Iron Man was the first movie that Marvel really took as its own. And it was amazing. A “game changer,” as people say. It was fun and loud and cocky and new. It set up a sequel, with the great press conference announcement at the end, and also promised a series, with Nick Fury showing up at the end and saying to Iron Man that he is part of a “bigger universe.” (Side note: sitting in the theater, after watching that after-the-credits-bonus-scene with Nick Fury, the guy right in front of me shouted “YAHTZEE” and raised his fist in triumph. “Do you know what this means?” he said to his girl-friend, who quietly replied, “No.” And he explained. Now, I was a little bit excited, too, to see it. But “yahtzee”? “Yahtzee”?)
When you walked out of the theater, you felt like you had just been to a party with a more cool friend, who introduced you to his cool friends and made you feel like you, too, were cool. You wanted that suit. When Tony Stark said, “I am Iron Man,” you wanted to be Iron Man, too.
But pretend that there was no sequel and the series never panned out. This movie was a very good comic book movie, and most comic book and superhero fans agree: it is a comic book movie done right. And people who are not comic book fans liked it too. It made a ton of money. So that “pretend” scenario? Didn’t happen.
Iron Man deserves to be placed right up there with Superman, Tim Burton’s Batman, X-Men 2, and Spider-Man as a classic movie for the genre.
And if you liked Iron Man, it caused you to have enough goodwill to like Iron Man 2. Not quite as much, but sequels are never as good as the original, right?
But where Iron Man succeed by being a fresh movie that could be enjoyed just as a self-contained story that set up a sequel, Iron Man 2’s biggest failing was it was there to set up The Avengers. Released after The Incredible Hulk movie, but taking place at the same time (based on some background TV screens in Iron Man 2 that were reporting on events from the Hulk movie), Nick Fury doesn’t just cameo in the movie. He drops in, chews some scenery, and when he leaves he drops off the box that contains the solutions to all of Tony Stark/Iron Man’s problems.
It’s still a fun movie. There are cool battle scenes. There are big character moments. There are small character moments. But so much of Iron Man 2 feels like set up for The Avengers. Black Widow is introduced. Agent Coulson gets some screen time. Nick Fury drops off the magic item that will save Tony Stark.
And the “bonus scene” at the end of the movie? The thing that was so amazing in Iron Man when Nick Fury showed up (and that guy yelled “YAHTZEE!”)? It was a teaser. For the Thor movie. It had nothing to do with the characters from Iron Man 2, except that Agent Coulson mentions that he has to leave. And this is where he went. (No one shouted “yahtzee.”)
None of this is set up for Iron Man 3. So much of this movie felt like it was teasing The Avengers that it burned away some of the goodwill the first movie built up. It’s still fun and bombastic and energetic, but it feels like it is being pulled in three directions – trying to emulate the first Iron Man, trying to push forward a character, and trying to shoehorn studio required
But here’s how I’m approaching this now. When I watched this in the theater, two years had passed since the first movie. The Incredible Hulk had come out. (More on that tomorrow.) I was watching it as a movie.
But I should have been watching it as a chapter in a mini-series.
That’s how these movies were being built. A group of people sat in a room, figuring out how to tie all these movies together. And the writers and directors (part of the planning, to a point, I understand) were then set free to make the movie they envisioned, so long as they included these concepts.
It’s why Nick Fury shows up in Iron Man. It’s why Nick Fury plays a big part in Iron Man 2. To get to know the character. It’s why Black Widow plays a big part in Iron Man 2. It’s why Incredible Hulk is referenced in the background. It’s why the Thor teaser (which is actually a scene from the Thor movie) is the post-credits bonus scene.
And, if you watch it this way, it’s not as bad. That is, of course, assuming that The Avengers movie itself is good, and pays off. But the short scenes with Agent Coulson in these movies allow us to get to know him. He’s a bit of a dweeb, but he’s a likeable dweeb. Black Widow can show up in The Avengers with very little explanation. We already know she is from SHIELD and works with Nick Fury and Agent Coulson.
The question is this: will The Avengers work as the culmination to these things? As the final chapter to a mini-series?
Rewatching these movies with this in mind, I found myself being more forgiving. This is the way they intended us to watch it. Iron Man is a great first chapter. Iron Man 2 serves nicely to expand on some background characters and introduce some more, while still giving us some pretty fun battle scenes with men in metal suits fighting robot men.
Tony Stark/Iron Man is watchable and likeable because of his flaws. This causes a problem. Solve his flaws, declaw the character. He is arrogant. He is a womanizer. He is a pre-alcoholic. He is a hedonist.
But he is not a person you should want to be like. It makes for an interesting dynamic, for me, especially as a Christian. On one hand, I walked out of the theater wanting to be Iron Man. On the other hand, a lot of that came from the rock star quality of the character.
But fix the character, and what happens? We’ll see, because Iron Man 2 saw him sort of dedicate himself to one woman. Sort of. Pepper Potts, in the first Iron Man, was resigned to the fact that while she was the one woman he would emotionally commit to, he was physically committed to himself. Which meant a lot of women. But the end of Iron Man 2 sees a possible deeper and purer commitment to Pepper Potts. This is good for moral character development, but bad for PG-13 movie humor. I hope to see him struggling not to let his eye wander.
Iron Man 2 also saw some softening of his arrogance. Some. For The Avengers, I hope to see him continue to grow. Forcing him to work in a team actually could be an important step in his development. And for us, it is important to remember that “we are all one body.” Tony Stark/Iron Man is a reminder that, honestly, we work best when we are not so self-centered. It is better for ourselves, and better for the people around us.
UPDATE: Tony gets a pretty significant chance to change, sort of, in The Avengers, and I rather like where The Avengers takes the character, and where it leaves him. In becoming a little more selfless, he becomes a little more vulnerable. I hope they pick up on this in Iron Man 3.