The MCU has been such a well-oiled, wildly successful juggernaut for so long that it’s easy to forget it might have gone off the rails before it barely got started, thanks to the 2010s. iron man 2. Despite its box office success, the film is widely considered the weakest of Iron Man trilogy, and one of the weakest entries in the MCU as a whole. And there’s a whole world of drama behind the scenes that explains why. It’s a story of unrealistic deadlines, multiple script rewrites, redesigns, stress-related health issues, studio interference, and more.
‘Iron Man 2’ fell victim to the success of Iron Man
2008 Iron Man was a gamble, with Marvel Studios’ budding hopes for an Expanded Universe on the back of a B-level Marvel Comics hero. Jon Favreau only had three previous films as a director to his name and lead actor Robert Downey Jr. was just a few years after rebuilding a career left in shambles by drug addiction. It paid off: The film grossed $585 million worldwide and Downey was back in the public’s good graces, with the two Iron Man And Thunder in the tropics, released the same year, to commercial and critical success. If successful, it set up the first of a series of problems that would plague the production to the end. Only three days later Iron Man was released, Marvel Studios announced that a sequel had been greenlit. Not surprising at all, but what was surprising was the announcement of a release date, April 30, 2010, a date now in less than two years.
‘Iron Man 2’ was supposed to hit the ground running
No scenario. Only one confirmed returnee in the cast, Downey himself. A condensed timeline to complete filming, editing and visual effects. The task was so overwhelming that Favreau didn’t even commit to directing it until July 2008. While filming the first movie, Favreau and Downey had time to try things out and improvise scenes to see what was working before moving on to the next one. iron man 2, on the other hand, changed the dynamic, with sets already under construction before filming even began, forcing the actor and director to work within the confines of those predetermined sets. This, in turn, forced them to make last-minute scripting and approval decisions to incorporate improvised parts into the film. And then if This wasn’t enough, the responsibility of laying the groundwork for the MCU was placed on the iron man 2 creative team, with the studio having to get the ball rolling on its plans. The constant changes took a physical toll on the screenwriter Justin Therouxwho became afflicted with back pain due to stress.
The cast of Iron Man 2 was a nightmare
One of the film’s first casting victims was Terrence Howard, who played James “Rhodey” Rhodes in the first film. He was actually the highest paid actor in Iron Mansurprising given not only the film’s other talent – Downey, Gwyneth Paltrowsame iconic actor Jeff Bridges – but also the screen time for the supporting role. Why Howard doesn’t return depends on which story you assign. Some sources believe that his behavior on the set of Iron Man was “difficult”, while others argue that Favreau and his producers were unhappy with Howard’s performance, leading to cuts and reshoots of scenes involving his character. A much simpler explanation may have been what actually led Howard not to return: salary. This film, like its predecessor, had Rhodey in a supporting role, and the studio submitted an offer to the actor’s agent that would have put him on par with the other supporting actors. However, this figure was reported between 50 and 80% less than what he was paid for. Iron Man. Don Cheadle was signed to reprise the role, quickly making it his own.
One actor who was successfully cast was mickey rourkehimself an actor piecing together a fractured career, leading to his award-winning performance in The wrestler in 2009. Looking back, he might have been better off if he wasn’t. The warning signs were there, with the talented actor not even knowing who the hero was, let alone the story of which comic book antagonist he would be playing. He met with Feige and Favreau and laid out his demands – really strange demands. He insisted that his character have a samurai bun, speak with a Russian accent, and have a pet bird on his shoulder. His demands, strange as they were, were met, but the salary demands were another story. Rourke balked at the initial offer of $250,000 and only came when Downey allowed some of his own salary to be cut in order to sweeten the pot. From there, Rourke dove in, researching mob tattoos and Russian prison culture (and a visit to Moscow’s Butyrka prison). Yet despite efforts to get him in, Rourke entered production with a lot of ambivalence, a frustrated and demeaning view of director Favreau, and a dismissal from Marvel Studios as a senseless comic book movie maker, unwilling not allow Rourke to fashion a more complex multi-dimensional villain.
“Iron Man 2” succeeds in spite of itself
The problems didn’t end there. Hopes of creating a narrative that approximated the “Demon in a Bottle” story arc of the comics were scaled back, favored practical effects were abandoned for a heavier CGI presence, and constant rewrites led to a more choppy film. The addition of Scarlett Johansson like Black Widow was a win for the movie, but would rightly be derided as a hyper-sexualization of the character that took years to reverse. But the movie did what it was asked to do, keep the character in the spotlight while laying the groundwork for the MCU, despite being only the second (third, if you count The Incredible Hulk) film of this cinematic world. Whether or not lessons have been learned is up for debate. Casting has become a higher priority, facilitated by actors clamoring to be included, and scripts are much better thought out and in advance, which is good. But CGI is still often a rushed process, and the artistic vision is compromised, with the director Sam Raimi explaining it best as the directors heading into the MCU “complete mile 16 of a bridge that’s been under construction for 15 years.” Success is hard to argue with, however, and the MCU has had the driver’s seat at the box office for years. And this success only materialized when iron man 2 didn’t send the whole thing crashing down.