“I am Iron Man.”
Robert Downey Jr.-as-Tony Stark utters that short sentence in the waning moments of 2008’s Iron Man, the movie that kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the fictional moment, Stark opted to cast aside prepared remarks that would have kept his secret identity safe and out himself instead.
It’s such a lightning strike moment for a movie based on comic books, where secret identities are often treated as sacrosanct. It was also, as we now learn, an unscripted moment that Downey himself felt was a better fit for the character.
The revelation comes from none other than Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios. “It’s a fine line,” he said of Downey Jr.’s decision to stray from the script. The interview comes from Deadline, part of a larger story that looks back on the MCU’s first film a full 10 years later.
“If you’re changing something for no reason, that’s one thing, but if you’re changing something because you want to double-down on the spirit of who the character is? That’s a change we’ll make. Tony Stark not reading off the card and not sticking with the fixed story? Him just blurting out ‘I am Iron Man?’ That seems very much in keeping with who that character is.”
Director Jon Favreau and Marvel let the scene stand as it was shot, and the rest is history. Tony outs himself as a superhero, and much of the broader MCU story that rippled out from the first Iron Man was shaped by that choice.
In fact, Feige credits that creative decision, along with the subsequent fan response, for many of the bolder liberties Marvel took in subsequent years. It’s apparently why Thor, who hid behind the identity of Dr. Donald Blake for many years in the comics, was his own, Asgardian self from moment one.
“It just hadn’t been done in the comics before, but it was something very much in keeping with the comics character and what he could have done,” Feige said of Downey’s Iron Man line.
“I think it did inspire us on all the movies. What I love now — 20 movies in — is how fans expect the MCU to change and adapt. They expect us to be inspired by the comics as opposed to being slavishly devoted to them.”
Hey, angry Star Wars fans. I hope you’re paying attention.