Before Ironman hit theatres in 2008, most of us thought of Jon Favreau as the guy who was so money, baby--and he didn't even know it. Critics and audiences expected little from yet another Marvel Comic inspired film. So when director Favreau delivered an entertaining film with tons of personality (mostly in the form of the amazing Robert Downey Jr.), it was an underdog smash.
And what should logically follow an over performing film (or an under performing one, for that matter) but a sequel.
Ironman 2 reintroduces weapons contractor and physicist extraordinaire Tony Stark as the unmasked Ironman, combating politicians who want Stark to share his Ironman technology with the U.S. government for security. There's plenty to glean about private property rights and government corruption in this conflict, but you'll have to visit some other blog to satisfy your government paranoia.
While Stark tries to keep his intellectual property out of U.S. government and military hands, he's also contending with an old, Russian grudgeholder (Mickey Rourke), a suspicious but ogle-worthy new executive assistant (Scarlett Johansson) and his ever-nagging, inexplicable love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). All the while, he's scrambling to find the combination of elements that will power his suit and his heart without slowly poisoning his blood.
There are plenty of feminist elements at play here. First, we deal with the Pepper problem. The original film featured the bland and nagging, yet doggedly loyal Pepper Pots in her supportive role to the womanizing and sarcastic Tony. The only thing that really distinguished her was that she slut-shames the women Tony sleeps with, and that she looks bad in bangs. In the sequel, Tony promotes her to CEO of his company on a whim. Although she faces major scrutiny for her complete lack of experience, she deftly handles the company's affairs in a turbulent time. Unfortunately, Pepper's main purpose here is to glare at all the women Tony wants to sleep with--including hurling yet more insults at the reporter Tony slept with in the first film (Leslie Bibb), whose investigation played a key role in the plot. Her other competition in Ironman 2 is Natalie Rushman, whom Tony hires as his new assistant essentially just to look at her. After he meets Natalie for the first time, he declares, "I want one."
For her part, Natalie could have been the classic femme fatale. And although she has another identity, her character is smart, accomplished, all business and completely badass. She's an excellent employee, and although Tony attempts to play Pepper and Natalie off each other in a competition of feminine wiles, Natalie doesn't seem interested in anything but getting the job done, even with Tony's constant sexual harassment. These two women do briefly talk to each other about something other than a man a time or two, so Ironman 2 does (barely) pass the Bechdel test.
Within this context, these characters faced some sexist issues individually, in addition to some general woman-hating, in the following scenes.
At one point, the leader of the secret good-guys club (Samuel L. Jackson) uses the fact that Tony "made a girl your CEO" to prove that he is going off the deep end. The other reason was that he got drunk and basically destroyed his house with his Ironman suit. The problem isn't that Pepper has no experience, or that she doesn't have the leadership style. It's that she's a "girl" (Paltrow is 38-years-old, by the way, hardly a girl. Pepper's age isn't specified). And it's just as stupid to hire a girl to be a CEO as it is to basically drunk-drive a weaponized suit around dozens of party guests.
In another scene, creepy contractor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) asks his colleagues to get "these bitches out of here" when Pepper and Natalie take over the reins of a weapons demonstration that turned deadly. Luckily for my temper, Natalie puts him in a headlock moments later, and the two women clean up his mess before Pepper has him arrested.
And in a well-trodden cheap shot at married women (oh, what ball-busting harpies we are), Hammer describes the utter devastation potential of a missile he's selling to the U.S. Air Force. What does he dub this harbinger of death? The Ex-Wife.
There's more to say, especially about Pepper and Tony's fraught and completely uninteresting flirtation (I know how to shut her up--I'll kiss her), but we've hit on the main points: slut-shaming, sexual harassment, girls are stupid, girls are bitches, marriage sucks the life out of you because of its association with a wife. Thanks for making analysis so simple, Ironman 2.
Bechdel Test: Pass
Feminist Grade: D
Overall Movie Grade: B
Yes, it's possible to like a movie and still deplore its messaging on women. Be aware of what you're watching.
[EDIT: Also posted at Feminist Review!]