The Great MCU Rewatch: Back to the Beginning

My wonderful fiancée changed the game recently by suggesting we watch every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in order. This warmed my heart for two reasons. First, Heather is not a nerd, so it is nice she wants to put herself through this. Second, I find this undertaking particularly alluring since there are some MCU movies I have not seen in a very long time. After seeing Avengers: Infinity War, I’ve been excited to go back and relive the fun when the stakes were so much lower – and the franchise was just finding its footing.

So far, we have watched Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2. Iron Man came out all the way back in 2008 on the same weekend I took the SAT. On a May morning I walked into Guilderland High School, sat in the front of some history teacher’s classroom with a copy of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska hanging on the wall, took the test then got out of there and saw Iron Man. Much like Tony Stark having no idea what his Social Security number is, to this day I have no clue what I got on the SAT. But I do know that this movie rocked the house, and 10 years later it remains solid.

Robert Downey’s hair was something else in this joint

Much has been said about how perfectly cast Robert Downey Jr. is as Tony Stark/Iron Man, so there is no sense devoting more time to fellating his performance. What I was most interested in was the simple question: Does the movie hold up? 10 years later, Marvel rules Hollywood. Infinity War was a seismic event, but when Iron Man came out and included an after-credits tease at a potential Avengers film, it was unclear if any of this would really take off.

It is funny, since Iron Man was good, but two months later The Dark Knight came out and it seemed like DC/Warner Bros. would reign over Marvel forever. Then Disney bought Marvel and now unknown properties like Guardians of the Galaxy have risen from obscurity to become a bankable franchise while Warner Bros. cannot figure out how to make a good Justice League movie. All of this from the world Iron Man started.

“My wi…my wife, Bunny? Do you see a wedding ring on my finger? Does this place look like I’m fucking married?”

A few big things stood out while rewatching.

  • You can tell they were just figuring out this whole universe. The recurring joke where Coulson uses SHIELD’s full name is totally out of place considering in Iron Man 2 and future MCU productions it is explained that SHIELD has existed for decades by the time the first movie rolls around, thus making the joke stick out like a sore thumb.
  • The character development of Tony Stark over the course of 8 million movies is something I recognized subconsciously, but didn’t actually think about until watching this again. To see him as a father figure to Peter Parker in 2018 compared to the huge tool he was in 2008 is solid storytelling and growth. Like Batman being really miserable and homicidal in Batman v Superman then a joke machine in his very next appearance in Justice League.
  • Jeff Bridges’ turn as Obadiah Stane begins the trend of Marvel villains dying too soon. That scene where Pepper Potts shows up at the Stark offices to steal Stane’s files remains a high point for MCU villains. Stane is all intensity when he walks in on her. Then he blows up and dies.
This is basically the sole image that exists in a Google search for this movie. Shows how well it is remembered.

From there, it was on to The Incredible Hulk, featuring Ed Norton’s sole appearance as Bruce Banner. It is one of the least-essential Marvel movies, but it gets the job done. I had not seen this movie since probably 2008, and I was surprised by how un-shitty it was. As time passed, I assumed it must have sucked if I had never taken the time to watch it again. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s a perfectly fine popcorn movie.

Norton was good, but Mark Ruffalo really owns the role now. But still, Norton succeeded at playing Banner in the vein of Bill Bixby, and the use of “The Lonely Man” theme from the ‘70s show put a smile on my face. William Hurt was great as Thunderbolt Ross and it is nice that he has shown up in more films recently.

One thing I never forgot about this flick was the opening credit sequence. It is a nice, simple telling of the origin story done in a very cool visual style. Aside from that, there isn’t really much to say. It was nice to go back and watch The Incredible Hulk, but the larger MCU could survive without it.

Don’t worry – he didn’t call anybody a “pedo” this time!

Then there was Iron Man 2 – which I had not seen since 2010. In the 8 years that passed, I became pretty sure this was one of the two worst Marvel flicks. I received confirmation of that upon the rewatch. There’s just too much going on. Of course, Downey nails it again, Don Cheadle is an upgrade on Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow is always good as Pepper Potts, but damn, this movie underwhelmed.

Sam Rockwell was the undisputed highlight of the movie as Justin Hammer. His dance moves are almost enough to make this movie worthwhile. But then you get Mickey Rourke’s half-hearted, incomprehensible portrayal as Ivan Vanko in there as a second villain, and it just doesn’t work. Vanko’s motivation is interesting – “If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in him.” He introduces himself to Tony Stark in impressive fashion, but then it turns to shit when Iron Man whoops his ass and sends him to jail. Vanko keeps saying he’s won because now he’s proven Iron Man vulnerable, but Iron Man does not seem vulnerable in the slightest by the end of this movie. I know I should just judge Iron Man 2 on its own merits, but Zemo in Civil War accomplishes a similar task to a much more impressive degree. Iron Man 2 feels like filler on the way to Avengers, nothing more.

Losing that Oscar to Sean Penn must have really taken a lot out of him

I remembered Justin Hammer dancing and the weird “This is not my bird” scene, but the introduction of Black Widow was one thing I had totally forgotten. Scarlett Johansson ends up being the second Avenger we see on the big screen, and that was definitely a thing that happened. I’m firmly in the camp that she deserves a solo movie, but I feel like her story way back here was just a subplot thrown in to remind us that an Avengers movie was happening. Like when Jeremy Renner said two words in Thor – which is the next movie on the list.

After the first three movies, the totally arbitrary ranking of Marvel Cinematic Universe films looks like this:

3. Iron Man 2
2. The Incredible Hulk
1. Iron Man

Up next: Thor, Captain America and whatever else I feel like including in the next post.