"Figure out what the audience wants and give it to them," Robert Downey, Jr., said from the podium outside the El Capitan Theatre at the "Iron Man 2" premiere Monday night.
Downey may have been kidding, in that knowing, smirking, I'm-in-on-the-joke-too way of his that defies you not to like him. But the statement may also have well captioned the evening, summing up how the presentation of the franchise has neutralized many criticisms of its popcorn charms. Downey and Marvel know the commercial juggernaut they have here, and as they've done since they started rolling out the movie at Comic-con last summer (and as Tony Stark himself might do), they not only flashed that confidence but turned it into a selling point.
Indeed, the premiere of the Marvel-produced, Paramount-distributed, Justin Theroux-penned sequel delivered the pleasing to the crowd, as director and co-star Jon Favreau, standing on a makeshift podium on Hollywood Boulevard, introduced the litany of stars, from Mickey Rourke to Gwyneth Paltrow to Samuel Jackson to Downey himself. (Check out the red-carpet video from sister blog Ministry of Gossip, as well as the ongoing pre-release countdown from our sister blog, Hero Complex.)
Then out came "The Ironettes" (like the Rockettes, only with a superhero motif) who did a heels-up, devil-may-care number to parallel an on-screen performance from one of the film's first sequences. (The El Capitan setting of the premiere, incidentally, showed just how entwined Disney is with studio/producer Marvel, which it acquired last year, which also meant the premiere was the first known superhero movie to begin with a live organist performance, as nearly all screenings at the El Cap do.)
We'll of course wait for the Los Angeles Times' critics and other reviewers to offer their assessments of the movie, but our own quick reaction was of a film rich in flash, generous in wit (never before has such a fast-talking, confidence-brimming wiseacre donned a superhero costume) and thin on meaningful storytelling (but thick with the false-start kind). Several colleagues we spoke to afterward similarly did not find themselves in a pose of jaw-dropping awe but, like us, they felt the film has a sense of confidence in its own mission that almost wills you into liking it (or distracts you from its convolutions).
What this movie will offer its broad quilt-work of fans is of course the key question. For a film that will be one the biggest of the summer and possibly the biggest three-day opener of all time, "Iron Man 2" has a tricky job, commercially speaking. It needs to satisfy those who crave more of the mythology introduced by the first film, but it also needs to stand alone as it aims to bring in even more people than the first (and squash that movie's $98-million opening and $318-million total).
And as it does all of this, it needs to set up future movies in the Marvel canon, particularly the ensemble-oriented "Avengers," which it devotes a fair amount of time to doing, at the risk of complicating the storytelling (we'll stay away from major spoilers, but here's a small one; skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid it -- Downey's Tony Stark offers to come in as a "consultant" to the Avengers group being organized by Samuel Jackson's Nick Fury. That doughnut scene from the early footage is only the beginning.)
If the wisdom based on some of the early tracking has it that "Iron Man 2" has the potential to be a blockbuster of epic proportions, Monday night did little to tamp down those expectations. When you have the flashy goods, you may as well show them off. Both Tony Stark and Robert Downey Jr. could tell you that.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Upper photo: Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey at the "Iron Man 2" premiere. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images
Lower photo: Gwyneth Paltrow at the "Iron Man 2" premiere. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images