My first Marvel Cinematic Universe film: Iron Man

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Jan 26, 2018, 1:03 PM EST

It's a new year and the chance to start again, which sometimes means taking a second to remember just where you started. This January, we're remembering firsts. We're approaching the end of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), so I'm taking the opportunity to reflect on the moment I became an MCU stan—the day I watched my very first MCU film.

It was May 3, 2010. I remember the circumstances clearly (and the exact date, because I never delete any e-mails). Since I can scarcely remember any single significant moment growing up, this means something—a big mark on the timeline of my life. Just a few days before Iron Man 2 was scheduled to hit theaters, my boss asked if I'd like to go to a screening that night because he had an extra pass. Being a broke college student for about 10 more days, I never turned down a free movie. And being a completionist, I knew it meant I had to go home and immediately watch Iron Man in preparation. So I did just that. A few hours later, I watched Iron Man 2—and that was the day I first fell in love with the MCU.


Image courtesy Marvel Studios

At the time, the MCU was a far cry from what it is today. There had been a few Hulk and Spider-Man movies in the 2000s, but there weren't three films a year with intertwining plotlines that all made up a massive world yet. But even way back in 2010, I was no superhero newbie. I had watched and enjoyed the X-Men trilogy (yes, even X-Men 3). Think what you will, but the X-Men films were my first introduction to superhero movies as a whole (in part due to my crush on Wolverine, obviously). That aside, nothing struck me like the moment I first watched Iron Man.

I could hypothesize on how much of the obsession stemmed from a love of the actors themselves (Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jon Favreau made those movies what they are), but ultimately my love for the films came down to heart. In Iron Man, Tony Stark begins as a guy who tries to fill the void in his life with fast cars and women, but by the end of the film he literally fills a hole in his body with an arc reactor (a never-ending supply of energy) and decides to start changing the world. Maybe it was because I was just days from graduating college at the time, but this resonated.

For the first 22 years of our lives, we are taught to go out and discover who we are—to learn and explore, which often requires focusing on ourselves. What college will you attend? What career do you want? But then we graduate college and are pushed out into the real world to find a way to become a meaningful part of it, only holding the idea we can make a difference through what we choose to do with this new freedom. Tony Stark goes through a traumatic experience in Iron Man. He must literally rebuild himself to survive and discover his place in the world by reconstructing all he's ever known. In Iron Man 2, he begins planning his legacy and how he wants to be remembered. As I was cherishing my final days of college life, Tony's desire to reinvent himself tied me to him in a way I hadn't expected.

The moments of vulnerability and quest for purpose in Iron Man are what keep me coming back to the MCU time and time again. In Iron Man, Tony tells Pepper, "I don't have anyone but you." These stories are as much about friendship and love as they are about shooting aliens out of the sky. These people care about one another and are driven by their need to make the world a better place. It's not about fame, fortune, or recognition. Yes, the MCU is now a multibillion-dollar franchise, but when I watched Thor: Ragnarok I saw the same longing for purpose and desire to be better than the day before.

As I look back on my first foray into the MCU, I am grateful for the world I was welcomed into that day. It's a place I still feel at home in so many films later.

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