Countdown to Age of Ultron: Iron Man 2 Revisited

Sometimes a great work of art has an intentional flaw so you know it was was made by a human being. Let’s pretend that’s what Marvel Studios was going for with Iron Man 2. A chink in the armor, as it were.

Let’s get this over with!

RG: It’s spring, 2010. I had very recently become a mother and was excited about a night out at the movies. We open on Moscow and I am buzzing with excitement over this new Iron Man movie that is definitely going to be FANTASTIC.

Like The Incredible Hulk, I have only seen Iron Man 2 once. It's the only one I've been dreading re-watching. And now that I have…

Those brief opening minutes when I thought this movie would be good.

Those brief opening minutes when I thought this movie would be good.

RG: I actually like the Stark Expo. It's completely ridiculous but it's very Tony. They should have just filmed it at ComicCon. I also like John Slattery as Howard Stark, even though nothing he does in this movie makes sense. And he looks nothing like Dominic Cooper.

Tony Stark looks ten years older in this movie. Gwyenth Paltrow looks fantastic. Rhodes looks better, too.

I reacted to Garry Shandling's appearance in this movie the same way I reacted when he showed up in The Winter Soldier: spit take. I always forget he's in these movies.

DH: He looks weird in this but not nearly as weird as he does in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where he seems to be auditioning for a Henry Kissinger biopic. I can’t tell if he had too much Botox injected into his face, or if he’s just aging strangely, but he looks hideous!

RG: I also forgot that Sam Rockwell is in this movie.

DH: The way Rockwell is used here is very similar to the way Topher Grace is used as Eddie Brock in Spider-Man 3--he’s not very close to his comic book counterpart, but instead is basically a smarmy doppelganger of our hero. A good villain provides contrast with the hero, but having a villain who’s only slightly more of an ass than the hero isn’t very interesting to watch.

RG: Yes, that is exactly right. And, actually, everyone in this movie talks like Tony Stark. Justin Hammer is Tony Stark. James Rhodes is Tony Stark. Black Widow is Tony Stark. It's the worst.

The first one changed everything for me and with the second ‘Iron Man’ there were certain aspects that were dissatisfying and disappointing to me but at least they lit me right.
— Robert Downey Jr., Los Angeles Times, 2011
Here we knew that people were going to show up. We just wanted to make sure that everyone who showed up had a good time and that this was going to be fun or more fun than the last party. So it’s a different kind of pressure.
— Jon Favreau, Iron Man 2 Press Conference, 2010

DH: The movie seems to start out from a very odd notion that, somehow, by building a robot suit, Tony Stark seems to have brought about world peace. Every TV news talking head in this movie is always going on about how he protects everyone, and when he’s at the Senate subcommittee hearing Tony is boasting about how he’s responsible for the longest period of uninterrupted peace in years or something. Then later, when things aren’t going so well for Tony, everyone is all like “How will Iron Man protect us?” The script is kind of childishly simple in that respect. One guy in a battle suit = total world peace within two years, a peace that is also completely dependent on the reliability of that one guy. What?

RG: It's beyond dumb.

Will be performing his Mindfreak magic act all month in Vegas.

Will be performing his Mindfreak magic act all month in Vegas.

RG: Whiplash is a terrible choice for a villain, and Mickey Rourke is a terrible choice to play him. And it looks like he refused wardrobe and just wore his own clothes. He also got really involved in choosing the tattoos for his character, and apparently paid for the bird and the gold teeth with his own money. What is with Marvel's obsession with getting very difficult to work with Oscar nominees in these films? It never works, guys! It's like the ice cream machine on Chopped!

DH: I have no idea what that means.

RG: Every time Mickey Rourke is on the screen my brain screams WHO CARES?! Look, he's a perfectly good actor when he wants to be and he really does try hard with this stupid, stupid character, but still...

Question: ‘Can you talk about how much fun it was to play this character, Mickey?’
Rourke: ‘I had a lot of fun.’
— Iron Man 2 Press Conference, 2010

RG: Ok, so let's talk about Black Widow, because this is where she is introduced. Don't remember that? It's completely forgettable. Why was she in the boxing ring with Happy? I mean, seriously, why? And why would she kick his ass? Isn't she supposed to be undercover?

I'm trying to enjoy her more in this movie than I did the first time because now I know where her character ends up. I mean, she is seriously so great in The Avengers and in Winter Soldier. Thank God. I was so depressed after I saw this movie the first time.

I'm so glad they fix her hair in the next movie.

I'm so glad they fix her hair in the next movie.


Seriously save it for a movie that doesn't have a guy with a FLYING ROBOT SUIT. Happy driving a car the wrong way on a race track: that is some intense super hero action.

The Iron Man briefcase: cool or ridiculous? Dave?

DH: I’m gonna go with cool. I wish we’d gotten to see more of that red and silver suit, too. Pretty sharp.

"This is my travel-size suit."

"This is my travel-size suit."

RG: Drunk Tony Stark in Iron Man costume DJing: hilarious or horrible? I honestly can't decide.

DH: I kind of snickered and then immediately rolled my eyes. It’s a pretty cheap gag.

RG: THE ORIGIN STORY OF WAR MACHINE: Rhodes puts on a suit to stop drunk Tony from skeet shooting champagne bottles!!! This movie is terrible!!!

I will say this: nothing makes me laugh like an Iron Man suit emoting. Whether it's in these movies or in the comics. Always funny.

I don't wanna wait for our liiiiiiiiiives to be over...

I don't wanna wait for our liiiiiiiiiives to be over...

Also funny: the scene in the donut shop with Fury where Tony is still wearing the suit. It's also the reveal of Black Widow, which I remembered being much later in the movie, so yay!

Can you imagine sitting while wearing that suit? That must feel so weird.

Can you imagine sitting while wearing that suit? That must feel so weird.

DH: Her presence in this movie is badly handled, but I love Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. I mean, I know she’s not really kicking those guys’ asses, but for me it’s like Christopher Reeve as Superman: I know he’s not really flying, but he sells it with his performance. He makes you believe it. And she makes you believe she can beat the everloving bejesus about of anyone in the room.

At the end of the day you’ve got some nerd with a pocketful of money calling the shots. You know, Favreau didn’t call the shots. I wish he would have.
— Mickey Rourke, Crave Online, 2011
Bathroom break!

Bathroom break!

RG: I don't like how GUNS! GUNS! GUNS! GUNS! this movie is. It's exactly what I feared these movies would be and it's exactly what they don't do in the excellent movies that come after this one. As I am watching this I am thinking about how great Captain America: The First Avenger is and tears are streaming down my face.

I actually think the climax scene at the Hammer Expo with all the drones and Rhodes being controlled by Venko is pretty good. Not amazing, but a decent Iron Man action scene. Black Widow's action scene at the end is also pretty rad.

DH: It all looks cool and everything, but as I was watching it this time, I found myself asking “What is anyone even trying to accomplish in this scene?” Like, everything’s going fine at the Expo, but then Tony shows up and says “These people are all in danger”, and then Vanko activates the Hammeroids (gotta admit, that one is pretty funny) and all hell breaks loose. What exactly would have happened if Tony hadn’t shown up? What exactly was the plan here?

Don't let this image fool you. This movie is not good.

Don't let this image fool you. This movie is not good.

RG: I do love the botanical garden setting where Tony and Rhodes' fight ends. One of my favourite things about superhero movies is when they place the characters in costume in ridiculous settings.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

But then Whiplash shows up in a stupid robot suit with electrowhips, and Rhodes is not kidding when he says "This isn't going to be good." It is not good at all.

DH: One of the biggest problems with this movie is that it’s a superhero movie with only two (maybe three, if you count the fight between Tony and Rhodey at the party) action scenes--the fight in Monaco, and the fight at the end. Why would you want to watch, or make, a superhero movie with almost no action in it? It’s like when people tell me they like The Ultimates because it’s what superheroes would really be like if they existed. Do people want to read superhero comic books for gritty realism? I read ‘em to ESCAPE gritty realism! And I don’t watch superhero movies to see people arguing about parrots or strawberry allergies or trying to make imaginary elements or whatever! I’ve already compared this movie to Spider-Man 3 (which, for the record again, you and I enjoyed), and it’s also similar to most of the Batman sequels in that it has more than one villain who separately bedevil our hero, then join forces to try and destroy them. But unlike Iron Man 2, those movies have action scenes peppered throughout them. This movie is just tedious.

Oh yeah, and that whole subplot about Tony’s heart slowly killing him is complete nonsense. Howard Stark hid a puzzle inside the Stark Expo, which you can only see using holographic technology that wouldn’t have existed at that point, knowing that his son would have one day built a robot suit and then needed a new artificial heart because the old one was killing him? Is that what happened? I honestly have no idea.

I know, Tony. I know. It's stupid.

I know, Tony. I know. It's stupid.

RG: YES! Oh my GOD that subplot was weak. It's just so low stakes, too. Tony's thingamajig is killing him. Ok, so he'll build a better one. It's just not interesting.

DH: “Well, son, you had a circle and now it’s killing you, so what you REALLY need is a triangle.”

RG: Speaking of not interesting, who doesn't have a custom robot suit in this movie? Almost no one.

So many people are dying all over the city right now.

So many people are dying all over the city right now.

RG: Rhodes providing commentary on Tony and Pepper's kiss is so weird but pretty funny. I do love Don Cheadle. Rhodes probably should have been saving people from those exploding robots, though, instead of lounging on a rooftop watching his friends make out. Again, very little superheroing in this movie.

The Thor tease at the end of the credits is the best part of this movie.

Finally! Something cool!

Finally! Something cool!

Alright! It’s over! I never have to watch that movie again until they produce the very last Marvel movie and Dave and I inevitably watch all seventy of them from the beginning.

We move on now to Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers, which means I will be in a state of constant arousal for several days!

The Unfunnies: Robbie the Robot

Whenever I feel less than satisfied with my job, I just look at this cartoon.

Because, hey, at least I get to sleep and/or eat in the course of a regular day. 

Of course I can always feel a bit dissatisfied that I don't have a sweet gig like that robot, but one must look at the bright side.

- from Strange Adventures No. 7

Henchmen Fashion File: Kobra v. Solaris

It's a special double-shot of henchmen antics, thanks to the fact that that wacky cult-leader Kobra had his own series way back in the day and spent issues 2 and 3 attacking another super-villain  - not exactly a rare situation, but not one that happens every day. 

The Villains: 

Kobra: Just to keep things simple, I'm only going to refer to Kobra as he appears in the seven issues of his series, and not the 30-plus years of history that followed.


As you can see, Kobra is kind of a dick. This probably comes of having been raised as the leader/messiah of an Indian snake cult, who stole him from the hospital at birth. Thanks to their fanatical devotion, he made a few pretty good runs at taking over the world, and his early enemies included his own brother Aaron, PI Johnny Double and the Demon's pal Randu Singh. He also called people "witling" a lot.

Solaris, AKA Clifton Lacey, was a NASA scientist who specialized in solar radiation and really enjoyed his job, to the extent that when he was fired he, well, became a super-villain. 

Looking at the technology that Lacey came up with as he sought revenge, I have to think that maybe NASA wasn't thinking so clearly when they fired the guy. If only they'd kept him happy, he might have tricked out the space shuttle for them, and I know that I would have been a little more interested in becoming an astronaut if there was the possibility of getting to fire a death ray. Sure, the guy acts a bit crazy, but that's just passion!

Oh no wait. He's completely crazy.

The context of the Kobra/Solaris scrap, by the way, is that Kobra wants to steal Solaris' Heliotron, seen above, cradled tenderly in his arms. As with many of Kobra's plans, the sole purpose of this is to help him kill his own brother, because Kobra is also crazy.

The Henchmen:

Hey look, it's both sets of henchmen in a single image:

Though outwardly they might look similar - groups of identically-dressed men with below-average self-esteem and a gift for following orders - but they actually represent two distinct types of henchman. Solaris' guys (let's call them the Sunnys) are basically the same goons that DC villains have always hired, only wearing form-fitting leotards instead of suits and ties. witness a typical interaction between a typical Sunny and his boss:

Note the fact that this is a normal human conversation - Solaris doesn't call the guy "witling" or "imbecile" even once. It's just a guy and his boss, fleeing their secret HQ in a super-sweet rocket.

By contrast, the Kobra Cultists are evil religious fanatics - they probably don't even get paid for what they do, which frequently involves their grisly deaths anyway. They die in enormous quantities, and often by Kobra's own hand, which suggests that they either have a fantastic recruitment campaign or that their ranks are composed of roughly the stupidest people on the planet. I mean, would you join an organization in which this was the penalty for failing to find a small bracelet on a ruined bridge?

Attractiveness of Costume:

This is actually kind of tough, since both groups are essentially just wearing a palette-swapped version of their boss' costume - in the case of the Sunnys, the first of their boss' two costumes, seen above. Neither of them have the most terrific colour scheme at that, though red and yellow is astonishingly better than green and orange.

It all comes down to flair, really, and the Sunnys have very little. They do have those awesome holsters with the button-down flap that I love so well, but that just can't compete with the visual appeal of seeing snake men in togas running around with swords.


Utility of Costumes:

It's clear from a glance that the Sunnys' costumes offer little-to-no protection. Why, just look at what happens when Kobra hits some of them with one of his patented venom-blasts:

Of course, the same could be said for the Cultists' duds:

That Kobra. An equal-opportunity venom-blaster to the core.

In the absence of protective benefits, I'm going to have to judge this based on the gadgets that the rank-and-file of each organization are given to slaughter each other with. You've already seen the Cultists' flying sabres, but since those didn't actually kill anyone I'm going to discount them - a non-flying sabre is ultimately going to be more useful than a flying one that doesn't work. So what else do they have?

Well, both groups have flying skateboards and laser guns, so it's still tied up. No, wait...

Laser blowgun for the win!


Budget for Costumes:

I'm tempted to give this to Solaris, since he obviously takes his guys to the same tailor that he goes to, but even though that might technically cost more money I am more impressed with what I have to assume is Kobra's method of clothing his followers. Based on what I know and can guess about the guy, Kobra has to have a whole branch of his organization devoted solely to making uniforms out of real cobras.


Chance for a Bonus Point - Does the Villain have a Lieutenant With a Marginally Cooler Costume and Maybe a Name?

Not really, but they do both have robots:

Kobra's is named Servitor, and he found it in a meteor, but I just can't help liking Solaris' Robot Defender a bit better:

There's just something about the way that it looks like Solaris put it together out of spare parts on the weekend that endears it t me. It would totally win the bonus point,


... except that Kobra defeats it with a robot snake that flies out of his toga, and that is manifestly more cool.


Sorry Solaris, but you lose. Better luck next time.

May I present the winner of the first-ever Henchman Fashion Files Fashion-off:


 Kobra, the man without irony!

Lazy Picture Quiz Saturday

I spent an hour or so chipping ice off of a sidewalk yesterday, and as a consequence my fingers aren't working quite as well as they usually do. Also, the rest of my arms. Here, instead, is my one-panel picture quiz, featuring Superboy's robot pal Percy from Superboy No 9:

As for the quiz part: just who does that robot eerily resemble?

Last chance to enter the Micro Contest! Next week: the winners!

Good Comic, Bad Movie: Surrogates Early DVD Review


Films about robots usually fall into two categories. The first is a thoughtful exploration of artificial intelligence and what it means to be human, with a healthy dose of technology run amok (Blade Runner, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence). The second offers yet another excuse for Hollywood to blow stuff up real good, with plenty of opportunities for robotically-assisted, consequence-free violence (Alex Proyas’ I, Robot, Transformers). Occasionally, as with the better Terminator films and the first RoboCop, both categories can be covered at the same time, but this is rare. The 2009 Bruce Willis vehicle Surrogates has a premise that could have easily lent itself to an interesting exploration of some of these ideas (as did the 2005 Top Shelf miniseries that inspired it), but is far more concerned with guns, chases, and property damage.

The Surrogates comic series, by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele, told of a future where nearly all humans live their lives through robot duplicates that they control from their homes. These surrogates, or “surries”, represent their idealized body image, and have revolutionized everything from police work to the dating scene. However, a mysterious assailant has begun destroying people’s surrogates with a strange electrical weapon, forcing their operators to live life through their actual bodies again. A detective named Harvey Greer, himself living through a surrogate body, is assigned to the case; Greer seeks to uncover a connection between the assailant and a rabid anti-surrogate cult known as the Dreads, but he soon learns that they might all be pawns in a larger conspiracy. Well-paced, thoughtful, and resolutely downbeat, The Surrogates is closer in tone to Se7en or the aforementioned Blade Runner.

Surrogates, the film (which drops the The for some reason) adds a lethal twist to the comic’s scenario; the disabling of the surrogates through the use of the assailant’s energy weapon destroys the user as well. Bruce Willis plays Greer, whose first name is now Tom and who is also now an FBI agent. Assisted by his partner Peters (Radha Mitchell), Greer seeks the killer while investigating how the original inventor of surrogate technology (James Cromwell) might be involved. Willis’ Pulp Fiction co-star Ving Rhames appears as the leader of the Dreads, and there’s a subplot involving Greer’s strained marriage (Rosamund Pike plays his wife, who can’t stand the thought of living in her flesh-and-blood body for even a second). There are also hints of military-industrial intrigue, but that subplot fizzles out pretty quickly.

Surrogates is directed by Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, U-571), no stranger to slick, generic thrills, and the script was written by his T3 collaborators John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris. The film sidesteps any potentially interesting philosophical questions about identity and self-image, as well as other possibilities like a half-developed idea about intrusion of privacy in the name of law enforcement, and is instead concerned with action and explosions. This might be acceptable if any of those actions or explosions were particularly cool or exciting, but everyone involved in Surrogates seems to be operating on autopilot. At 89 minutes, it somehow feels much longer. The history of the surrogate technology is told in an opening credits sequence that is punctuated with title cards reading “7 years ago” and “5 years ago”, culminating in a title card that reads “Present Day”. Huh? What year is it again? This movie takes place right now? Shouldn’t those cards read “7 years from now”, etc.? Anyway, there are a few striking images in Surrogates that stay with you past its running time—the streets filled with perfect supermodel pseudo-people who drop like puppets with their strings cut when they are disabled en masse, Greer’s mangled surrogate body displayed on a crucifix by the Dreads, Greer literally punching the face off of a laughing surrogate party-boy—but not much else makes an impact. CGI is utilized to give the surrogates a waxy, artificial look, but this instantly negates any suspense about who may or may not be in a real body. Surrogates’ best scene happens during a car chase, where Greer, driving up onto a sidewalk, begins piling hapless surrogate bodies onto the hood of his speeding automobile. It’s a funny scene in an otherwise humourless movie. For the most part, though, Surrogates might as well have been written and directed by robots.