Now, while Kevin Feige may (seemingly deservedly) have received the lion's share of the credit for shepherding the Marvel Cinematic Universe into existence, and geek-favorites Joss Whedon and James Gunn much of what's left for their work on the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy franchises, it's worth remembering that the early years of the MCU were in fact dominated by an entirely different - and unexpected - creative force altogether: Jon Favreau.
Better known at the time as a comedic actor and low-budget director, taking the directorial reins of 2008's Iron Man was seen by many as a big step up for Favreau, and a big risk on the part of Marvel Studios. Elf had made good money, sure, but with his mid-budget follow up Zathura having struggled to break even, Favreau was far from the most obvious choice to direct a big budget project on which the fate of an entire cinematic universe rested.
And yet, direct he did, and in doing so managed to make one of the most broadly beloved superhero movies of all time. Which he then followed up with Iron Man 2, which was...less well received, but still made giant, over-filled truckloads of money, so that was fine. And then, Favreau largely left the Marvel Cinematic Universe behind, returning only for a brief role as 'Happy' Hogan in Iron Man 3, and an executive producer role on the Avengers movies.
With the recent revelation that he might just be considering a return to the MCU in a more hands-on capacity, however (Iron Man 4, anyone?), it seems a good time to take a look at just how much of an influence Favreau really had on the youthful Marvel Cinematic Universe. And so, here are...
Five Ways In Which Jon Favreau Shaped The MCU (Before He Left)
5. He Brought Tony Stark To The Present Day
With the benefit of an entire Marvel Cinematic Universe's worth of hindsight, the decision to bring Iron Man's origin forward in time from the comic-book's Vietnam war to modern day Afghanistan may seem an obvious one, but back when Favreau made it, it was a simpler choice: make a movie set in the 1960s or 70s, or one set in 2008.
Not wanting to make a period piece, Favreau brought Tony Stark into the present day, and in so doing, made the current, deeply inter-connected MCU possible.
4. He Kept The Mandarin in the Background
Now, say what you like about Iron Man's big bad being a senior executive calling himself The Iron Monger, but there's a pretty good chance that the inclusion of one of Iron Man's more iconic foes (The Mandarin, MODOK or Fin Fang Foom, say) would have made the movie far too out-there a proposition for many neutral fans.
By grounding the movie - and thus the MCU as a whole - in something vaguely approximating our reality, Favreau gave the likes of Whedon and Gunn the freedom to push the limits of our suspension of disbelief in later entries.
Plus, if we'd seen the Mandarin back in Iron Man, then we would never have had the chance to argue over whether his appearance in Iron Man 3 was completely inspired or utterly ridiculous...
3. He Brought A Whole Lot of Marvel Creatives On Board
Comic-book writers have grown in influence within the superhero movie industry in recent years, but back in 2008 they were still seen by many directors and executives as a nuisance best kept away from the business of adapting their stories for the big screen. Favreau, on the other hand, recruited the likes of Mark Millar, Brian Michael Bendis, Joe Quesada, Tom Brevoort, Axel Alonso, and Ralph Macchio - key Marvel players all - to help him with the script, with Bendis going so far as to pen Nick Fury's appearance in the film's final moments.
If you've ever wondered how the MCU managed to retain so much of Marvel Comics' core tone and characterization, that'd be why - and it all started with Favreau.
2. He Hired Jeff Bridges as The Bad Guy
Now, fans are largely divided over whether or not Jeff Bridges' Obadiah Stane was an especially interesting or threatening villain (an accusation that has been leveled at pretty much every Iron Man movie antagonist, in fact), but the casting of one of the most critically acclaimed actors of his generation can be seen as a key moment in the MCU's development, no matter your thoughts on the role itself.
Excited by the prospect of Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor turning up in Doctor Strange, or by the thought of half of the MCU being made up of classically trained British actors? That particular road leads all the way back to Favreau's casting of Jeff Bridges...
1. He Helped To Turn Robert Downey Jr. Into Tony Stark
Eight years on, it's tough to imagine the MCU without Robert Downey Jr. at its heart, basically just being Tony Stark - but back in the mid-2000s, he was far from an obvious casting choice.
In fact, Favreau reportedly had to fight tooth and nail to get Downey Jr. the gig - a battle that, in retrospect, looks inspired on the director's part. After all, without Favreau directing, we may never have seen RDJ step into the armor that made him a megastar, and without that happening, the Marvel Cinematic Universe may never have become the cultural juggernaut it is today.
Nicely played, Jon. Nicely played indeed...