An introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Part 1: Iron Man

Posted on 18 January 2016
By Alex Green
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Since 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grossed over $8 Billion and flew to the top spot of the highest grossing movie franchises of all time. With a plan set for another five years and beyond, they don’t plan to stop just yet.

From the outside, the MCU looks like a giant tangled web of films, TV Series and end credit scenes that are all linked in some very complicated manner. Whilst they are all linked, they’re far from complicated.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take you through the twelve films, four TV series and every end credit scene of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well looking to the future films and projects, all starting with the release of Captain America: Civil War in April.

Marvel Studios have set up their cinematic universe in what they call ‘Phases’, with each consisting of individual films for the characters who then all culminate in one film at the end of each phase. There have been twelve films so far split into two phases, with plans already set in motion for phase three and possibly, phase four.

So far, the phases look like this;

Phase One:

Iron Man
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers

Phase Two:

Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Avengers Age of Ultron

This first week, we’ll be looking at the film that started it all, 2008s Iron Man.

Iron Man tells the story of Tony Stark, who is, to put it in his own words a “Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist.” Son of inventor Howard Stark, Tony lives the each life whilst overlooking his company, Stark Industries, who specialise in arms dealing and weapon systems.

Whilst unveiling a new missile that he invented when in Afghanistan, Tony is captured by a mysterious terrorist group called The Ten Rings after an explosion to the car he was in.

When Tony is put into real danger, he realises the world isn’t the easy life he thought it was and that real threats do exist. After building a prototype Iron Man suit to escape captivity, Tony sets out to perfect his suit and stop the threat of the Ten Rings whilst also trying to subdue a threat closer to home in the form of Obadiah Stane, his father’s old friend and a manager in his own company.

Facing two threats, Tony flies to Afghanistan to stop the Ten Rings but little does he know is that Stane had met with and subdued the Rings himself, seeking the first prototype Iron Man suit to defeat Stark himself. Thinking the Rings have been defeated, Stark flies home only to find the much larger threat of Stane waiting for him. Helped by personal assistant Pepper Potts and Phil Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D, Tony battles Stane and defeats him in an epic battle at the films climax.

During a press conference in light of these events, Tony reveals to the world that he is Iron Man, seemingly moving away from the secret identities of most Superheroes.

Post Credit Scene

The Post credit scene in Iron Man really set a precedent for future Marvel films, as now all MCU films include them. In this first one, we see S.H.I.E.LD. Director Nick Fury approach Stark and explain that he isn’t the only superhero in the world and explains about The Avengers initiative.

This shows just how much Marvel had in plan for their universe, setting up the Avengers as far back as their first film, which is both a testament to their faith in Iron Man as a film and their vision for their shared film universe.

Post Release

Iron Man was the first film that was self financed by Marvel after it created Marvel Studios and looking back now, it was a real risk to the plan they had put in place. Iron Man was one of the few comic book characters who hadn’t been adapted for the big screen and Marvel’s decision to make him their first film in their shared universe could have easily backfired.

Iron Man and Tony Stark were well known but relatively obscure characters to a wider audience before 2008 and if this film hadn’t been the success it was, the Marvel Cinematic Universe could have been over before it had even started.

Fortunately though, Iron Man was a commercial and critical success upon its release. Praised for its originality in the genre and high praise for Robert Downey Jrs performance in the lead role, Iron Man defied all expectations.

What makes the film so good is that it follows the formula of most superhero films but it is set at a much higher pace and set in a much different background. The CGI of the suit is like nothing anyone had seen before and its action sequences are non-stop, fast and at times, breathtakingly tense.

What sets the film apart from other superhero films though is the setting, with director Jon Favreau opting out of the usual New York style city which usually always gets laid flat by the hero and their villain. Filmed on location in California, the film provided a fresh take on the superhero film whilst at the same time elevating a comic book hero to new levels of fame.

Iron Man still remains one of the best, if not the best, film in the MCU which again is a testament to Marvel’s and Kevin Fiege’s vision for their shared universe, which is now approaching its eight birthday. It set up the MCU in the best possible way by hinting at a larger universe but also providing an individual film of its own brilliance, giving both comic book and non comic book fans a film they will always enjoy.

Geeky spots & Easter eggs

The Ten Rings – In the comics, one of Iron Man’s main Villains, The Mandarin, is in possession of ten mystical rings and the name of this terrorist group is a direct reference to that.

Christine Everhart – Whilst working for Vanity Fair in this film, Christine Everhart is actually a reporter for the Daily Bugle in the comics, the newspaper most associated for hiring a one Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

Stan Lee – Of course there had to be a Stan Lee cameo! And this is one of the coolest. Stan is attending the charity ball in character as Hugh Hefner and even gets a nod from Tony himself who pats him on the back and calls him ‘Hef.’

Rhodey’s ringtone – Only the sharpest of Marvel fans will have spotted this one. When Tony calls Rhodey, the Colonel’s ringtone is actually a polyphonic version of the 1966 Iron Man cartoon theme song.

Next up on our Marvel Cinematic Universe guide, we’ll have the 2008 film, The Incredible Hulk.