A Real Man Doesn't Like Quiche
by ALEX CARNEVALE
Iron Man 2
dir. Jon Favreau
My least favorite part of Swingers has always been the ending. The perennially pathetic Mike (Jon Favreau) stumbles through a pseudo-documentary about Los Angeles that does the disservice of reminding us that Vince Vaughn was once under three hundred pounds, and he ends up with Heather Graham before she turned into Jessica from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
At the time, it was thought unbelievable that the squash-shaped Favreau could nab such a creature. Now he's the director of a $200 million dollar motion picture event and Graham is doing theatrical reenactments of the best part of Boogie Nights and her scene from The Hangover at a bar in Missoula, Montana.
It was obvious from Swingers that Favreau prized a happy ending over all else; his numerous clichéd homages to his favorite films - Goodfellas, Reservoir Dogs - were desperate attempts to be loved, to satisfy the audience in the same way those films satisfied him. In Iron Man 2, Favreau delivers his ultimate crowd-pleasing movie, a collection of lively big-budget action sequences and meta-jokes that reminds me of so many things, it reminds me of nothing in particular.
It was also clear from Swingers that Favreau loves pastiche and collage even more than Francis Bacon. If he didn't, he wouldn't have had to fill Swingers with ad-libs, references, and catchphrases galore. The unloved are always seeking it, and Favreau's desperate "character" left so many messages on that young lady's answering machine, one had to get returned.
Iron Man 2 is an even more winsome plea for crowd-pleasing love; the movie winks at its audience so often it develops a twitch. There has never been a film with less of a story that was so incredibly captivating for no real reason outside of the expense spared to put it together. Yet the film wouldn't work at all without the only two talented actors cast in Iron Man 2: those being Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, and Mickey Rourke as the devilish Whiplash.
It's not really surprising that Rourke reportedly had no idea what the movie was about, because he probably wouldn't have tried half as hard if he did know. Like the vast majority of actors cast today, he is there mostly because of reasons other than that he was good for the role. Rourke makes the best of it by stealing every scene he's in, including a jaw-dropping sequence on a Monaco racetrack. His Russian accent is almost unintelligible, and he gets more laughs out of a toothpick and a cockatoo than Sam Rockwell does from the entire character of Stark's other rival, weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer.
Sam Rockwell was almost cast by Favreau as Iron Man the first time around, and thank god Downey Jr. got sufficiently sober for the part. It is high time Sam Rockwell fell from grace, since his "acting" consists of two modes, neither of which is particularly entertaining after you've experienced it for more than thirty seconds. There is the Sam Rockwell who ruined Moon by overacting so badly that Nicolas Cage claimed a copyright violation. Then there is the Zaphod Beeblebrox-Sam Rockwell who is super-hyped up all the time and clearly internalized too much of Tom Cruise's performance in Magnolia.
This is an ideal transition, because the only person with less respect for women than Favreau is Justin Theroux, screenwriter of Iron Man 2. Gifted with the legendary Marvel character of the Black Widow, these two geniuses cast Scarlett Johansson, whose idea of acting is narrowing her eyes, pouting and delivering everything in a husky monotone. After every single thing she does in the film, Scarlett spins, poses and stares straight into the lens. Also, the only move she really has involves her simply wrapping her legs around her opponent's head and spinning them to the ground in a hurancanrana, which is only a valid offensive move in lucha libre. Considering every other act of violence in the film is an energy weapon, it's amazing she survives until the end.
I was never much of an actor, although I did once play the only Russian character in a vaguely anti-Semitic high school production of Fiddler on the Roof. Yet even I know that it's bad policy to stare at the camera like it's a piece of bacon in every scene, as Scarlett does here. We can only assume that Favreau was so entranced by the dailies that his note to Scarlett was "more pouty, more widow." Despite this, Scarlett mainly gets a pass because she is so overshadowed by the meta-disaster that is the presence of Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony's assistant Pepper Potts. Haven't you read my review of Two Lovers? Are you aware that it's tongue-in-cheek?
Now that Gwyneth has survived Chris Martin cheating on her and writing songs for his ex with all the dignity you would expect given that she hasn't blogged about it, her weirdly boisterous romance with Tony Stark takes center stage here. She has two kids under the age of 6 (named Apple and Moses, just like in the Bible) and a husband who's completely unaware of how little talent he has, I feel nothing but compassion for Gwyneth. I feel even worse that the most likely Black Widow storyline for the next sequel involves her capping Pepper Potts in the face, albeit after wrapping her legs around Pepper's blonde head in what is sure to become a YouTube sensation.
The film's two African-American characters are similarly caught up in the hex of their previous performances. I didn't realize Nick Fury was Vincent Vega's partner until the moment he started using the exact same vocal mannerisms as a gag. Then again, I never really got the point of Nick Fury; did Captain America really need an invalid ordering him around?
Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as War Machine, and he's apparently the dumbest living member of the American military, a crack organization that gets regularly thrown under the bus here. In just under two hours it is victimized by weapons manufacturers, career criminals, and its own personnel, not to mention both Larry Sanders and Roger Sterling. Cheadle doesn't get a punchline in the whole movie, so he must have told Justin Theroux that he didn't understand a single second of Mulholland Drive.
It's distracting that we even have to think about all these things that really have nothing to do with Iron Man 2, but the whole movie is pretty much a joke on the comic (which let's face it was no great shakes to begin with) and on the people Favreau casts to play these not-particularly-deep characters. When I go back and look at Swingers now, it's home video of two people who went onto drastically different careers. The only common element is the size of their underwear. Watching the director of Iron Man 2 playing golf with the guy who dumped Carrie Bradshaw via post-it note ("I'm sorry, I can't, don't hate me") lends a whole new meaning to the original proceedings, one that was never really intended.
In Iron Man 2, the references are all intentional. There's even jabs at Scarlett and Gwyneth for fighting on set. It's all in there, each part of the process, in the film's sixty-seven subplots. Even now, Favreau's still the guy on the answering machine who includes every detail, anything that might be relevant. Like Swingers, Iron Man 2 is propelled by the steam of its star, who carries off Stark's sweet narcissism better than Vince Vaughn ever did. He's a chatterbox who can't control anything he says, and since he's a billionaire, he lets it all fly no matter the effect on the people around him. Favreau is out to prove that if you keep talking, or in this case, if you keep blowing something up, eventually something you say will have to be entertaining.
"We Can't Be Stopped" - Ratatat (mp3)
"Neckbrace" - Ratatat (mp3)
"Drugs" - Ratatat (mp3)