It’s Debate Day! Today we’re discussing the best Marvel Cinematic Universe Film to coincide with the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. To see Aaron’s ridiculous pick, follow this link: Guardians of the Galaxy: The Best Marvel Movie Yet. To see my awesome and righteous opinion, read on!
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has become my favorite film franchise currently active, and maybe my favorite franchise of all time. It’s amazing that Marvel managed to bring together so many disparate characters, give them all successful movies, and then bring all those heroes together for a giant team-up in The Avengers. And even though there have been, what, eleven movies in the MCU so far (not to mention three teevee shows), the level of quality has stayed pretty high all throughout. But when I think about which one is the best of them all, I have to go with the one that kicked off the whole thing: Iron Man.
The movie’s called “Iron Man,” but really it should be called “Tony Stark.” Tony is easily my favorite character in the MCU, and he’s played by Robert Downey Jr., one of the most talented and charismatic actors out there. The film chronicles Tony’s journey from devil-may-care billionaire playboy weapons dealer to selfless hero who nearly gives his own life to stop an evil he helped create. RDJ completely sells the part with his trademark fast-talking and witty bon mots, but he brings the gravitas and emotional punch when it’s called for. I also really like his relationships with Yinsen, the man who gives his live to grant Tony a second chance, and Pepper Potts, his only true friend and possible romantic interest. It’s a compelling arc to watch, appropriately balancing the fun and humor of comic book superheroes with the seriousness of moral quandaries and interpersonal relationships.
A great superhero movie needs a great villain, and Jeff Bridges really brings it as Obadiah Stane. Jeff Bridges is the kind of actor who kicks ass no matter what movie he’s in, be it high-brow Shakespearian drama or low-budget dreck. He’s a classy dude and an amazing actor, and it was a joy to see him any time he was on screen. All Obie wanted was to sell weapons to terrorists and murder Tony and Pepper. The dude was just running a business, after all, but noooo, Iron Man had to screw things up! I love the scene where Obie finally loses it at his engineers after remaining calm and collected in every previous scene. When his anger explodes, I totally buy that he’s an extremely patient man who’s finally been pushed to the brink. The scene where he calmly removes Tony’s chest-mounted arc reactor while explaining his evil motivations still gives me chills. My only regret is that poor old Obie doesn’t make it through the movie; he could have been a great recurring antagonist.
The action in Iron Man is great, despite being the first MCU entry. It’s relatively restrained compared to the likes of Avengers or Man of Steel, and the CG holds up, even seven years later. When Tony and Obie battle it out in the final fight scene, I was, and still am, on the edge of my seat. Iron Man is clearly overpowered by the Ironmonger, but he outsmarts him instead of just punching him harder, like any true hero. It’s also a great metaphor for Tony’s development. He’s tired of his weapons falling into the hands of evil-doers, but now his one-time friend and mentor has corrupted his ultimate invention into a weaponized monstrosity. Tony has to overcome Obie, who represents the last vestiges of his own arms dealer past, before he can move on to being a true hero.
I also have to give the movie credit for taking Iron Man, who was basically an relatively unknown, B-List superhero back then, and propelling him to superstardom. Iron Man was never as popular as ubiquitous characters like Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, or the X-Men. Now he’s universally recognizable. If you can find five people who haven’t heard of Iron Man, I will be shocked. That in and of itself is a huge feat.
Iron Man is, I would argue, the most important Avenger on the team. He’s not as powerful as Thor or the Hulk, or as inspirational as Captain America, but he’s the most valuable member all the same because he’s far and away the best strategist and tactician of the group. Also he can fly, which, and I can’t stress this enough, is literally invaluable. There are no other fliers on the team, and flight is a critical element of superhero tales. Sure, these are factors that come into play in later movies, but Iron Man established Tony as being extremely awesome and capable much better than any of the other origin movies did.
Tony’s always there to save the day. In The Avengers, who fixes the helicarrier and flies a nuke into a wormhole to save the world? Iron Man. Tony’s always there to solve a puzzle, build a gadget, devise a cunning plan, and just generally be smarter and more charming than anyone else on the team, with the possible exception of handsome genius Mark Rooffalo.
Plus Tony has nigh-unlimited money and resources, which is just icing on the cake. The Avengers could maybe function without some of the other members, but Iron Man is a necessity. Okay, sure, some of that is RDJ pushing to be the star and having the biggest part, but can you blame him? He recognizes, as I do, that Tony is the most interesting and complex character on the team, and easily the most useful. It also helps that RDJ is the most talented actor of the bunch, and he’s always a pleasure to watch.
The movie also perfectly sets up the series to come. Iron Man is a film that works on its own, but it opens the door to a whole universe of sequels. There’s lines like Rhodie looking at a prototype Iron Man suit and saying “next time,” or Tony admitting to the world “I am Iron Man,” at the film’s end. And then there’s Agent Coulson, the perennially even-keeled and tirelessly loyal agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who helps put the team together in future movies. But there’s also the awesome post-credits sequence where Nick Fury himself shows up to tell Tony he’s not the only superhero out there. It still gives me a little thrill at all the possibilities that one line suggests.
Iron Man is really just the best. Guardians of the Galaxy is a great movie, no doubt, but at the end of the day it’s a fun comic book movie that lacks the kind of deep and revelatory character development that Tony Stark gets. Guardians also doesn’t have much connection to the larger Marvel universe (yet). Iron Man has all the fun action and humor of comics combined with a truly believable and resonant character arc. It was also successful enough to spawn a truly kickass franchise and gave us one of the most memorable characters in cinematic history. That’s why Iron Man is, without a doubt, the best MCU movie yet.
So who’s right about the best MCU movie, me or Aaron? Or are we both nuts? Let us know in the poll!