You’ve already read most of the superlatives, and in all likelihood you’ve already seen the film. At this point you get it: Marvel’s The Avengers is a great movie. I won’t sit here and pretend I have anything to add to that discussion outside of “squee!!!” and “Whedon could do anything he wants to me and I wouldn’t even care, man.” The Avengers is constantly exciting, does a great job tying together the entire Marvel Universe, and gets increasingly hilarious as characters are established. Go see it. Review over.
I’d like to spend the rest of the post taking a look at why one particular character had to be the focal hero of The Avengers. Naturally, with a team of super heroes, there are quite a few options Joss Whedon had to choose from. It’s my contention that the primary hero of the film was perfectly chosen. Spoilers follow, so run like blazes away from this post if you haven’t seen the film yet.
The crux of The Avengers comes down to this: There is a giant portal above Manhattan allowing an alien race called the Chitauri to invade and conquer planet earth. Someone must hand-deliver a nuke into the portal or holy hell we’re freaking dead. Classic crux, man. Classic.
Whedon choose Iron Man for this job. I’d like to take a look at why.
Why Iron Man had to be the hero
We can also consider logistics. Just based on abilities, this specific world-saving scenario came down to Iron Man and Thor to really save the day.
The other factor is simple character development. RDJ’s Tony Stark is a quick-witted, arrogant sonuvabitch. Captain America points out in one of their disputes that Tony has no idea what it means to be a real hero. From the other Iron Man movies, we of course know this to be a mistaken assessment. Nonetheless, this is the perception, and makes Stark’s need to sacrifice and prove himself all the more appropriate.
The biggest reason Stark had to be the one to sacrifice, though, and the main reason I’ve gathered all of you here today, is the fact that Robert Downey Jr is the most recognizable celebrity on screen, and his performance as Iron Man in 2007 is what made this whole Avengers Initiative possible.
The Tin Man That Saved Marvel Studios
I distinctly remember watching a television preview for Iron Man in the months before the movie came out and thinking “This is a terrible idea. Iron Man? Really?” Now to my discredit, I wasn’t really reading comic books at the time. I wouldn’t have known Stark had a huge role in awesome plots like Avengers Disassembled or New Avengers. And I certainly wouldn’t have known about his controversial, yet hugely impactful position in Civil War.
That aside, from a Hollywood-Marvel perspective, Iron Man seemed like a very bad idea. It’s easy to forget now, but that was an absolute lowpoint for comic book movies. Take a quick look back at this list of the most recent string of comic book movies at the time:
– Fantastic Four
– X-Men 3: The Last Stand
– Spider-Man 3
Hardly a murderer’s row. In fact, that run from 2005 – 2007 (which includes a made-for-tv Man-Thing movie that I won’t mention because it’s impolite to speak ill of the dead) was atrocious. You can find defenders and defenses for elements of each of those movies, but at the end of the day they’re all huge disappointments to what fans know the Marvel Universe could be. Iron Man changed that. It was a lot to change.
Everything Thor and Captain America achieved was buoyed to an extent by the success of Iron Man and the knowledge that this was all building towards something bigger. Better yet, all of the Marvel Studios films weren’t just building bigger – they were building better. There was a clear foundation for the heart of these characters and for this Marvel Universe that fans everywhere just wanted to see brought to life.
So in finally bringing that universe together with The Avengers, it only made sense that Joss Whedon would run the cycle full circle and give heroic credit where it was due. Iron Man was the ultimate savior of this plot, but his real feat was saving Marvel Studios. You could ask the Chitauri for verification, but saving a company from a nuke like Elektra seems like an even more impressive save to me.
Stay tuned for a detailed look at how an early 90’s comic run may impact the next Avenger’s movie and the new Avengers villain.