I figure it’s time for another series, don’t you? And since Pixar by Numbers went down well, I figured I’d give the same treatment to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You know how much I love superhero movies, right?
Alright, so this is how this is going to go. Each week, I’ll watch one MCU film and I’ll grade it according to five super-important criteria:
Writing: Is the plot well-crafted? Is the dialogue snappy? Are the characters believable?
Style: Does the film feel generic? Does it have a unique feel to it? What makes it stand out? Music? Cinematography?
The Villain: Is the villain complex? Is the villain likable? Is the villain a genuine threat?
Explosions: (this one’s really important) How many significant explosions does the film have? Are they cool? In what way do the explosions (and by extension their dichotomy of order/disorder) relate meaningfully to the internal struggle of the protagonist? But mostly I just care if they’re cool.
The Hero’s Journey: How well does this film introduce/expand the character? Does it add layers to the character’s motivations? Do we still like the hero by the end?
Each criterion will be graded out of ten. As I go through them, I’ll have a numerical means of ranking each one against the others. Ultimately, we’ll be able to see which is the greatest MCU film of all time and which is the worst!
So let’s do this.
Iron Man (2008)
Overview: Tony Stark, billionaire weapons manufacturer, is captured by a terrorist group in Afghanistan whose power comes from weapons Stark himself created. He escapes and decides to get away from the weapons business, devoting himself instead to fighting crime as the armored Iron Man.
One of the best things about this movie is the semi-improvised feel of the dialogue, especially between Tony and Pepper. It’s fast, funny, and really allows RDJ the room to create his character while avoiding many clichés of superhero dialogue.
There are a few rough spots (ie. Pepper screaming, “You’ll die!” in the film’s climax), but overall, it’s well-written and gives equal attention to both plot and character.
Jon Favreau knows what he’s doing, so the whole film feels cohesive in terms of its look and feel. It’s slick and well shot, and it blends the dialogue-heavy conversations that develop character with the fun explode-y scenes nicely.
I think, as the MCU develops, directors will get braver in terms of style, but this is a decent first entry. Coming after Hulk, which went too far into the artsy side of things for audience’s tastes, Jon Favreau opts for a clean simple finish without a lot of filigree, and I think that was smart.
The Villain: 8/10
Obadiah Stane is wonderful. He’s warm and likable at first, but then once he’s revealed to be behind everything, you can look back and see the sliminess that was always lurking beneath the jolly bearded exterior. Jeff Bridges is brilliant, as always, and while not the most iconic villain in the MCU, he’s a great villain in his own right.
It begins and ends with an explosion, and blows things up with gleeful abandon. I like how there’s a marked difference between the detached spectacle of Tony’s Jericho test and the terrifying wartime reality of the hit on Tony’s military convoy.
Favorite explosion: Tony walking away from the tank while it blows up.
The Hero’s Journey: 10/10
Tony has an amazing arc. We establish his personality in the first scene, his brilliance and strength in his captivity, his character flaws in his conversations with Pepper, and his decision to better himself as he builds the Iron Man suit.
This is one of the better superhero origin stories out there specifically because Tony’s arc is so layered.
Score and Rank
1. Iron Man (43/50) (Yay number 1! For now…)