“Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” recently concluded a phenomenal first season. Though initially welcomed with a lukewarm critical reception, it transformed Tuesday nights into the most anticipated weekday, besides Friday for 9-5ers. Primarily, “S.H.I.E.L.D.” managed such a turnaround through intricate incorporation of Marvel lore, synching seamlessly with previously released and future films. The “it’s all connected” tagline followed through to unbelievable proportions. For a true look at the interconnectivity, one needs only start with “Iron Man.”
Way back in 2008 “Iron Man” soared onto screens with an epic vision. Just how epic, we would later learn. At its core, Marvel Studios’ inaugural film was an origin story, unraveling the beginnings of Iron Man, aka Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Stark, a snarky millionaire business mogul, is shown traveling through Afghanistan with a military convoy, chief among them Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (Terrence Howard). After demonstrating Stark Industries’ powerful new weapon, the Jehrico missile, the caravan is ambushed and Stark taken prisoner.
The tale then jumps back in time to explain the lead up to the Afghanistan trip, at which point we’re offered a glimpse into Stark’s captivity. During his imprisonment, he’s forced to recreate his Jehrico missile, and much to his surprise, the captors have a well-stocked arsenal of Stark Industries weapons. Thankfully, the cave, though primitive in appearance, contains the fittings for a suit which Stark tailors, thus creating his oft-recognizable metallic exoskeleton, Iron Man.
When “Iron Man” first hit theaters it seemed a simple foray into Iron Man territory, the introduction of a new superhero franchise. While it delivered this promise, with a string of sequels, it served to springboard a universe. About halfway through the film, an unsuspecting clean cut guy in a suit announces himself as Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. Coulson has but a few scenes, though they’re each memorable. During these brief moments he references his ridiculously long named organization, and finally at the film’s conclusion says “Just call us S.H.I.E.L.D.” Fans of the graphic novels fondly recalled this acronym, but nobody really knew that it would blossom beyond “Iron Man” and its follow up movies.
Then of course the credits were followed by a brief snippet of Samuel L. Jackson in an eyepatch as S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury. Fury mentions something called the Avengers Initiative, which resonated with comic enthusiasts, but again there was no sign just how significant S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers would become. “Iron Man,” however is not merely the start to a phenomenal universe. True, it happens to be the spark which gave life to the superb Marvel line up, but it’s a great standalone movie, and still one of Marvel’s best flicks.
Primarily, “Iron Man” is enjoyable due to the fantastic acting and a compelling story. Robert Downey Jr. serves as the archetypical Tony Stark, with swagger, a motor mouth, and over-confidence. Gwyneth Paltrow aces Pepper Potts, Stark’s personal assistant and main sexual tension inducer throughout the narrative. In an unusually sinister role, Jeff Bridges plays Obadiah Stane, which contrasts with the easygoing “Dude” from “The Big Lebowski.” However, Bridges’ amiable face, bushy beard, and welcoming baritone foster the perfect environment for deception. Overall, director Jon Favreau (who also acts, playing Stark’s bodyguard Happy Hogan) crafts a delightful mix of action, comedy, and lore thus making “Iron Man” a wonderful individual film, and impeccable introduction to the Marvel world ahead.