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Robert Downey Jr.

The importance of 2008's Iron Man to what would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe cannot be overstated. Jon Favreau's movie established the tone for the franchise, proved Marvel's chops as a studio, showed that supposed B-list characters could lead a film and revived the career of Robert Downey Jr., who would become the face of the MCU. Iron Man also featured a major plot twist that broke with decades of comic tradition. Tony Stark announcing to the world that he was Iron Man instead of maintaining a secret identity was a pivotal point for the MCU, as Kevin Feige explained:

It's a fine line. 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. 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. 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.

This moment in Iron Man was a huge shock to our perceptions of what a superhero film could be, eschewing the secret identity trope used by countless movies and comic books that came before it. What's amazing is that the "I am Iron Man" line wasn't in the script. Robert Downey Jr. ad-libbed it. So it had to take some serious guts on Marvel's part to include it and buck comics tradition in their very first film. The twist worked incredibly well and fans dug it. That's because, as Kevin Feige told Deadline, it wasn't done just for shock value, "I am Iron Man" worked because it was in keeping with the spirit of who Tony Stark is as a character. This moment and the response to it gave Marvel the confidence to continue taking bold chances even when they ran counter to the source material.

So right from the start, the people at Marvel knew that they could do things differently by jettisoning and changing elements from the comics. As long as they continued to deliver, fans would trust them. We've seen this confidence play out over three phases in the MCU, as Marvel has adapted characters and classic storylines for the big screen in unexpected ways. We now expect the MCU to do things differently than the comics, so Marvel doesn't have to worry about backlash over not being faithful. Civil War wasn't Civil War, Ragnarok wasn't Ragnarok and Infinity War wasn't Infinity Gauntlet, but the comics arcs inspired great films. That's part of the fun, seeing how these stories will be adapted. This willingness to adapt and change while staying true to the characters is why audiences have such loyalty to Marvel and confidence in its films.

Whenever you are adapting a story to film from a different medium, especially one with a dedicated and loyal following, it is always important to find the right balance between being faithful to a fault versus being the story in name only. Slavish adaptations don't make good films, and adaptations in name only alienate fanbases. Just ask Jem and the Holograms. Marvel learned this lesson early on and has been reaping the rewards from it ever since.

The MCU is done for the year in 2018, but there's still plenty on the horizon in the years to come, so check all of it out in our guide.

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