There is no doubt that Robert Downey Jr.‘s career is marked by two phases: before “Iron Man,” and everything else after. Landing the lead role in the Marvel film was the validation of the actor’s comeback and forgiveness from Hollywood. He had put his bad-boy ways behind him and proved to everyone he still had the goods in a string of films including “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” “Zodiac” and “A Scanner Darkly” before Jon Favreau came calling, wanting to place him in a metal suit to fight bad guys. The result of the marriage? Over $585 million in ticket sales worldwide, the birth of a new franchise and RDJ’s ascension to the A-list (you can bet the success of “Iron Man” led Warner Bros. to confidently cast him as “Sherlock Holmes“). Now set to receive the 25th American Cinematheque Award, and looking back on his films with the LA Times, RDJ admits what everyone else already knows: “Iron Man 2” didn’t live up to its predecessor.
Arriving on screens in 2008, “Iron Man” was a whipsmart, funny and self-deprecating comic book movie that dispensed with the sober approach Christopher Nolan took with Batman, but still created a superhero world, and a character, with depth and style to spare. That RDJ went through his own battles with personal issues, made the foibles of Tony Stark that much more relatable, and his mission to use his tricked-out suit for good instead of selling it off to be weaponized made him a figure to be admired. But when the sequel rolled out, there were problems from the start, with director Jon Favreau and Marvel publicly feuding over his pay as well as the tight production schedule to get it made.
“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….,” RDJ quips. “[The first one] was a meditation on responsibility and an exploration of how a small group of people can take a two-dimensional idea and, if the winds are right, create something that makes people say, ‘That was my favorite movie of the year.’ To me, Tony Stark’s story is a karma story and a technology story. I love a good action movie — a Steve McQueen or Tom Cruise or Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson in the right spot, and you smile and say, ‘That’s what this kind of movie is all about.’ There were two times in my life I prepared for something maniacally, it was this and ‘Chaplin.’ I became the expert on this guy.”
What elements he was let down by he doesn’t specify, but we think we might have a few ideas. The script was easily the worst offender in “Iron Man 2,” filled with pretty boilerplate, first-draft dialogue and ridiculous mumbo-jumbo tech talk. The speed of the production could also be felt in the at-times distractingly bad CGI (please see the obvious green screen in the Ivan Vanko/Monaco car race sequence) but perhaps worst of all, Tony Stark’s fate is never really in danger as he just sardonically glides through the proceedings.
Now, let’s note, RDJ doesn’t say he hates the sequel but instead, he’s just being refreshingly honest that not everything worked for him in “Iron Man 2” which is fair enough. Of course, he’s still suiting up in next year’s “The Avengers” with “Iron Man 3” to come in 2013, and whether or not Marvel listens to their star about what could be fixed or continues to trust in their own approach, remains to be seen. But you can bet when RDJ sits down with Shane Black to discuss the third installment, he’ll let him know what he’d like to see improved the next time around.