Favreau Turns Iron Man 2 Into Gold

Iron Man 2In 2008, Iron Man was released to an audience that wasn’t very familiar with the character and with a lead actor that had a history of personal demons that never allowed him to achieve the success his talent deserved.  It turned out to be an explosive combination that raked in over $535 million worldwide.  By taking the risk of giving Downey Jr. the role of a lifetime in Tony Stark, Director Jon Favreau pulled off a an amazing success story for both the movie and for Downey Jr. personally. For me, Robert Downey Jr. is one of the greatest actors of his generation but his past issues seemed to constantly derail a career that should have been celebrated far more than it has been.  His past roles in movies such as Less Than Zero, Soapdish, Natural Born Killers, Wonder Boys, and especially Chaplin and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, showed his incredible range as both a dramatic and comedic actor.

Iron Man 2

His performance in Chaplin was so acclaimed that he was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor.  It seemed to me that when he didn’t win the Oscar for Chaplin, Downey Jr. seemed to go into a personal and professional freefall.  That freefall seemed to stop once he joined the Ally McBeal cast, but that ended badly too.  It wasn’t until 2003 with Gothika, (where he met his future wife and good influence Susan), that he seemed to be back on the comeback trail.  Kiss Kiss Bang Bang may not have been a huge commercial hit but his brilliant portrayal of sometime magician Harry Lockhart reminded the industry how good he could be if given the chance.  Even still, it was a tough sell for Favreau to convince the studios that Downey Jr. was the right man to play Tony Stark.  For Favreau though, it was a sure bet. “We didn’t want to just go with a safe choice.  The best and worst moments of Robert’s life have been in the public eye.  He had to find an inner balance to overcome obstacles that went far beyond his career.  That’s Tony Stark.  Robert brings a depth that goes beyond a comic-book character that is having trouble in high school, or can’t get the girl.  Plus, he’s simply one of the best actors around.”  [1]

Iron Man 2

For his part, Downey Jr. appreciated the support he received from Favreau and he intended to justify it.  “I’m more diligent than I used to be,” Downey says.  “I want[ed] to show Jon he was right to have faith in me.  Whatever questions might have arisen about my life weren’t issues with him.” [2] The combination of the two of them produced a loose improvisational style for the first Iron Man movie that brought a more naturalistic and playful approach that was a far cry from other superhero movies such as The Dark Knight.   While The Dark Knight was dark, operatic, and deadly serious, Iron Man was giddy and fun and the audience responded wildly to the fresh approach to the genre.  With the massive success of the first movie, it seemed a foregone conclusion that there would be a sequel especially when the first one ended with Tony Stark announcing that he was Iron Man.  Two years later and after taking a break to launch a new franchise with Sherlock Holmes and stealing the show as a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude, in Tropic Thunder, Robert Downey Jr. is back as the Invincible Iron Man.

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 begins six months after the first movie and the entire cast has returned with the exception of Terrence Howard as “Rhodey” Rhodes, which was fine with me as I thought he was the weakest link in the first movie.  Director Jon Favreau has returned as well, despite some early contract disagreements with Marvel that threatened the chances of his return.  We now find that Tony Stark has leveraged his already considerable reputation and popularity into new heights thanks to his one-man quest for peace. That crusade inevitably causes Stark problems both personally and professionally.  Tony Stark by all outward appearances has everything under control, but in reality his private struggles are beginning to overwhelm him.  Outside forces are conspiring against him, he is also dealing with his own self-destructive demons, all while fighting a senate committee for control of the Iron Man suit, which forces his best friend Rhodey (Don Cheadle) to walk a fine line between his friendship with Tony and his military duties.  Stark’s enemies include a jealous competitor named Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) who wants nothing more than to be Tony Stark, and there is also the vengeful figure from his father’s past named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke).  As if all that wasn’t enough, Tony also discovers that the palladium element in his arc reactor that has been keeping him alive is also poisoning him.  To survive, he must not only discover a new element that can generate the power he needs, but he also must make it work with his Iron Man suit.  There is also the potential for romance between Stark and Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow), if he could only stop keeping her at a distance through his actions and banter.  Stark’s seemingly irreverent attitude towards life is exposed to be a convenient front that hides his personal feelings that he feels he can’t share with anyone.  It turns out that Stark has always believed that his father did not love him and it’s not until he sees some old footage of his father does he finally understand his family history and the legacy he has inherited.

Iron Man 2

The film primarily focuses on the concept of family legacy and how one generation can pass down their successes and failures to the next.  In the 70’s Howard Stark and Anton Vanko teamed together to try to create a new energy source but their partnership fell apart due to their different objectives. Howard Stark had a dream of providing abundant energy for all while Anton Vanko was only interested in the technology solely for his own financial gain.  Their falling out led to Vanko’s descent into obscurity and poverty while Stark’s fortunes skyrocketed.  Just like their fathers before them, Tony Stark and Ivan Vanko are the flip sides of the same coin.  On one side of the coin is the celebration of ingenuity and the good fortune that comes with it and the other side being a cautionary tale of what can happen when you use that genius for selfish reasons.  As flippant as Tony Stark presents himself, he does want a peaceful world and is working hard to make it happen.  Ivan Vanko on the other hand, only wants Tony Stark to pay for the injustice he believes Howard Stark perpetuated against his father.  They will both use the same technology that was invented by their fathers to try to achieve their different goals.

Iron Man 2

Robert Downey Jr. is superb once again as the narcissistic and arrogant Tony Stark.  It is a testament to his acting ability that he keeps Stark likable and easy to root for despite the character’s many flaws.  I can’t think of another actor that could portray this role as well as Downey Jr.  It’s obvious that a lot of his own personality and humor has gone into the role with a lot of dialog improvised by him during filming.  It was the role he was born to play and it’s typecasting in the best sense of the word.  He is aided by a stellar cast who all do well in their respective roles.  Don Cheadle makes Rhodey true to the previous installment’s version but also makes it his own.  Other newcomers to the franchise include Mickey Rourke, who makes the most of his limited appearances and exudes menace.  He is a serious threat as he has Stark’s intelligence as well as the brawn.  Another new addition is Sam Rockwell who is great as the weaselly Tony Stark wannabe Justin Hammer who will do anything to beat Stark at his own game.  The beautiful Scarlet Johansson plays S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, the Black Widow (although she is never referred as such in the movie).  Past stalwarts from the first movie include Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark’s longtime aide who has to assume more responsibility this go around and Nick Fury as played by Samuel L. Jackson who does his best to help Stark be the man his father wanted him to be.  For continuity fans, Iron Man 2 takes place during the events of The Incredible Hulk as the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are sent to New Mexico to try to resolve that situation.  I love how Marvel is cross-pollinating each of their franchises.  There are several easter eggs that I won’t reveal that will definitely play a part in future productions such as Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and of course the ultimate team up movie: The Avengers.  The groundwork is being laid by each movie and Iron Man 2 does its part too.  I am really looking forward to seeing all of the characters join forces down the road.

Iron Man 2

Jon Favreau’s direction is more assured this time and the ambush of Stark on a Monaco racetrack is well staged and exciting as well as the final battle at the end.  There is a lot more action this time around but there is also a lot more time spent on the characters as well.  In fact, the middle of the movie slows down while Stark has to come to grip with his family legacy and his feelings about his father and the people in his life.  Rhodey and Pepper are both getting concerned about Stark’s irresponsibility with the Iron Man suit and doing what they can to help him, which causes some friction between all of them.  Some may complain that all of these interactions should have been edited more but I enjoyed seeing a big superhero movie take the time to examine what makes a hero but also the cost that comes with it.  For Stark, being Iron Man is literally killing him every time he uses the suit but he continues to do so because he believes in his cause.  Once he learns to let go of his negativity (which Vanko never does), Stark can see things from his father’s perspective, which changes everything for him.  The idea of accepting or cursing a family legacy and dealing with the fallout from that decision is an interesting one to be found in a summer popcorn movie.  Like The Dark Knight before it, this is a superhero movie that isn’t afraid to offer more than the usual formulaic hero beats the villain story.  All of the characters have their own flaws and they succeed or fail despite them.  Despite being worth millions of dollars, Tony Stark is still relatable because he is as human and as imperfect as the audience watching him.  That fact, along with Downey Jr.’s fantastic portrayal of Stark combines to make a winning combination that elevates the genre once again.

Iron Man 2

Bottom line, this is a great movie that expands on the first one and allows some character growth along with some great action scenes.  I highly recommend seeing it in on an actual IMAX screen while you still can!  Make sure you stay to watch the end credits so you don’t miss the scene that take place once the credits are over.

Tony Stark: Robert Downey Jr.
Pepper Potts: Gwyneth Paltrow
Lt. Col. “Rhodey” Rhodes: Don Cheadle
Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanoff: Scarlett Johansson
Justin Hammer: Sam Rockwell
Ivan Vanko: Mickey Rourke
Nick Fury: Samuel L. Jackson
Agent Coulson: Clark Gregg
Howard Stark: John Slattery
Senator Stern: Garry Shandling

Follow SeanPFerguson on Twitter

Buy advance tickets to Iron Man 2!

[1] Scott Bowles, USA TODAY 4/27/07

[2] Scott Bowles, USA TODAY 4/27/07


20 Responses to “Favreau Turns Iron Man 2 Into Gold”

  1. Gary

    Thank you for the indepth review and insights. I am looking forward to seeing this movie. Great Job!

  2. Jan

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but after reading your article, I’ll see it soon. You have a lot of knowledge that you share with your readers! I think your perspective on the film will help others to understand what the director and the actors hoped to achieve with the film. What will you review next?

  3. Brian White

    I don’t even know where to begin except to say WOW! You have once again exceeded my expectations! There’s a small population of people out there who don’t appreciate long or wordy reviews, but thankfully I am not one of them. I know how much time and effort goes into writing in-depth analysis and coverage like this, so I tip my hat off to you Sean. This review is fantastic. It is right up my alley. I LOVE and APPRECIATE the extra level of depth you have taken this movie review to. After reading this, there should be no doubt to whether or not our readers should see this film. Heck folks, what are you wasting your time reading my comments for? If you have not seen this one as of yet, then run, don’t walk, to your nearest theater now! I just have one quick question Sean. I had the chance to see this in IMAX, but I was warned beforehand. Isn’t this one of those fake IMAX presentations like Harry Potter last year was that so many people complained about? Just wondering. And as for Jan above…yes I am curious about your next post, but most importantly, I look forward to it! Thanks Sean!

  4. Iron Fan

    The Iron Man suitcase rocked! This movie definitely did not fail to deliver! Love Robert Downey Jr. too 🙂 Born to play the role!

  5. Gregg

    Great review, Sean. You provided a great deal of substance without giving away specifics. I have to disagree with you though on a few accounts, the first being Terrence Howard. While overall Cheadle is a better actor, Howard did a pretty good job in his role, that’s just my two cents though. I don’t know if he got greedy or what the exact issue was, but his departure from the franchise broke a little continuity. Nevertheless, War Machine was presented in a really kick ass manner (what other way is there to present him?) and if anyone was a good actor to pick up the role, it was Cheadle.

    The other matter is the action. Iron Man 2 definitely focuses a lot more on story and less on action. True, there is certainly more time spent on character development, but to do this, something had to be sacrificed because both films are about the same length. The action was toned down for the sequel but I was cool with that.

  6. Brian White

    @ Gregg – Really? I thought the action was more intense in this sequel. We actually had a villain this time around too! I agree with you on Howard, but my mind was somewhat preoccupied by Scarlett.

  7. Wael Khairy

    Well, you know how I felt about the movie 🙂

    I’m just curious, what happens after the credits roll? I missed that.

  8. Sean F

    Gary – Thank you! Go see it!

    Jan – Thank you for the comments! Part of why I write these reviews is to get people that aren’t usually excited about movies a reason to go see them. I love movies and if I like one I do my best to get people to see it. If my review made you decide to see Iron Man 2 right away then that’s all I can ask for. I’m glad that you enjoy the background info too. I don’t like simply writing recaps of movies. You’ve got to add a little spice too! :)I’m not sure what I will write about next but it will most likely be a commentary piece unless I get a Blu-ray to review.

    Brian – I’m glad you enjoyed this one too! You’re right, there are some people that don’t like long reviews or commentaries, but this is the only way I think I can do it. To answer your question about IMAX, no it wasn’t filmed in the IMAX format. It was converted afterwards and there is no 3D in it either. Despite all that, I still prefer to see my movies on the largest screen possible with great sound so that’s why I try to see any movie I can in an IMAX theater. And I’m not talking about those new digital IMAX theaters that aren’t 6 stories high either. In fact, one of these days that will be one of my commentary columns because that really annoys me that they call it IMAX and charge the same amount of money as the do for the big screen for a smaller screen. Shameful!

    Iron Fan – I loved the briefcase too! Did you notice that that suit was different than the others because it’s the portable version? It’s not as strong either but it still got the job done! 😉

    Gregg – I’m glad you liked it. The hardest part of writing a review for me is to talk about the movie without giving stuff away. I hate it when people, trailers, or reviews give it all away before you can even watch it. (Hey, another commentary idea)! I knew that some people would disagree with me about Terrence Howard and I didn’t say he did a bad job in the first one but I do think he was the weakest link out of the cast in the first one. This may be petty, but his voice really annoys me but I did think he had good moments in the first one (like on the plane and also in the deleted scene where he goes to save Stark). Howard was more of a rascal like Stark but Cheadle was far more believable as a military man torn between his duty to his country and also to his friend. Howard was more like a fraternity brother while Cheadle was like an older brother, if you get what I mean. I think Cheadle is a better actor and a better fit for the role. I heard that Marvel didn’t really want Howard and that he was asking too much money and kind of screwed himself out of a job. Did you know he made more money on the first one that any of the other cast, including Downey Jr.? Crazy! I guess he thought that would happen again. I also think there is more action in Iron Man 2 than in the first one and that there is a lot more character development as well. The first one other than him breaking out of the cave, killing those guys that were holding hostages, and the final fight with Stane, I can’t remember any other action in it. The second movie had that awesome scene in monaco, the fight between war machine and Iron Man, and of course the huge fight at the end. I’m willing to bet that there is a lot more screen time devoted to action in the second movie over the first but I could be wrong. I agree with you that I like continuity but sometimes it can’t be helped. I think most people preferred Maggie Gyllenhaal over Katie Holmes in The Dark Knight. Sometimes you just have to go with the right person. Thanks for your comments, as I enjoy reading them!

    Brian – I disagree with you on Howard (see above) but I do agree with you about Scarlett.

  9. Gregg

    Yes, for the action that was shown, it was more intense than that of the first film, but there was less overall action in this film.

  10. Gregg

    Let’s compare the action:

    IM beginning: Humvee ambush followed by creation scenes followed by Mark I escape.
    IM2 beginning:
    (IM wins)

    IM middle: terrorists in middle east & escaping the Raptors
    IM2 middle: short scuffle between the two suits & a brief throw-down on Formula 1 track
    (could go either way depending personal opinion)

    IM end: decent fight vs. Iron Monger
    IM2 end: Awesome free-for-all
    (IM2 wins)

    Sean, you bring up the perfect analogy of Cheadle and your comparisons couldn’t be more spot-on about Howard now that I think about it. You’ve changed me mind, lad! Cheadle is definitely the more mature of the two. I like the frat brother/older sibling example. Perfect!

  11. Brian White

    I’m torn…I loved the first IM but the film had no villain…but the second film….loved it too…but was it only me or was that final battle with whiplash in the mechanical suit the quickest villain takedown ever?

  12. Gregg

    No doubt! That was far too short. Wait, I’ve got one faster takedown; when Indy shot the scimitar-wielding bad guy in the Egyptian market. It’s the down fall of lightsaber whips. You’ve got them tangled up. Now what?

  13. Gerard Iribe

    Saw it last night, and it was pretty entertaining. I don’t necessarily think it’s a better sequel. I do think that certain parts dragged, mainly in the middle, but it doesn’t mean I was bored. It just meant that it dragged a bit. Now is just me or did the intro *possible spoilers* to the drones & War Machine remind anyone of Robocop 2? Not just that scene but there was an earlier scene where North Korea and Iran were also building their own version and they would malfunction. Man, I know the writers were watching some Robocop 2, no doubt.

    I thought Mickey Rourke was cool, but do agree he was taken out too fast in the end.

    Did anyone stay until after the credits? What say you?

  14. Brian White

    Oh yeah! I always stay after for the credits just like in Leslie Vernon last night 🙂 The beginning (intro) was a little weak for me, but I was just thrilled one have a villain in this one!

  15. Sean F

    Gregg – Using your breakdown here is my score: beginning Iron Man 1 wins, middle Iron Man 2 wins, ending Iron Man 2 wins hands down. Total Iron Man 2 gets 2 votes vs. Iron Man 1 that gets 1 vote so I stand by my opinion that Iron Man 2 has more action than the first! I’m glad you liked my examples of the differences between Howard and Cheadle. Even if you take Howard out of the equation, I still think the Rhodey portrayed by Cheadle is the more accurate and appropriate version of the character. By the way, I loved your shout out for Indy as the fastest takedown. Let’s not forget Vader’s policy of quick promotions either!

    Brian – I disagree with you that there was no villian in the fist Iron Man. Not only were the ten rings errorist groups involved peripherally, but Stane was a villian if you go by his methods and goals. You could argue that he wasn’t as good a villian as say Mola Ram or Darth Vader but he was a villian nonetheless. I do think Whiplash was a good villian and I was sad to see him get taken out so quickly but he never really had a chance against two iron men. Let’s hope in future installments, the final battle lasts longer.

    Gerard – While watching the movie, I remember thinking that it made sense that everyone else was trying to make their own Iron Man suit but I didn’t think of RoboCop 2 although I could see why you would. I did stay for the after credits scene and I was expecting more but really all it is is a teaser for the future and it did that. I liked the previous after credit scenes better in Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. They had some substance to them and were more than just a teaser.

  16. Sean F

    Wael – I am so sorry that I missed your comment when I did my big response post! I sent you a direct message through twitter so I don’t spoil the ending with other people. When you told me you commented on the article I thought you were talking about twitter since I missed it on here. Please accept my apologies!

  17. Jan

    I saw the film tonight and thought it was great! I agree with you that it would not be the same without Robert Downey, Jr. He was very good in displaying a variety of moods and his flippant “I can do what I want” attitude is one of his best. He was funny and yet endearing. I stayed for the end, after the credits, but I’m afraid I didn’t understand what it meant. (I understood the teaser in the first film about Iron Man and the Hulk, but this time, I didn’t get it. I guess I’m not familiar with all of the Marvel characters – I’ll have to watch IM2 again!) Thanks for the excellent review that sent me to the film. Great job!

  18. Sean F

    Jan – I’m glad that you not only went to see the movie but that you really liked it too! We won’t see anymore Iron Man until the Avengers unless he has a cameo in Thor. I’ll send you a direct message about the end credit scene so I don’t ruin it for other people that haven’t seen the movie yet.

  19. Matthew

    I was totally thinking of Robocop 2 in the courtroom scene when they showed the videos of the failed attempts at copying Iron Man, especially the gruesome one where the guy accidentally turned 180 degrees and screamed as he snapped his own spine. That part, in particular, I wish had been left out of the film. It reminded me of the harsh, amoral, desensitized reality presented in Robocop where machines and profit are placed higher than human dignity.

  20. Sean Ferguson

    I can see what you mean and I think they were going for dark humor but perhaps went too far as you said. I think Robocop 1 was a lot more desensitized and harsh than the 2nd one. I actually liked the second one better since it wasn’t as hardcore violent as the first one.