Hello True Believers, and welcome back to the Marvel Cinematic Rewatch!
Iron Man was a smash hit. It was praised both critically and commercially. Robert Downey Jr had become the toast of Hollywood between his portrayal of Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes.
So with the somewhat lackluster performance of The Incredible Hulk, it made sense for the next film in the fledgling Marvel Cinematic Universe to be Iron Man 2. It was like Avengers .5. It is a chance for the audience to see the interconnected story that Marvel Studios wanted to tell.
Even with all that good intentions, I find Iron Man 2 to be the hardest film for me to personally sit through. Due to the difficulty of the sit, it’s also probably going to either be the hardest or easiest film for me to talk about.
So let’s not waste time! Here’s Iron Man 2.
This week we are going to talk about the overstuffed movie, actor swapping, and a little bit about world building.
Let’s start with the overstuffed movie, shall we?
The Overstuffed Movie
An overstuffed movie is like taking on one of those challenges from Man v Food. Sure, it looks awesome but eventually you start getting the meat sweats and want the world to make sense again.
Basically when I say that a movie is “overstuffed”, I mean that there is just TOO MUCH. Sure you can eat a 72-ounce steak in an hour, but why you want to?
My favorite recent example of the overstuffed movie is The Amazing Spider-Man 2. You had three villains going at once. Harry Osborn barely got time to be developed. Paul Giamatti was in there for like a hot minute. Add to that you had Peter finding out something about his parents and his guilt over getting Gwen’s dad killed. There was just way too much going on. Also I think that bullied kid had an arc or something? It was just some much for our minds and eyes to eat. Fat needed to be trimmed to make it a more streamlined movie, but Sony wanted to set up their Sinister Six film. (Is that even happening anymore?)
Avengers: Age of Ultron also had just way too much going on as well. But I’ll get to that when I actually talk about that movie.
Iron Man 2 had to introduce or continue the following: two villains, Tony Stark’s daddy issues, War Machine, Tony possibly dying from the arc reactor, Tony and Pepper’s romance, SHIELD to a fuller extent, Natasha Romanoff, establish Coulson’s character a bit more, and little hints and connections to the future Marvel projects.
That’s all I picked up from my rewatch. I’m sure there’s more but my brain was just too full to find them.
One thing that I learned in screenwriting classes is that streamlining is a good thing. The difference between writing for TV versus writing for film is that you have multiple episodes to explore threads in television. Film, on the other hand, is about two to two and a half hours to get the story you want to tell out.
Any of the plot threads could have made a fine movie by themselves, and that’s what makes overstuffed movies frustrating. You could have had a film about Tony dying and facing his mortality, saving people even though using the suit was killing him, getting his affairs in order. You could have had him deal with Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko, facing his complicated relationship to his father.
You can’t just mash them all together and hope for the best though. It’s when you do that when the movie is not as good. Honestly, it’s only through the excellent performances of the cast and Jon Favreau’s direction that makes the movie more watchable then it would have been in lesser hands.
Speaking of the cast, let’s move on.
Now there is probably a term for when an actor is changed out of an established role and a new actor is put in that aforementioned role, but I call it actor swapping.
Now there are two big instances within the MCU of actor swapping: Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard and Mark Ruffalo replacing Edward Norton.
Iron Man 2 was the first established instance of the practice.
So it seems only fair to look at how Cheadle took over the role from Howard.
Now I should say that in both instances, I tend to prefer the replacement (Cheadle and Ruffalo) to the originals (Howard and Norton). Now it all depends on preference because I do genuinely like both Howard and Norton in other roles.
Cheadle’s interpretation of Rhodes is nuanced: not an enabler, dedicated to his duty, but truly cares about Tony. He calls Tony out on his bull and is generally a badass. He also has instances of dorky dad humor thrown in for funsies.
Honestly? Outside of the Black Widow bits, Rhodey’s moments are my favorites in the movie. I love how he has to walk the line between honoring his duty and being a good friend.
There are differences between Rhodey at work and Rhodey outside of work. I love the continual balancing act in this movie.
Now there were shades of this in Howard’s portrayal of the character, and I did enjoy his chemistry with Downey. In comparison to Cheadle’s performance, however, I just prefer Cheadle more. It’s pretty much a battle of liking two actors in a role, but picking the actor I liked the most.
Did I explain that right? I think I did.
A Little Bit Of World Building
What is world building?
World building is the term writers use to describe creating their fictional universe. We’ve all seen examples of this in every form of fictional media.
What makes the MCU so special is that it connects films that on their own are their individual franchise. Basically it’s taking the world building used in comics and applying it to film.
The results of this speak for itself. Everyone seems to be trying to have their own Marvel style franchise: DC/Warner Bros, Universal with their monsters, etc.
Now the degrees of success in regards to these universes have yet to be seen.
A sequel is about establishing more in regards to the world presented.
Iron Man 2 had two jobs in this regard. It had to build upon Tony Stark’s world and also build upon the MCU as a whole. All of the remaining films leading up to Avengers also did their own world building.
Iron Man 2 was the first sequel in the MCU, so it felt like it was happening double time in this film.
Now was the world building for the MCU as a whole in Iron Man 2 a bad thing?
No. It introduced us to Natasha Romanoff and established her character. Coulson was elevated from his first appearance in Iron Man. We saw more of what SHIELD, and Fury did as a whole leading up to Thor. There were mentions of an incident in New Mexico, and we clearly saw a nod to Captain America.
These things establish that yes this place is a cohesive whole, and that world building is awesome to see.
It just feels like they felt the need to add MORE Iron Man things to balance it out, and it really didn’t need to happen. A balance can exist between world building and telling an individual story.
And that’s all I got for Iron Man 2, folks.
Come back next week for Thor. We’re going to talk about the Prodigal Son story, the fish out of water, and the love subplot.
See you then!