With 18 movies and nearly six billion dollars to its name, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a cultural phenomenon. All of these films have been building to one thing: Avengers: Infinity War. In honor of this massive movie, we here at The Overthinkers are going to spend the next 18 days retracing the path from Iron Man to Infinity War in a feature we’re calling Infinity War Countdown.
A decade ago, superhero movies were not a sure hit, critically or financially. They had their moments in the sun, but going into a superhero movie felt like a gamble, especially if it involved characters you cared about from the comics.
On May 2nd, 2008, Iron Man (dir. Jon Favreau) would be the first step in changing how the world viewed superhero movies, and thus the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the MCU).
Iron Man is one of the few superhero films that works on multiple levels and does so brilliantly. It has a complete, fleshed out story filled with colorful characters while also acting as an anchor for the entire interwoven film franchise. After watching any of the other films in the MCU, no matter the changing relationships or character dynamic, one can look back and this and understand how everything still fits together. Iron Man gives the MCU its soul.
The reason Iron Man still stands on its own as a film is because any hints to a more encompassing superhero universe are relatively few in number, and all are tastefully done as they fit with the story.
The first such reference is that to the Strategic Homeland Intervention and Logistics Division, or as Agent Phil Coulson says, “just call us S.H.I.E.L.D.”
The introduction is perfect because it is subtle. Agent Coulson introduces himself to Pepper and the audience in the press conference scene when Tony is brought home. He uses the full name of the organization he works for, because to the audience that information is not important. All the audience needs to grasp is Phil is a part of something beyond the DoD, FBI and CIA, as the organization he works for deals with extraordinary circumstances and events, such as that of Tony’s escape, on a more regular basis. Phil using the abbreviation of S.H.I.E.L.D. at the end of the film acts perfectly as both a nod to comic book fans and a simple name for general audiences to keep in mind for the future. As if the introduction of S.H.I.E.L.D. was not enough, we get our first MCU post credits scene.
Tony Stark walks into his home to a malfunctioning J.A.R.V.I.S. and a mysterious man cast in shadow, looking out the giant window in the living room. The man quotes “I am Iron Man.”
To put it simply, this scene is the seed of the MCU. As earth-shattering as Tony Stark’s “I am Iron Man” reveal is, audiences are then told that this is just a piece of what is to come. For a superhero movie to even hint that others were out there was rare. Yet in this cinematic world, not only do the other heroes exist, but there just might be the whole Avengers team in some shape or form. This incredible feeling of hope and expectations is set up, just getting to see something that big on the silver screen.
This is still one of the best, if not the best MCU post-credits scenes, and not just because it was first, nor because it is the birth of the MCU. The scene is woven into the narrative and is important to characters we connect with, making the subsequent Nick Fury and Avengers reveals that much more pronounced and intriguing. As an audience, we do not have to look over to our comic-book loving friends and ask “Who is that? What is happening?” Some fan-service post credits scenes are fun and appreciated because they build suspense, but are prone to be exclusively used to advertise the next MCU movies. The Avenger Initiative scene is still integral to Tony’s story, no matter what film we get next.
The MCU is still going strong because of this solid foundation. Comic book references would are not just for the die-hards. They genuinely intrigue the members of the audience that were not in the know. While these films are not perfect, story is never sacrificed for the sake of winks and nods to comic book fans.
Iron Man remains timeless because of how much effort and creativity was put into making a good story. This B-level comic book character became an international icon. The film can be compared to those first blockbuster superhero movies from the 80’s, 90’s, and 2000 oughts, and still be considered unique. As part of the MCU, Iron Man becomes an interesting retrospective on the small beginnings of the universe and Tony Stark, especially considering where the character is mentally going into Infinity War. It’s definitely worth the rewatch before heading to theaters this April for the next Avengers installment.
[Photos courtesy of TopMovieClips, TheShizNit]