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Iron Man recap: From the birth of the MCU to 'Infinity' and beyond

When “Avengers: Infinity War” hits theaters April 27, it will mark 10 years since “Iron Man” launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In this series, we check in with the key “Infinity War” players — the road they’ve taken and the path ahead. Our second entry explores the hero who launched the franchise, Iron Man.

The first Iron Man movie launched the MCU when it was released in 2008.

In the Beginning: Directed by Jon Favreau, 2008’s “Iron Man” transformed a lesser-known Marvel superhero into box office gold and revitalized the career of Robert Downey Jr. The film features Downey as brilliant but arrogant billionaire inventor Tony Stark, who is captured and nearly killed by a terrorist group in Afghanistan. Ordered to build weapons for the villains, Stark instead constructs a prototype Iron Man suit and, after using it to escape, realizes that he should be using his technological expertise to make the world a better place. Improved Iron Man designs allow him to take down Obadiah Stane, Jeff Bridges’ corrupt businessman, who would rather see Stark’s technology used for nefarious purposes.

The first “Iron Man” ends with two big surprises. During a live press conference, Tony Stark reveals to the world his superhero identity. Then, in Marvel’s first post-credits sequence, we’re introduced to Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, the head of a highly specialized government agency called S.H.I.E.L.D. Fury wants Stark to consider being part of a new program: the Avengers Initiative.

Just one month after “Iron Man” debuted in theaters, Downey helped launch MCU continuity by making a brief appearance at the end of “The Incredible Hulk,” sharing a conversation with William Hurt’s General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross.

The adventures of Tony Stark continue in The Avengers and Iron Man 2.

Middle Period: It would be nearly two years before Stark returned for “Iron Man 2,” also helmed by Favreau. The central storyline sees Stark facing off against Justin Hammer, a charismatic arms dealer played by Sam Rockwell, and Whiplash, a Russian inventor played by Mickey Rourke, who believes that Stark’s dad stole designs from his own father.

“Iron Man 2” marks the debut of Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, a top-level S.H.I.E.L.D. agent codenamed Black Widow. Two years later, Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” would feature both Black Widow and Iron Man as founding members of the supergroup, brought together to prevent an alien invasion of New York.

Although the heroes ultimately prevail, the events of “The Avengers” take their toll on Stark. The Shane Black-helmed “Iron Man 3” (2013) finds Stark suffering post traumatic stress while he faces off against Ben Kingsley’s terrorist imago, the Mandarin.

Iron Man returns in 2015 for Whedon’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” where an error in judgment leads Stark to inadvertently create a dangerous artificial intelligence, James Spader’s Ultron. Fortunately, Stark is able to aid in the birth of Paul Bettany’s Vision, a compassionate synthezoid who helps defeat Ultron and ultimately joins the Avengers.

Although the Avengers win out in “Age of Ultron,” collateral damage caused by the team threatens to turn the world against them. “Captain America: Civil War” (2016) sees the United Nations demand that the Avengers operate only under strict legislation. Feeling guilt over having created Ultron, Stark agrees, but finds opposition from Chris Evans’ Captain America. Their conflict splits the team, forcing Cap to go on the run as an international fugitive.

Spider-Man teams with Iron Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

What’s Next: Tony Stark was back for last summer’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” serving as a mentor of sorts to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. While Iron Man is very much a supporting character in the Jon Watts film, we learn that Stark is actively building a new Avengers team. Spidey declines Stark’s invitation to join, but the “Infinity War” trailer suggests we’ll be seeing the “Iron Spider” costume in action come April 27.

Could Pepper Potts and Tony Stark be married in Avengers: Infinity War?

Wedded Bliss? “Homecoming” also hints that Tony Stark might be about to propose to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts. We may very well learn that he’s a married man when “Infinity War” begins.

Captain America and Iron Man face off in Avengers: Infinity War.

Iron Man, By the Numbers: Downey is currently tied with Chris Evans for the most MCU appearances to date, each appearing in eight films. It could be argued that Downey has a slight edge, however, as his photograph can also be seen in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

Click on the image below to continue on the road to “Avengers: Infinity War” with a look at Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow:

Get a recap of Black Widow's adventures in the MCU before Marvel's Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters April 27!

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