Iron Man Deux

by E. "Doc" Smith on May 7, 2010

There are some great African/American super-heroes, Marvel’s “The Black Panther”, DC’s “Green Lantern” and I’ll toss in this film’s “Iron Man/War Machine”, played by Don Cheadle as “Rhodey Rhodes”. I’ll also take Samuel L. Jackson and his turn as the legendary “Nick Fury”. The original Fury wasn’t black, however in the Marvel comic’s “Ultimate Universe”, he is. More on that later, but let me focus on “Iron Man 2”. It is the sequel to 2008’s “Iron Man“, and the second film in a planned trilogy. Directed by Jon Favreau, the film stars Robert Downey Jr., reprising his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man. At the end of the last film, Stark has revealed his identity as Iron Man and in Iron Man 2, he’s resisted calls by the United States Government to hand over the technology.

Ivan Vanko, played by Mickey Rourke, has also duplicated Iron Man’s technology and built weapons of his own, creating new challenges for Stark. The character is actually an amalgamation of two Iron Man villains, Whiplash and the Crimson Dynamo. Vanko is also the son of impoverished Soviet physicist Anton Vanko, the original Crimson Dynamo in the comics.

Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Virginia “Pepper” Potts, Stark’s closest friend, budding love interest, and business partner. Favreau, who directed the previous film as well as “Daredevil”, (he played Foggy Nelson in that one), reprises his role as Happy Hogan, Tony Stark’s bodyguard and chauffeur. Favreau is huge a Marvel comics fan and for the most part, does a great job.

Rounding out the cast is Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman / Natasha Romanoff. An undercover spy for S.H.I.E.L.D. posing as Stark’s assistant, longtime Marvel fans will recognize her as the famed “Black Widow” from the original Iron Man comics as well as the Avengers. Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard from the first film as Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes.

The character of James Rhodes first appeared in Iron Man #118 (January ’79) and the “War Machine” armor, which became Rhodes’ signature armored battle-suit, was one of the most popular characters ever. For the first time, an African American would become Iron Man. Like the Green Lantern, comic book world had finally given African Americans an opportunity to legitimately don the garb of a classic hero. Since that time, “Rhodey” has been a featured character in the Iron Man animated series and The Invincible Iron Man animated film.

The case of Nick Fury is different. “Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos” were Marvel’s version of DC’s “Sgt. Rock”. Both were their flagship WWII comic book titles. Fury somehow lost his eye, donned the famous eyepatch and became Marvel’s version of 007. Fury would go on to head up the super-spy organization, “S.H.I.E.L.D.”, spawning his own mag and countless guest appearances in dozens of their comic titles, particularly Iron Man and Captain America. David Hasselhof actually portrayed him in a 1998 Fox TV film.

Marvel’s Ultimate version is a modern reinterpretation of the Fury character, and one of the most notable differences between the two is that the mainstream Colonel Nick Fury is white with greying brown hair, while this Nick Fury is a bald, African American and a general, specifically tailored after actor Samuel L. Jackson with his permission. Jackson actually appeared as Fury in a post-credits scene in the 2008 film.

Now if there is one thing that draws my ire, it’s when my comic book heroes are needlessly franchised, characters changed and stories deviated from their original, well written tales of suspense. Several films have broken those cardinal sins; both the Fantastic Four films for example, with the blind “Alicia Masters” from the FF who originally wasn’t black either.

Why can’t these fine actors be given the starring roles as those original, iconic, black heroes, instead turning decades old white ones black? Marvel’s “Blade” series with Wesley Snipes is a rare example. It’s an old story and we already know the answer. While I’m on it, let me throw in the “Wild Wild West” remake with Will Smith. “James West”, originally portrayed by Robert Conrad, wasn’t black. Kevin Kline was great as Artemus Gordon, however Kenneth Brannagh as Dr. Miguelito Loveless was also miscast.

Iron Man 2 takes a few liberties, but for the most part is OK. Downey is a ham, but nearly always fun. Rourke snarls, Paltrow looks radiant and Cheadle is fine, however this isn’t as good as the first film. For once, I’d enjoy a stand alone film, with no hint of sequels, crossovers and tie-ins. Until then, check out “Iron Man 2” and get ready for “The Mighty Thor” and a host of other Marvel heroes from their now Disney owned franchise.

E. “Doc” Smith is a musician, recording engineer and the creator of 1980’s comic book, “Tony Squak, Intergalactic Sleuth”. He is also the inventor of the musical instrument, the Drummstick. He can be reached at http://edoctorsmith.com

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