Overlook the controversy over whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas film as a result of it clearly is and there are extra urgent issues: Like, is What If…?’s Die Hard-spoofing Christmas episode really a greater Iron Man 2 than Iron Man 2?
I admit to recency bias. What If…? season 2 kicked off earlier this month, and the episode in query — which finds Darcy from the Thor films and Completely happy Hogan organizing a vacation celebration at Avengers Tower — solely simply dropped on Christmas Eve. However with 13 years of distance from Iron Man 2, I’m able to make daring MCU claims past “it bad.” Director Jon Favreau bought some issues proper in his sloppy 2010 sequel, and in a 30-minute ode to Die Hard, What If…? reminds us of 1 win: Sam Rockwell was an ideal Justin Hammer. We simply didn’t get a lot of him on the time.
Iron Man 2 (which based mostly on many experiences was written on the fly by Favreau, star Robert Downey Jr., and Tropic Thunder’s Justin Theroux) is a multitude. The movie flits with Tony’s Demon in a Bottle arc, tries and fails to make a personality out of Mickey Rourke’s grunting, cockatoo-cuddling Whiplash, unexpectedly promotes Rhodey to Battle Machine and Nick Fury to a real Avengers wrangler, introduces Natasha Romanoff in probably the most grating means conceivable, and offers Elon Musk a cameo that appears worse and worse as the times go by. Fairly dangerous film!
However Favreau additionally solid Sam Rockwell as weapons producer Justin Hammer. In an alternate universe, he was the centerpiece villain, the slimeball various to Tony Stark who might sustain with the one-liners. In Iron Man 2 he’s a plot machine to get Iron Man combating armored drones. However talking of alternate universes, What If…? has come to his rescue.
What If…? season 2’s third episode imagines what might have occurred after the occasions of Iron Man 2. On this world, Hammer nonetheless hijacked the Stark Expo, wielded Tony’s expertise in opposition to the hero, and wound up in jail for his wrongdoings. However Hammer didn’t develop within the slammer — he festered. And when he bought out, he proceeded to Stark Tower, to drag a Hans Gruber on Stark in the course of the Avengers vacation gala.
Not each big-name Marvel actor has returned to voice their characters in What If…?; since season 1, Mark Wingert and Lake Bell have been doing a surprisingly high quality job recreating the vocal tics of Iron Man and Black Widow as beforehand performed by Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson. However the win right here is getting Rockwell again as Justin Hammer, who’s firing off cackling Christmas-themed puns like they’re Mark 46 armor rounds. He’s residing for a sort of mayhem that Iron Man 2 simply didn’t present for somebody who may be this depraved.
Whereas Tony and his fellow Avengers do finally present as much as save the day — get able to see Captain America in an elf costume — What If…? provides one other Iron Man 2 participant his due: Completely happy Hogan. Possibly Favreau was too modest to present himself a good set-piece in both of two Iron Man films, however right here, he’s the John McClane crawling by vents, outrunning gunmen, and, thanks to some drops of Hulk blood, swinging by glass home windows to be able to bust skulls. Favreau additionally returns to voice the character, which not solely makes it pop on a efficiency degree, however elevages the “what if” of all of it — what if this had been Iron Man 2 all alongside?
Writers A.C. Bradley and Matthew Chauncey together with director Bryan Andrews keep away from loading the Christmas diversion with an excessive amount of connectivity or lore — it’s actually simply Completely happy vs. Hammer to the top, with explosive set-pieces courtesy of the Iron Legion. In a means it’s a card out of the Shane Black playbook, who would properly make a grounded, Christmastime Marvel film of his personal with Iron Man 3.
We will’t undo what’s executed, so nothing will change Iron Man 2 within the ranked historical past of Marvel films, however What If…? a minimum of vindicates its existence in a means no Marvel story has actually executed. But when it’s true that Hammer is sitting in a jail cell someplace rotting, perhaps the MCU animated alternate universe anthology collection can wake somebody as much as the truth that the franchise is sitting on gold. Get Sam Rockwell again within the combine — let’s go together with Thunderbolts? — stat.