Iron Man
Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Stan Lee (comic book), Don Heck (comic book), Larry Lieber (comic book), Jack Kirby (comic book)
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Leslie Bibb, Clark Gregg, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Paul Bettany, Samuel L. Jackson (stinger)

Iron Man 2
Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Justin Theroux, Stan Lee (comic book), Don Heck (comic book), Larry Lieber (comic book), Jack Kirby (comic book)
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, John Slattery, Paul Bettany

The Avengers
Director: Joss Whedon
Writers: Joss Whedon, Zak Penn (story), Joss Whedon (story)
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Alexis Denisof, Harry Dean Stanton

This is a look at one pathway in Marvel’s Phase I, mostly because I sat in a theater and spent an entire day watching all of Iron Man’s prior outings, culminating in the premiere of Iron Man 3. My review of that latest film can be found at buzzymag.com.

From the very beginning, we meet Tony Stark, who is fun, fun, fun. Son of visionary weapons designer (and oh, so much more) Howard Stark, Tony lives in the ultimate Malibu bachelor pad. He’s a genius, rich, with private planes and toys galore. Robert Downey Jr. inhabits this role. He makes this movie!

Halfway around the world, he takes pride in personally supervising demos of the latest weapon from Stark Industries.

Of course, he is captured, then tortured, tormented, and locked in a cave–where, at the end of hope, with but a single friend (Shaun Toub), he builds a crude mechanical suit, reinventing himself in the process. This suit requires Yinsen to bolt him in and handle the power-up externally. But it wins Stark his freedom, while giving him a sense of accomplishment lacking in his life.

Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is Tony’s combination secretary-assistant, trying to get him to stop wasting his life. She also runs interference for him, important when folks like Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) want to debrief him. Actually running Stark Industries is Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), who is very conscious that he isn’t as brilliant as Tony, but is superb at playing corporate politics and handling the company.

Tony’s chauffeur Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) tries to keep him from doing anything monumentally stupid (he mostly fails), while Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard) serves as Stark Industries’ military liaison. Rhodey is mostly a party-pooper in this one, stiff and unable to think outside the box.

After returning home, and with the help of his very advanced home AI, Jarvis (Paul Bettany), Stark builds a better version of the mechanical suit. Now, robotic arms help him “suit up.” He reacts to flying like anyone would–like a kid with a new toy.

Even as Tony puts together his awesome new suit, though, mentally he’s torn up. He begins to doubt what Stark Industries is doing. And the more he tries to fix it, the more it unravels around him.

By the end, he’s grown as a person, and ready to own his actions, good and bad–he is Iron Man.

And by the time the credits have rolled, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has stopped by to discuss the Avengers Initiative . . .

In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark is enjoying notoriety at the Stark Expo, a World’s Fair-like event, while in Russia, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is nursing a second-generation grudge. What actually happened with his father–that apparently depends on your point of view.

We’re also introduced to Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a weapons expert who is anything but. Like Obediah Stane, Hammer is more of a politician than an inventor. And he is incredibly slimy.

On the flip side is both Stark and Vanko, who are classic comic book scientists: combination physicists, chemists, engineers, and they also are expert fabricators.

The real politicians (in the government), characterized by Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) would like control of Iron Man, too–conveniently not recognizing that there is a person involved. Everybody wants the suit . . . or a suit.

But all is not well. There are complications associated with having a tiny arc reactor in your chest that Tony has to deal with, and his response is just to be more reckless than usual–shutting his friends out in the process.

When Vanko appears, throwing around cars and shearing off bits, he is threatening. You believe that someone could die. Then the awesomeness that is the suitcase armor makes its appearance. Definitely an upgrade.

Agent Coulson is back, and he’s showing some teeth this time. Tony has turned Stark Industries over to Pepper Potts to run, and Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) turns up to help her out.

Rhodey (now played by Don Cheadle) is manipulated a bit in this one, although some of that is inherent in the fact that he’s military. He wants the suit, too, or Tony to be more responsible about being Iron Man.

With everyone so focused on wanting a suit, was it really a shock that Ivan built a suit?

Still, lots of action, more growth as a person on Tony’s part, more development of the Tony-Pepper relationship, more of Pepper as an independent person. The more Pepper grows, the more important she becomes to Tony. We meet Agent Romanoff, and see how awesome she is, and get a look at the S.H.I.E.L.D. dynamic. We see more of the Tony-Rhodey partnership that works so well when they fight together.

Lots of stuff blows up. Even better.

And there’s a mysterious hammer in the New Mexico desert . . .

After all of this–they showed us The Avengers. Really, we should have squeezed in Captain America and Thor, too, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day. And this day belonged to Tony Stark.

It’s established that S.H.I.E.L.D. has built an installation out in the desert to study the Tesseract, staffed with scientists and agents, among them Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in charge.

But Loki (Tom Hiddleston)’s stolen the Tesseract. He’s not from around here. He keeps having meetings in his head with someone (Alexis Denisof), and he wants everyone to kneel before Zod.

Now Nick Fury transfers to the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier and grabs a gamma radiation expert, Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Why didn’t he have Banner working on the Tesseract before, if it emits gamma radiation? He also gathers up Iron Man and Captain America. Before long, they’ve found Loki, and Thor’s joined the party.

No one is getting along, and no one trusts S.H.I.E.L.D. or each other. Until Loki’s escape and tragedy forces them all together . . . the Avengers.

Now Loki is on the loose in New York. His allies, the Chitari have shown up, too. Now we get the Iron Man mark 7 deployment–in mid-air!

Now that they’re a team, everything works perfectly. Cap is a major strategist, the Hulk is in at least some control, and everyone plays nice with no egos.

Earth is safe, even if New York is kinda trashed. Everyone goes their separate ways. Nothing to see here, move along.

And not one, but two stingers.

Onward to Iron Man 3!

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