This week, “Kicking the Seat” takes a break from its normal movie review format to bring you the transcript of a high-level meeting that took place six days before the world premiere of Iron Man 2. Needless to say, you should read this fast, as there’s no telling when the Cease and Desist Order may come down.
Some back-story: I received a soiled manila envelope in my P.O. Box Saturday morning, addressed simply to “Kick Seat .Com”; the return address was a crude Sharpie scrawl that read, “DP—Los Angeles, CA”. The contents were a copy of what you are about to read, and four strands of blonde hair.
4/20/10 Transcript of “Iron Man 2 Issues” meeting, Marvel Studios, Los Angeles, CA.
Meeting Host: Dell Armisen, Chief Quality Officer, Marvel Media Management Bureau for Operational Productivity
Attendees: Jon Favreau, Director, Iron Man 2
Justin Theroux, Screenwriter, Iron Man 2
Robert Downey, Jr., Star, Iron Man 2
Transcriber: Dovelyn Proust, Templeton-Young Professional Errands
Dell Armisen: Gentlemen, thank you for coming down on such short notice. Robert, I know this was a particularly difficult thing for you to pencil in, but it’s important and we at MMMBOP are really glad you could make it.
Robert Downey, Jr.: [From stool in the far corner of the room, offers DA bag of carrots] God, I love these carrots. You wanna try some? They’re this new synthetic/organic blend that Gwyneth turned me on to. It’s like Red Bull, but it, you know, comes from the ground.
DA: Not today, Robert. Jon and Justin, you two are the main reason I called this meeting. I saw the final cut of Iron Man 2 yesterday. After watching it, I read the shooting script, and I’ve got some concerns.
Jon Favreau: Really? ‘Cause everyone I’ve talked to at Marvel loves it.
Justin Theroux: Yeah, man, everyone’s been so far up our asses about how great this thing is, I’m getting to be, like, “Hey, man, chill out—it’s not Shakespeare!” You know what I mean?
DA: Not to put too fine a point on it, Justin, but the difference between Iron Man 2 and Shakespeare is that Shakespeare was actually good. And I’m not surprised that Marvel Entertainment loves it. However, we’re the Quality Police of Marvel Studios. Our job is to make sure we distinguish the new studio from the dark work-for-hire days of Elektra and Ghost Rider.
JF: So, you don’t think it’s as good as the first one?
DA: It’s in a totally different universe, Jon.
RDJ: I told Justin. Remember, Justin, I told you how I thought Black Widow was DC, but you said, “No, man, trust me, she’s Marvel”. I knew this would come back to bite us in the ass. Is it hot in here?
DA: That’s not what I meant, Robert. Incidentally, Black Widow is part of our stable. And we may as well start there. Scarlett Johansson, Jon. What happened?
JF: Whaddya mean?
DA: When I first read that you’d cast her, I thought, “Wow, Scarlett Johansson with a Russian accent?” I wondered how she’d pull it off. And I’m still wondering.
JF: Yeah, we talked about that on-set. The first few takes, she tried her hardest, but it just sounded like she was choking on Benicio Del Toro’s balls. So we ditched it altogether. Now she’s just a hot spy. We don’t even call her “Black Widow” in the movie.
DA: Yeah, I noticed that. So did Marc Weathers in Brand Management.
JT: Fuck that guy, man. He got on my case last year ‘cause I refused to include Mickey Rourke’s character’s super-villain name in the script. I mean, Ivan Vanko’s a badder name than “Whiplash”, right?
DA: Hmm, yes, Mickey Rourke—
RDJ: Total nut job, that guy. I tried to pet his dogs once, and he slapped the coconut extract right out of my hand. Crazy bastard got it all over my face and TMZ had a field day with those pictures of me with white powder smeared across my nose.
DA: Mickey Rourke, Justin. You have Oscar nominee Mickey Rourke as the villain in your movie, and you give him, what, two scenes of actual dialogue?
JT: Ivan Vanko wasn’t the bad guy in the movie; it was Justin Hammer, the Sam Rockwell character.
JF: Wait, I thought you said it was Ivan Vanko.
JT: Nooo. You told me you wanted this to be about the rise of Justin Hammer—you called him Iron Man’s Lex Luthor, which is why I specifically had him get arrested at the end of the movie and yell stupid shit at about “getting” Iron Man; like Gene Hackman in Superman One.
JF: Noooooo. I told you a month ago that I wanted Vanko to be the bad guy. That’s why we filmed all that juicy back-story stuff that we hinted at in the beginning of the movie; so we could flesh out how he’s this rich character who’s life story is the exact opposite of Tony Stark’s.
RDJ: Remember, Johnny, we filmed that stuff but it got cut out, ‘cause I wanted to leave in more of the banter between me and Gwyneth?
DA: Yes, about that. What happened to Tony Stark’s relationship with Pepper Potts? At the end of the first film, they’re clearly beginning a romantic relationship. She’s helped him rise from the ashes of being a narcissistic asshole and become a selfless, noble hero; but in Iron Man 2, you’ve made Tony a wholly unlikable creep, and his relationship with Pepper is reduced to scene after scene after scene of them fighting and talking over one another. Was that all improv, by the way?
JT: Most of it, yeah. In fact, the actual script for Iron Man 2 is about ten pages long—and much of those are thumbnails of the action scenes. Jon and Robert and I felt that it would be more real if we just let the actors inhabit the characters and talk like the characters would talk.
DA: No, Justin, they talk like Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow would talk on the set of a movie with no screenwriter! I swear to Christ, I thought I was watching outtakes of Ocean’s Twelve yesterday.
RDJ: But, me and Gwyneth, that’s our thing. You know, it’s like, when you’re at Coachella and you’re rocking out to Balinese trance-pop-fusion—you’re just in the zone and you can’t break that. You can’t fake it, either. Can you, um, press that little button there, and get me a kiwi-salmon-chunk bar from Mitzi’s?
DA: No. While we’re talking about characters, I’d like to bring up Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Jon, why did you insist on letting Sam do his “thing” all over this movie?
JF: ‘Cause he’s Samuel L. Fucking Jackson, baby! You don’t rein him in. People wanna see him be big and bad and black, you know?
DA: But in the first Iron Man, he’s a mysterious, serious guy, like in the comics: a no-nonsense soldier who has to corral a gang of super-powered head-cases that he doesn’t fully trust. Here, you’ve got him strutting around with disco music, smirking as he talks Tony Stark down from a giant donut.
JF: I hear what you’re saying, and I respect that. But at the end of the day, people don’t want to see serious characters in a superhero movie. That’s why we lightened Nick Fury up a bit. It’s also why we had Tony Stark break dancing drunk in the Iron Man costume after he DJ’d that party. It’s no different than when Peter Parker did his dance number in Spider-Man 3, and look how much money that movie made, huh?
JT: That’s right, man. You claim to be about “quality”, but all you’re doing is sitting here, whining. “Oh, the characters aren’t well thought out!” “Waaah, I don’t know who the villain is in this movie!” Grow up, dude. It’s a fun popcorn movie. It isn’t Shakespeare.
DA: We wouldn’t be having this conversation if the movie were fun. The first film, yes, was a great time. I saw it four times in the theatre—after all the premieres and test screenings. It had a tremendous sense of discovery and invention, and I loved that the Iron Man suit was a work in progress: it kept evolving throughout the picture, mirroring Tony Stark’s development. That movie had fucking heart. The sequel has none of that, and it’s a boring, soulless tragedy.
RDJ: Look, Daryl? Darrell? Sorry, but I couldn’t disagree more. This movie had lots of heart and pathos. It had Tony Stark becoming a drunk. He finds out the suit’s killing him and has to find a cure. He’s got a lot going on, and so of course he’s going to lash out at the world and turn his friends away.
DA: Maybe if the first film hadn’t happened, sure. On top of that, you had over two hours to develop the alcoholism and poisoned blood storyline, but you buried it under bullshit sub-plots like Rhodey stealing the second Iron Man suit and helping Justin Hammer and the Air Force create an army of killing machines. Let’s sidestep for a second and look at that. Did that make any fucking sense to you?
JT: Well, if you’re asking why Tony Stark would program an Iron Man suit so that Rhodey could pilot it, even though it was established in the first movie that Tony didn’t fully trust his best friend because of his government ties—and seeing as how a major thread of this movie involves the government trying to seize Tony’s technology—then, yeah, I can see where that might be a problem. But at the end of the day, you had to have that plot so that they could become friends again at the climax and fight off giant robots for twenty minutes.
RDJ: I mean, come on, man. Weren’t you touched by us getting back together? Me and Don Cheadle worked on that scene for twenty minutes, trying to get our eyes at just the right level of squintiness before the CG faceplates came down on our heads. It was a look between both of us that said, “We’ve been through too much shit to let a little matter of you nearly destroying my empire and selling out mankind to a sleazy weapons developer to stand in the way of this great bond we have. Now let’s blow some shit up.”
We acted the hell out of that scene.
DA: Robert, honestly, you haven’t acted in a movie in two years.
RDJ: What about Sherlock Holmes? The Soloist?
DA: I think we’re done here, gentlemen. Given what I’ve seen of your film, and based on our conversation today, I can only, in good conscience, recommend to the Board of Directors that Iron Man 2 be pushed back another year, until significant re-writes and re-shoots can be made. There’s some good stuff in here, but the film right now is un-releasable.
JF: Now, hold on a minute. This movie’s six days out from release, and you’re gonna try and sack it? You don’t have the authority to do that!
JT: You're so money, baby.
JF: I golf with Kevin Feige, motherfucker!
JT: And I wrote the outline for Tropic Thunder!
RDJ: And I was Chaplin, Goddammit!
DA: Guys, your anger doesn’t impress me. We at MMMBOP do, in fact, have the authority to halt any release if we feel that it could tarnish the good will that Marvel Studios is trying to build with its audience.
You may think it’s okay to not explain how a poor drunk Russian physicist is able to create an identical power source to Iron Man’s ARC reactor, or why Tony Stark would explain to said villain in an interrogation the best way to defeat him—in the way only Dr. Evil would. You may even think you can get away with a random first-person fisheye lens shot of Tony walking through a party, and explain it away as creativity. But it’s just laziness, and the belief that you can put any nonsense you want into a franchise picture because it’s a guaranteed blockbuster.
We believe in quality and integrity, and there is no way in hell Iron Man 2 will come out this summer. If, by some miracle, Kevin Feige were to override my decision, he’d have to explain to the Board why they need to hire a new Chief Quality Officer. And I assure you, gentlemen, he does not want to do that!
RDJ: You know? This guy might be onto something.
[DA, JF, and JT look quizzically at RDJ]
RDJ: Ha ha! Just kidding! Have fun searching The Ladders, fuck-wad!