I’m falling way behind on this because it’s baseball season and the Mets are doing too well to watch movies! I have nine movies to watch and seven days until I see Avengers Infinity War. I guess I’m going to need to do a Marvel marathon over the weekend. However at this point in my rewatch, the Marvel Cinematic Formula is becoming strong now. We must persevere.
IRON MAN 2 (2010)
DID I FALL ASLEEP? Yes, for the last half hour. The fighting stuff. If you’re following along here, I’m very consistent. I fall asleep as soon as the CGI scenes start. I guess my brain starts rejecting them and I just nod out.
DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? AC/DC steps in for Black Sabbath, but the score itself is fairly humdrum.
WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: Iron Man 2 is perhaps the most reviled film in the MCU canon as the people who hate it, REALLY REALLY hate it. I remember enjoying it when it came out, but it also had a lot of problems.
This movie was written by Justin Theroux.
Whenever I hear the name Justin Theroux, all I can think of is Mulholland Drive, where he presented perhaps the most realistic portrayal ever of a Hollywood director type, someone who finds it impossible (and uncool) to show any emotion whatsoever no matter how many David Lynch things are happening around him. Theroux has a rather oddball screenwriting history that includes Tropic Thunder (good) and Zoolander 2 (not as good)…and Iron Man 2. Why? Nowadays MCU screenwriters are chosen for their allegiance to the canon but Theroux was and is a weird choice.
And maybe that’s where the troubles began. Iron Man 2 is a screwball comedy with Tony and Pepper squabbling constantly, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) talking to himself and Mickey Rourke chewing on a toothpick. Along the way we meet Natasha Romanoff for the first time, with Scarlett Johansson poured into work attire and high heels before busting out with some sharp moves in her Black Widow suit — and then going back to running errands for Pepper.
Iron Man 2 just has too many ideas going on. There’s an aborted attempt at the “Demon in a Bottle” storyline (apparently quashed by Disney), Tony acting like a jerk, Pepper taking over Stark Industries, and Hammer trying to get a defense contract by hiring Russian engineer genius Ivan Vanko (Rourke) who likes to kill time and enemies by lashing out with an electronic whip.
There’s also a TON of MCU exposition, from SHIELD’s relationship with Howard Stark, Tony’s father, to the Russian connection that will play out later, to the debut of War Machine, to the misdeeds of Senator Stern (Gary Shandling), more Iron Man suits and Agent Coulson getting a call to go to Nevada tying directly into Thor.
If the whole Tony/Cap/Bucky storyline is really the story of America from 9/11 to Donald Trump (aka Mark Millar’s Civil War) there’s plenty of fodder here, from the machinations of defense contractors to Tony’s gauche Stark Expo. In other words, it was probably a bit too much for Justin Theroux to handle.
For all that, Iron Man hardly does anything in this movie. While I was looking for stills to illustrate this I could barely find any of Iron Man in action. That’s not necessarily a problem, but it is odd.
All that said, RDJ and Gywneth Paltrow handle their banter with aplomb, Rockwell always enjoys being weird, and ScarJo begins her run as a Natasha who has as many roles as she does hair colors.
And then there’s Mickey Rourke. Many people detest his Whiplash but he’s still my favorite thing in this movie! The fight on the race track, with a half naked Drago in a skirt* cutting automobiles in half with his whips, is still one of my favorite action scenes from the MCU. Rourke’s mini renaissance, from Sin City to The Wrestler (a masterpiece) to The Expendables is an eccentric delight and every time he’s on the screen, peering from behind greasy highlighted (!?) hair and ridiculous sunglasses, talking to his cockatoo, he’s riveting. He’s not Marvel, but he’s riveting.
Apparently the bird and the gold teeth were Rourke’s idea. More proof this movie was out of control in many ways.
Jon Favreau returned to direct this movie, and it’s actually a lot more visually interesting than the more heavily controlled Feige efforts. Iron Man 2 isn’t a good movie, it’s just a LOT of movie…too much movie.
WOULD I REWATCH: Yeah probably, just to see the parts I missed when I fell asleep.
* I know it’s not a skirt, it just looks like one.
DID I FALL ASLEEP? Surprisingly, no.
DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? Patrick Doyle wrote the score, the favorite composer of director Kenneth Branagh and it’s okay but nothing to hum you out of the theater. However, I was shocked to discover that Thor had a closing song by The Foo Fighters that no one ever hums or plays.
By 2011, Marvel had been purchased by Disney, made Iron Man a household name, and had the Avengers set for 2012. All they had to do was somehow make us like Thor and Captain America. Although Thor came out before Captain America; The First Avenger, it had what seemed a much easier path. Pseudo Tolkienian science fantasy with a brawny blond Australian? What’s not to like?
Thor’s “Starman” plot is still too heavy into superheroics for my tastes. When this movie came out I reviewed it in a piece called The World of Thorcraft and I can’t find a word to disagree with. Thor is humbled by being exiled from Asgard and being unable to lift his hammer but his character redemption is limited to being pleasant at breakfast. Everything is so pat, there’s no real emotion.
A bigger problem is Loki. As I noted the first time I saw this, the whole “trickster” part of his character is left somewhere in the character notes. Up until he’s shocked by discovering he’s actually blue, Loki is just a dutiful son of Asgard, not the conniving troublemaker of myth and The Avengers. Maybe the filmmakers thought we wouldn’t accept an anti-hero as a villain? Or it would make his turning on family more powerful? Either way, thank god for Tom Hiddleston’s innate charisma, or Loki would be just another Abomination.
Looking back on this movie, Chris Hemsworth seems so young. Also he has blond eyebrows. Very few people look good with blond eyebrows, and Hemsworth is not one of them. Natalie Portman was very convincing as a scientist who can’t help but have a crush on the big Norse God moping around her trailer. And Kat Dennings’ Tracy is the kind of female supporting character the entire MCU could use a lot more of: funny and human. And Stellan Snarsgard keeps his pants on, always a plus.
As for Odin: well, have you ever heard of the Hopkins-Sleep? It’s when an Academy Award winning actor takes a job for the money and just breezes right through the role.
Other things: Thor’s Frost Giants and Game of Throne’s White Walkers are separated at birth! How has no one called this out before?
Despite the light hearted shenanigans going on, the MCU formula is very strong in this one. Branagh handles the human stuff fine, but it’s pretty obvious the action is all from the second unit. It’s totally generic. Thor tried to be the first Marvel movie with a sense of wonder, but it looks more like the stuff you’d fine at a dollar store.
Finally: I know I watched this out of order, but having seen Thor, Thor The Dark World and Thor Ragnarok it seems that any time there is a movie about Thor, he destroys more of Asgard! The guy is a total screw-up!
WOULD I REWATCH: I would totally put Thor on while I was doing paperwork. In fact I have done just that.
Next time: The most pivotal film in the MCU canon: Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.