The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The Noble Failure of Iron Man 2

Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer

Jon Favreau mentioned that he’d like to see the Mandarin as the villain for Iron Man 3, and it got me thinking: Iron Man 2 is aging in a curiously good way for me.

Let me clarify: I was disappointed in the movie, but since seeing it on opening night, my opinion has been trending in a positive – mathematically – direction. I can’t necessarily say it’s a good direction, but I get the feeling that I’m going to  come to see Favreau’s rushed follow-up as an odd breed of noble failure.

Let me explain.



Structurally, I don’t think there’s much wrong with IM2. Mind you, I said there isn’t much wrong with the movie. There are still problems, and I’ll address those in a moment, but for the most part, I thought the parts and pieces of the movie fit together nicely. The execution, by contrast, was lacking.

So let’s talk about what worked. Surprisingly, I liked the size of the cast, and I liked the inclusion of all the new characters. The typical criticism levied at superhero sequels these days is that they pack in too many new characters – usually villains. IM2 had its share of new characters and new villains, and yet I felt like they all fit. It felt like a movie with a large cast, and Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux simply drew on characters from the Marvel universe to fill out their cast list.

I found the scenes with the Avengers deeply satisfying, because I enjoyed being able to look beyond the horizon of the movie and into a larger superhero universe.

But let’s pause a moment. Here’s a perfect example of how I liked the structure of the movie and not so much the execution. Structurally, I thought the Avengers scenes helped develop the larger storyline that runs through all of the new Avengers movies, but as far as the execution goes, I thought Scarlett Johansson, although very easy on the eyes, was miscast as Black Widow. I’m no expert on the character, but I might have cast an unknown, or at the very least, someone who was credibly frightening as an operative ­– Milla Jovovich, perhaps? When Johansson growled a threat onscreen, I was too busy staring in wonder at her beauty. Samuel L. Jackson I found less objectionable in the thankless role of Nick Fury. Maybe he’ll get to do more than deliver exposition in the eventual Avengers team-up movie.

A short scene after the credits hinted at the incursion of magic into this wing of the Marvel movie universe, and it rightfully drew a round of applause.

But let’s get back to structure and execution, specifically with the scene in Monaco – but not the central battle scene between Iron Man and Crimson Dynamo. (Side note: As far as I’m concerned, Mickey Rourke appeared as the CD, not Whiplash.) Nope, let’s look at the scene that preceded the big battle. Remember it? A whole scene played out in a restaurant, where we saw Tony, Pepper, Justin Hammer, that reporter Tony nailed in part 1, as well as a few other players. No kidding, the word “Altmanesque” sprang to mind as I watched this scene, which featured lots of overlapping dialogue and quirky character exposition. (I particularly liked Sam Rockwell as Hammer, although the filmmakers deviated from the character as written in the comics by playing him much younger and by emphasizing his inferiority complex.) Anyway, the scene in the restaurant underlined my reaction to this movie: They had great intentions.

The best part of the original Iron Man was the light, warm touch Jon Favreau had with his actors. Amidst a nutty summer comic-book movie, he delivered nuanced and quirky (there’s that word again) acting. I feel like he tried to deliver more of that same goodness in IM2, but a rushed production schedule short-circuited his efforts.

But I do appreciate the effort. The scene in the restaurant – and many others like it throughout the movie – almost worked, but something was missing. Maybe Favreau needed more time to craft a more polished production. Maybe the script did indeed have too many characters. But nonetheless, it didn’t quite work.

(Side note: The one pure jolt of joy I got was when Pepper and Happy (Favreau) raced to deliver the suitcase armor to Tony. It echoed some classic recurring business from the comics (usually assigned to Rhodes). But more than that, the suitcase armor in the movie was wildly inventive. In the comics, the suitcase armor looked like a Halloween costume that Stark crammed into a briefcase. It was ridiculous – how could Stark fit all that tech into so small a space? Happily, the filmmakers showed us how by deftly reimagining the device.)

On another note, I also felt like Don Cheadle was miscast. It wasn’t a huge deal, but he just wasn’t quite right. I’m making my way through some classic Iron Man titles now, and what I like about the Tony/Rhodey relationship is how Tony – a weird rich person – is best friends with a totally normal guy. Cheadle’s IMDb profile tells me he was trained at the California Institute for the Arts. Now, theatrical training doesn’t preclude anyone from being able to play a regular guy, but after seeing Cheadle, I actually kind of preferred Terence Howard – and that’s saying a lot, considering how Howard’s flat performance felt like he read all his lines off a TelePrompTer.