precious data? Also, that real world connection that I felt for Iron Man is not here. It’s another movie where the superheroics are awkwardly sandwiched in.
This film also has very little connection to the Marvel Mythology, and seems to be from another franchise entirely. Tim Roth’s Abomination was another double battle, all bad CGI and rubble. This movie was all set up for what was seen as another franchise; Tim Blake Nelson was introduced to turn into the Leader, and Doc Samson is also teased but they are long forgotten in the rushing tide of the MCU. And with Norton turning into a heel, there was no way another would get made.
Really, the only good thing about this movie was William Hurt as General Thunderbolt Ross. He did the proper gruff barking of orders and looking steely, and in fact is the only character from Incredible Hulk to have returned in another Marvel film, Civil War.
The Incredible Hulk also has two things that have never been seen again in a Marvel movie. #1 Edward Norton is just a skinny little white guy, not a buffed up Chris. I suppose the idea was that it would be silly to have a muscular Bruce Banner, but Mark Ruffalo has no shame taking off his shirt, thank God.
Also, I think this may have been the very last sex scene in a Marvel movie, when Bruce and Betty (Liv Tyler, forgettable) try to get it on only to have to stop befroe things get too steamy as Bruce’s heart rate rises dramatically! Sex = Danger! Nowadays blockbusters are strictly chaste so the films can play in China (where canoodling is verboten) but back in 2008 it was part of every PG-13 movie and it actually feels weird to see it here.
Finally, there was to have been a scene where Banner goes to the North Pole and sees Captain America in a block of ice. Sadly, it ended up being cut (Although it’s seen on the DVD) but that would have been the best thing about the movie.
WOULD I REWATCH: If I had to choose between doing the dishes and watching The Incredible Hulk I would be pleased to clean the kitchen. BTW, I didn’t like it when it came out, either!
NEXT TIME: A movie for which my feelings have changed A LOT: Captain America The First Avenger.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.