Monday, January 22, 2018

Road To Infinity War: Ten Years of Marvel (Part Three- "Iron Man 2" 2010)

Road To Infinity War: Ten Years of Marvel

Part Three

Iron Man 2

After “The Incredible Hulk,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe went back to Malibu, California to take a look at what Iron Man was up to. Not that I can be that surprised. If it weren’t for “Iron Man” being such a success, this huge franchise would not have been built. Of course, he got a sequel so soon.

When “Iron Man 2” came out in theaters, it was the weekend right before the last week of school. I was in college, it was my sophomore year and my girlfriend and I needed a break from studying for finals. Not the same girl I took to see the first “Iron Man” though. Nope, that relationship withered away and I met someone better in college. The girl I met in college went on to be my wife and this summer, we will be beginning to raise our first child together. So yes, this girlfriend was incredibly important to me, still is to this day. I couldn’t believe we were mere days away from being done with sophomore year and only had two more years of college left before we’d be done for good. It was a crazy prospect to think about. We were happy, and all we needed was a great superhero movie to go along with our happy buzz at the time.

When I walked out the theater at the end of “Iron Man 2” I remember enjoying the movie very much. I told all my friends about it. When I got back to my hometown for summer, I went with all my closest high school friends to see the movie again. I remember the conversations I had in my last few days of sophomore year, as well as the conversations I had in the early summer. They all seemed to revolve around the same topics. As I got older, I remember just how big those conversations were and I really began to sort out my feelings. Even after re-watching the movie last night, I still feel the same way. I have felt this way every single time I watch “Iron Man 2.” The conversations I kept returning to every time the movie came up was all the extra tidbits dropped in the film. The “Easter Eggs” as they were to be called in the future. The Easter Eggs were hints of other movies and other characters, and how they set up future storylines. There were some in “Iron Man” and there were some in “The Incredible Hulk.” If you missed them in those first two movies, it wasn’t a very big deal since they didn’t impact the stories of those films at all.

I won’t say that the Easter Eggs in “Iron Man 2” really impact the film’s plot, but they are so miraculously distracting that they take up all the air in the room that is “Iron Man 2.” The film feels so dependent on the Easter Eggs that it feels like nothing else really exist. This movie highlights the major problem that the Marvel Cinematic Universe possesses. Every once in awhile, for the sake of their larger storytelling, we have movies in the MCU that both tell a story regarding the main character, as well as setting up future storylines and movies. The movies end up feeling more like commercials for what’s to come, instead of being movies that can stand on their own legs, instead of being movies that tell a story about the character in question. This is heavily prominent in “Iron Man 2,” and unfortunately, this is not the last time we will be discussing this when looking back at the MCU at large. This problem is so abundant that I do worry if Kevin Feige and Marvel and Disney and all these incredible casts and crews can pull off what they plan to pull off in 2019 that is both creatively and commercially satisfying.

All I could really talk about when regarding “Iron Man 2” was the Easter Eggs. I loved Colonel Rhodes transition into War Machine. I loved seeing Captain America’s shield. I loved seeing more Nick Fury. I loved the introduction of Black Widow. I loved meeting Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell and Ivan Vanko, played by Mickey Rourke. I loved it when Tony Stark is digging through a crate that belonged to his father and seeing a map of the artic in it, and I always harbored the suspicion that Marvel toyed with the idea of including The Savage Land in the MCU, and who knows maybe they still might. I loved that one of the race cars in Monaco has Roxxon written on it. I also loved finding out that Phil Coulson got whisked away to New Mexico because he found Thor’s hammer there! I love that when Stark meets Fury near the end of the movie, news reel footage from “The Incredible Hulk” is playing in the background. Then there is the hotspot map that we are going to have to discuss into a paragraph by itself. It’s all so interesting, and I know there are things I am still not thinking of at the moment that are packed into this sequel. The only thing is, none of those things really have to do with Stark or his journey in this movie. But they became the main takeaways for most people while leaving the theater. When I saw this movie with friends, all they could discuss was the extra stuff, and we didn’t really talk about Iron Man’s journey in this movie.

I think its telling that when people talk more about the Easter Eggs of the movie instead of the movie itself, that “Iron Man 2” kind of failed as a movie. This movie should have taken another step forward in the journey of Tony Stark, first and foremost and all the Easter Eggs should have been extra. The Easter Eggs were so overwhelming in this movie that it was hard to focus on anything else. It also didn’t really help that there wasn’t much of a story to tell. If you don’t focus on the setting up of other movies and characters, and if you just focus on Tony Stark and his supporting characters and his villains, nothing much happens. There is a struggle between Stark and the government for his suits. Stark makes Pepper Potts the CEO of Stark Industries. A shady rival of Stark wants him to look bad and hires someone who wants Stark dead to help him and Stark gets drunk at a party. To be completely honest, that’s “Iron Man 2” in a nutshell. Whether they meant to do this or not, the dependency of the Easter Eggs become the only thing the audience can really hold onto.

I even admit that the film coasts on its amazing cast. Robert Downey Jr is still incredible as Tony Stark. Gwenyth Paltrow is still amazing as Pepper Potts. I have to say that Don Cheadle is great as Rhodes and now I can’t picture anybody else in the role. Believe me, I tried, I wasn’t sold on Don Cheadle when he was cast in 2009, mainly because I didn’t think he really looked like a soldier. I missed Terrance Howard, even though I knew in my heart why he got shit-canned. But I believe Cheadle in the role, and I can’t imagine anybody else in the role. Originally, Emily Blunt was going to play Black Widow, but she had to drop out due to a scheduling conflict, so the role was given to Scarlet Johansson. Johansson has certainly made the character hers and I can’t imagine the role in anybody else hands at this point, but I do find myself wondering what Blunt would have done in the role, simply because I like her. I was hoping Marvel would go back to Blunt for Captain Marvel, which sadly didn’t happen. I hope they go back to her for something in the future. Sam Rockwell was great as Hammer, and I thought Mickey Rourke was equally great as Whiplash, even though he’s kind of a lame villain, Rourke did what he could with the material he was given. It’s a miracle that Rourke was in the movie too. You see, back in 2009, Marvel was kind of cheap. They had trouble offering salaries to the actors they wanted to hire, and the word on the street is that they offered Rourke $250,000 to play Whiplash, but apparently he wanted more. So, it wasn’t for sure he’d play Whiplash. I guess Downey Jr ended up talking Rourke into it. I don’t know how much of these stories are true.

Let’s talk about the hotspot map for a little bit. In one of the last scenes in the movie, Tony Stark is having a conversation with Nick Fury about Stark’s inclusion into The Avengers. There is a semi-humorous moment when Fury wants Iron Man for the team, but not Tony Stark and he invites Stark to be a consultant for The Avengers. In the background, while news footage of “The Incredible Hulk” plays out, there is a map of the world. There are S.H.I.E.L.D. symbols on specific spots on the map, which apparently signal hotspots of activity within the universe.

One spot is on a spot in Africa, and its pretty clear to me that there was always a plan for Black Panther to be included in the MCU and I am happy that in just a few short weeks, we’ll be able to see the first “Black Panther” movie. I’ll talk more about Chadwick Boseman in the future, but let’s say for now that I am excited. Another spot was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I think it’s safe to say that, at one point, Marvel was considering a Namor The Sub-Mariner movie. For those of you not familiar with the comics, Namor is the prince of Atlantis and has served as a hero, an anti-hero and villain at different points in the comics. Universal still has character rights to some of Marvel’s characters, which is why we haven’t had another solo Hulk movie yet, Namor is one of those characters. So, I don’t know if we’ll ever see Namor in the MCU, and with Aquaman being an inaugural part of the DCEU, we definitely might not. Another spot is on the island of Manhattan. Some people thought that this spot is highlighted due to the Hulk and Abomination fight at the end of “The Incredible Hulk,” but since the news footage in the background is from the university scene, doesn’t that mean that Hulk and Abomination haven’t fought in Harlem yet? Others say that it is the spot where Tony Stark and Rhodes fight Whiplash for the last time, I think that’s the best answer. There is another spot in what looks like Greenland, which I think signifies were Captain America crashed at the end of his movie. There is a spot in the Scandinavian region of Europe, and some of theorized that this is the village that Red Skull gets the Tesseract from in the first Captain America movie. There is a spot in New Mexico, which I think means Thor’s hammer. And the last one is located in Malibu, but why would S.H.I.E.L.D. have to keep such tabs on Tony’s house? Because of all of his suits?

The hotspot map was one of the biggest theory-making moments in the movies and it further highlights my point I am trying to make tonight. “Iron Man 2” generated more theories about what’s to come instead of getting the audience to focus on the story about Iron Man. Perhaps the movie shouldn’t have been called “Iron Man 2,” but maybe “What’s next for the Marvel Universe” but perhaps that’s not fair. There is enough Iron Man-centric stuff in this movie to not have to go to the extreme. There is a tender moment when Tony Stark finally learns that his father loved him more than he ever thought, a moment that makes a great highlight of acting by John Slattery. There are some funny moments with Phil Coulson. There is a moment between Tony Stark and a United States Senator named Stern, who is the guy who wants to Stark to hand over his suits for the United States Army to use, and I looking back on it now, that scene has more meaning than we realized at that point. We’ll talk more about this when I revisit “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” but its later revealed that Senator Stern was in league with HYDRA. Could Stern have been trying to get Stark’s suits under HYDRA control? I think its very possible.

It was a little shocking to me, rewatching the movie, how little action there is in this movie. I would say I liked the first “Iron Man” better than this because it was more fast-paced, more entertaining. There are slower moments in “Iron Man 2” and I think I could have appreciated those slower moments if they were filled with character development and depth, not an opportunity to include some fan lip service about another character. There is the moment on the Monaco race track, there is the duel between War Machine and Iron Man, and then the grand finale at the end. It feels like all of these action sequences are over before they really begin, and we don’t have time to really enjoy them for what they are.

I think the overt use of Easter Eggs didn’t become more prominent until 2015, when “Avengers: Age of Ultron” was released. That movie made me realize everything I had been accidentally holding up inside myself about “Iron Man 2.” We will definitely talk more about it when we revisit “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” In the near future. There are definitely moments I still enjoy from “Iron Man 2” and ultimately, it gave me thrill to rewatch it. I think that has to do with the idea that I hadn’t seen it in a while. To be honest, I am still amazed that with all the tension going on behind the curtain during the making of this movie, how they got anything on-screen is actually a minor miracle. But I believe “Iron Man 2” will be on a short list of MCU movies that I revisit the least for pleasure.

Next week, we take our first trip to Asgard, for "Thor!"

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