More than 13 years after breaking through the zeitgeist, there are still many entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I’ve never seen. Now that I have a brand new 65-inch UHD television in my living room, I thought it might be time to change that.

Let’s start at the beginning and work our way through the 2010s.

Marvel Studios’ Iron Man (2008)
Directed by Jon Favreau
Written by Mark Fergus & Hawk Otsby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway
Release Date: May 2, 2008

The opening chapter of Marvel’s complete dominance over superhero cinema begins with a story about industrial espionage, business betrayal and a billionaire playboy war-monger who grows a conscience, kicking off an age of heroes that ultimately resulted in the elimination of half the universe’s POPULATION.

That’s a hell of a resume.

The origins of Iron Man here are updated from his original capture in Vietnam to a more modern American foe: Afghanistan. In the country to show off a brand new weapons system, rebels capture Stark and demand he make the rebels their own version of the missile. They “fix” the shrapnel threatening his heart with a car battery and throw him in a cave filled with so much tech that I can only assume it’s owned by BRUCE WAYNE and order him to get to work.

Instead, Stark builds a new sustainable power source – the arc reactor – and a suit of armor made to escape his captors.

Between his capture and the death of Yinsen, the man assisting him with his work, Stark is pretty psychologically beat up. He’s a little tired of the war profiteering and wants to try and do some good with his life to honor the request made by a dying Yinsen in the Afghani cave. But when you’re the head of a publicly-traded weapons manufacturing company, you can’t just decide to stop making weapons on a whim without any consequence.

Stark’s most trusted advisor, Obadiah Staine (Jeff Bridges), attempts a hostile takeover of Stark Industries and reveals that he’s been double dealing between the U.S. government and Afghani rebels. The duplicity offends Stark, and he refines the Iron Man suit to take out the rebels. And then Staine creates his own suit of armor and once again tries to kill Stark, this time getting his own hands dirty.

I never would have thought that a movie about board room double dealing and other corporate intrigues would have ignited a decade-plus-long craze, but somehow Marvel managed to create a phenomenon. With a pretty compelling story and nearly pitch-perfect casting, Iron Man goes from a dangerous roll of the dice for a fledgling studio to a sure-fire hit that spawned two direct sequels and an entire multiverse of other cinematic champions.

Marvel’s casting choices have been a pretty big reason that these movies have been so successful over the years, and those decisions are showcased in this first entry with two perfect actors.

Honestly, has there ever been an actor that so perfectly captured the essence of a comic book character the way Robert Downey Jr. does with Tony Stark? RDJ’s checkered history as a young Hollywood actor mirrors Stark’s troubled past. Downey slips right in to Stark’s pompous, devil-may-care attitude and makes him much more likable than he probably would be with a different actor. Imagine if Tom Cruise was the one delivering Tony Stark’s lines in this movie. It just doesn’t work as well, even if many thought Cruise would have made a great Iron Man before RDJ’s casting.

And then there’s the post-credit scene that sets the course of the next 13 years. Even knowing what came after this, watchign Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury tell Tony that they need to talk about the Avenger Initiative gave me a bit of a chill. Sam Jackson had already been the model for the Ultimate Universe version of Nick Fury, and seeing that decision come to life in Iron Man was pretty amazing.

Overall, Iron Man is the perfect start to the Avengers era on the big screen. A lot of risky moves paid off, leading to a box office dominance that has yet to be rivaled. We’ll see how the movie holds up to the films that followed as we continue with our own Avengers Initiative.