Today marks 10 years since Iron Man first hit screens. I remember it well: my sister was super excited, because so much had been made about the costume being a real suit, and after the messes that were Spider-Man 3 and Superman Returns and X3, superhero movies weren’t exactly the box office/critical darlings that they have become.
I knew who Iron Man was, but I wasn’t the Marvel shill as I am today (that’s joke btw), so while I was excited about seeing a good superhero movie, my main motivation for seeing Iron Man was … how hot Robert Downey Jr. is.
Robert Downey Jr., legendary Aries, New Yorker, and now one of America’s most beloved leading men, had been dealing with a rough recovery of reclaiming his place in the acting world after becoming sober. He made three great movies Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Zodiac (with science bro Mark Ruffles), and Tropic Thunder, which got him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 2008 (I love that movie and him in it, but I question that in so many ways).
Regardless, despite these successes, the chance to prove himself really came when he took on the role of Iron Man. It was perfect casting, considering Tony Stark’s best known human storyline surrounds his alcoholism. Robert Downey Jr. brought a humanity to Tony Stark that is necessary to make the character work because Tony Stark is … an asshole, a womanizer, and a war criminal when the first Iron Man begins. Yet he grows into a jerk with a heart of gold, with great hair and the most amazing blue eyes that are rivaled only by Cap’s baby blues.
Tony’s story has been about accountability, redemption, and learning to lead by example rather than just barking orders. It would be easy for Tony to just send out machines to fight for him, but the reason why that ending doesn’t stick in Iron Man 3 (a movie I love) is that for Tony, his life not more valuable than anyone else’s. He needs to be out in the field: even when he is risking his life and even if it means damaging his relationship with Pepper, he feels responsible.
Part of recovery is knowing that it is a constant process. You never stop having to work at it, even if it gets easier, and Tony’s biggest fear is turning back into someone he’s ashamed of—so the risks he takes, though they may hurt the woman he loves, are necessary. If he stayed at home in safety could he still be the good man he’s worked to become?
Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” and I think Tony Stark lives by that. He is driven by this maxim, because of the fact that on January 24th 2010 (MCU Time) he was kidnapped and came face to face with the results of his nothing.
That desire to do good in the face of hubris, overwhelming odds, and personal sacrifice in order to achieve personal growth has been a constant throughout the MCU (except for Steve Rodgers who was born perfect), and it started in Iron Man. And despite the fact that Stark fatigue is totally a thing, I think Tony Stark laid the foundation for all the greatness that has come since.
Robert Downey Jr. brought humanity, humor, and handsome-ness to the MCU for the first time May 2nd, 2008 and we are all better for it.
(images: Marvel Studios)
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