Marvel's Cine-CHAT-ic Universe: Iron Man 2 (2010)

Ali Gray,
Matt Looker,
Becky Suter,
Ed Williamson

12th November 2017

It's time for a brand new installment of the feature we can't believe no one else is doing: talking about Marvel movies! After kicking off with Iron Man and seriously questioning the format with The Incredible Hulk, we're officially into sequel territory with Iron Man 2, the first movie that knew it was part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or should we say... Cine-CHAT-ic Universe? No. No we shouldn't. We should use the correct terminology.

Ali: Yeah, motherfucking Iron Man 2! I remember being so pumped about this back in 2010, which literally seems like a hundred years ago, by the way. This was the first Marvel movie to be released once they'd locked in Iron Man as a success and could start executing their grand master plan all the way through until 2020. They used to laugh at Kevin Feige in the Marvel offices, because he was insanely ambitious, but also because he wore a stupid hat and they couldn't pronounce his surname. They're not laughing any more. But he still has the hat and the name thing.

Anyway, two things about Iron Man 2 really stuck out upon a rewatch: firstly, the main criticism of it at the time seemed to be 'It's just an advert for The Avengers' but that's really quite wide of the mark. There's hardly any world building in it, apart from a few necessary Nick Fury scenes, a joke about Cap's shield and a throwaway mention of Thor's hammer. Maybe five minutes total. It feels like this was an example of fans, journalists, bloggers and what have you following the popular narrative surrounding the release movie - we all knew this would be the first of many new Marvel movies to come, so that thought was in the back of our minds when we were watching it and we all projected it.

Becky:I think it’s hard to get the idea of The Avengers out of your head when it's what this is building to. Looking at the whole run of movies now I can only see Iron Man 2 as a springboard for the later movies. I can't help but feel Iron Man 2 could have been a lot better. Iron Man took everyone by surprise but this one feels a lot more serious and less fun. That said, it's interesting to see the franchise start to grapple with more complex themes.

Now including fire!

Ed: I mean it's all right, but it's mainly a load of old shit, isn't it? As a villain, Mikhail Rourkov never does anything at all to convince you there's a reason he's a threat. Like no one ever goes: "Shit, he's invented this thing with twice the firepower Tony's got! How's Iron Man going to handle it?" No, he's just another guy who invents big metal suits that fly and have ray-gun hands.

Becky: Is it a 'shit' film because we're looking at it in the context of the other movies now, or because it just doesn't work? I seem to recall it being well-received at the time, but when I rewatched it, I was SO bored. The first third is great, and then it just trails off into meh.

Ali: All the Mickey Rourke stuff is very bad. After the success of The Wrestler, which I loved, Rourke had this infinitesimally small window to capitalise on his new-found fame, and this was the only notable result. Now it's part of Marvel's cinematic history forever, just clogging up the timeline like hair in a drain. It is quite funny though to imagine Mickey Rourke literally physically squeezing through a window.

Becky: He’s really underused - that Grand Prix scene gives a real sense of danger and that Iron Man might actually be outmatched, but then the final battle is underwhelming. Love his hair, though.

Matt: The Monaco set-piece is really quite excellent, It really stands out in the whole of the MCU as a great action scene that has bags of personality. One of my favourite all-time moments in all the Marvel films is when Happy is trying to get the suitcase out of the back of the car as it's moving back and forth. It's just such a stupid slapstick moment to have at that point. I also remember thinking that the suitcase-suit (I guess a *literal* suit-case?) was really unfeasible but really well-designed enough to think that it COULD have worked? Now, of course, Tony Stark makes an entire robot armour appear from a watch or something. But at the time I thought that was pretty genius.

Ali: I would like to make a token point of how excellent Jon Favreau is as Happy Hogan across all three movies. This is a total throwaway role that Favreau gives proper definition and pathos. Obviously the Iron Man 3 prologue with Happy's Pulp Fiction hairdo is the character's series zenith, but he's still a great addition to the cast here. Making something out of nothing. Obviously I am highlighting this specifically because Jon Favreau and I are best friends.

My major problem with Mickey Rourke is that he's given nothing to do for vast swathes of the movie. Save for that Monaco set-piece, which I'll admit is quite entertaining - because Tony Stark deciding on a whim he wants to drive in a grand prix is perfect - Whiplash sits around on his arse for the entire movie, and the big grand plan that he comes up with is a huge army of shit robots that are all considerably visibly worse than Iron Man. Mickey Rourke doesn't even get to wrestle anyone! What was even the point of The Wrestler!

Rourke: "You've reached Mickey Rourke, I'll take the role."
Phone: "-been in an accident that wasn't your fault? At Claims D-"

Ed: I'd forgotten how horrible Tony's relationship with Pepper is: he gives her Stark Industries to run then still expects her to do all his emotional heavy lifting, and the fact he never apologises for anything or properly acknowledges it is supposed to be charming skittishness. But of course she loves him for it, because films. It's an extension of that relationship you always get in The Genius Movie, where the woman puts up with the man's shit because he's a genius and the stuff he's doing is important and he shouldn't have to bother with pointless distractions like social mores or paying her any attention.

Becky: Tony and Pepper's relationship is actually the only thing that I enjoyed. Yes, on paper it's awful but I liked their playful dynamic this time. Warning, I'm going to be THAT person again but now Pepper is CEO she's effectively his equal rather than his nursemaid, and given more to do, and their banter is probably the funniest part of the movie. Discuss.

Ali: You don't have to say 'discuss', that's already what we're doing.

Ed: Yes but I get the sense that she's now his professional equal only because he's finally "allowed" her to be, now he's bored running a company. She always was; it's just it suited him better before you have her on hand 24/7 to sort stuff out he couldn't be bothered with. She's still his nursemaid in that he still expects her to drop everything because he's rocked up at her office on a whim, which is a condition of this supposed autonomy he's granted her. Their banter is characteristic of that idea that sprung out of early noughties comedies: that having two people overlap each other's sentences in conversation signifies that They Have Chemistry. But yes, it's funny. The bit about his wanting to move the executive desk toy thing out of the way because it's distracting him made me laugh.

Matt: I always read it that Tony Stark made Pepper the CEO of his company when she was technically unqualified because he knew that she was capable of doing it (when even she didn't). So I never assumed that she was his professional equal in those terms before then. It's not like he allowed her the job finally when it was clear that's where she should have been all along; he gave her an opportunity that was never there for her before, so actually it's a moment that shows he acknowledges her expertise.

Ali: I knew we shouldn't have invited a GIRL to these discussions because all SHE wants to talk about is FEMINISM guuuh why can't guys just be guys am I right guys lol etc.

I admit I have never really given Pepper as much thought as has been displayed in this discussion so far, but all I know is that Gwyneth Paltrow is very entertaining in the role and I am not traditionally a huge Paltrow fan. I think her deadpan delivery is a pretty good foil for Tony's showboating, but maybe that humour has allowed me to overlook how Problematic-with-a-capital-P the character really is. She does bear the burden of all of Tony's macho horseshit, that's for sure, but at least she's not cast as the damsel in distress in this one. That's a pretty low benchmark, not needing to be rescued, but hey, it's 2010 everyone - it's not like things are going to get harder for women any time soon right, hahaha.

Becky: Well, I'M SORRY IF ME HAVING A VAGINA OFFENDS YOU. Maybe it's too much to expect the MCU to not only rewrite the playbook on how we think about comic book movies but also give us well-rounded, three-dimensional female characters. I like Tony and Pepper's schtick now because they're equals and their banter reminds me more of the Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn movies than early noughties films. Pepper has some balls now and Tony being a whiny man-baby isn't going to cut it anymore because she's got a company to run, dammit.

Matt: The problem is, Tony Stark is a dick and he's always supposed to be a dick - that's just written into the DNA of his character. So even if he promotes her and then gets needy and demands her attention when she's busy doing other things... that's an established character flaw with him, not something that the film is doing badly. The trick is to still get us to root for him and for them as a couple. And in that sense, we have to trust that Pepper sees something in him that he doesn't (and we don't yet). Arguably, that only comes to fruition in The Avengers.

Scarlett Johansson displaying perfectly normal human posture, here

Becky: Can we talk about Black Widow? It was such a breathe of fresh air not to have a character that Pepper felt she had to compete with and who was intriguing in her own right. Sexy secretary fantasies aside, Natasha also provides an important service when anything she does could have just been done by Jarvis or maybe even Coulson. Not sure about the skintight suit, but whatever - it was 2010.

Ali: The main thing I remember from Iron Man 2 is the scene with drunken Tony pissing in his suit and blasting watermelons. I remember thinking at the time it was hilarious and refreshing to see a superhero cut loose, but how-ever-many-movies later we've not exactly been starved of scenes of Tony Stark being louche and cool and I could have done with some more serious stuff. I don't need to see him puking his guts up or anything, but this is a movie that is quite free of the consequences of Tony's illness.

Matt: I think there are still a lot of issues with this film that extend beyond the terrible - TERRIBLE - anti-climactic showdown with Whiplash. For example, can we talk about how Stark invents a whole new element by pointing a laser at some metal?

Ali: If you needed an example of the Marvel Cinematic Universe playing fast and loose with the rules of science, that laser scene provides you with quite the middle finger. I mean, I guess by this point the Marvel movies were still fooling themselves they were pretty grounded, right? They didn't know then that a few movies later the MCU would be full of space raccoons and Jeff Goldblums.

Fun game: imagine if Iron Man starred Jeff Goldblum.

Ed: It's interesting how there's an essentially Conservative idea at the heart of the film: we're given Tony to side with, and he wants to keep his life-saving tech private while the government wants to bring it under state control. ("I just privatized world peace!") This is anti-the idea of The Avengers I suppose, though maybe that's to further the idea that Tony hasn't grown up yet and acknowledged the responsibility of superheroism. And it's generally anti-the standard Hollywood liberal undertones: the rogue billionaire is the good guy! Haven't seen Civil War for a year or so but I think this was the main conflict of that, too? Can't remember which side of the argument Tony was on in that. Uh, maybe edit this a bit. [Don't tell me what to do - Ali]

Ali: That's an interesting point, about Tony's role of eccentric billionaire egomaniac typically being the realm of the villain - in Civil War, he basically reverses his position and suggests that he and the Avengers should operate under government supervision. All of this is prompted by the alien invasion in the Avengers, and to the credit of the MCU writers, they have made that character development stick: not just in the explicit references to Tony's PTSD in Iron Man 3, but in subsequent films too where his moral barometer shifts more towards authoritarianism than vigilantism. Back in Iron Man 2 though it made sense he'd be anti-government, because he was essentially still a massive man-baby. Besides, he was right: it turns out all the members of the government worked for Hydra! It's not like anything that bad is going to happen to the real government any time soon right, hahaha.

Becky: It's been said before but Tony's character arc is by far the most interesting of all The Avengers, and in a way I wouldn't expect from from comic-book movies, but then I've not read many so I'm also surprised to learn they tackled alcoholism. Without wanting to go into a lengthy Matt-style essay, can we talk about how the film suffers from having too many threads to pull together? Learning more about Tony is fine, but then it mashes all the Avengers stuff in there...

Matt: Personally the "many threads" thing is what I admire most about these movies, particularly when it comes the Avengers ensembling all over the place. Just to recognise that this film is progressing the characters in their own ways, with an actually satisfying 'daddy issues' arc for Tony as well as his poisoning problem, in addition to establishing new ones, further setting up the idea of The Avengers, AND being an entertaining blockbuster with action and comedy and no less than two villains... I tend to forgive the flaws because I think that it does a remarkable job in more or less succeeding in each of those areas at once. And that balance should be seen as a massive accomplishment, even if it does end up with a shitty final fight as a result.

Ali: Not even Sam Rockwell's dancing can save this movie.

Matt: Is that enough now? Can we move on to Thor?

Good idea, Matt! More soon. Thor soon. Awesome. Thor-some. And some more jokes like that. Come back!

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