Elevate Difference

Iron Man 2

Before Iron Man 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?

Iron Man 2 reintroduces weapons contractor and physicist extraordinaire Tony Stark as the unmasked Iron Man, combating politicians who want Stark to share his Iron Man 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's and the military's hands, he's also contending with an old, Russian grudge-holder (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 frigid and nagging yet doggedly loyal Pepper Pots in a 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 Paltrow 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 still to hurl more insults at the reporter Tony slept with in the first film (Leslie Bibb), whose investigation played a key role in the plot, and glare at the new women Tony wants to sleep with: Natalie Rushman. After Tony meets Natalie for the first time, he declares, "I want one."

For her part, Natalie could have been the classic femme fatale. 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 in spite of Tony's constant sexual harassment. The two women do briefly talk to each other about something other than a man a time or two, so Iron Man 2 does (barely) pass the Bechdel Test.

However, these two female characters face some sexism individually, in addition to some more general woman-hating. 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 Iron Man suit.) The problem isn't that Pepper has no experience leading a multi-billion dollar company or that she doesn't have the necessary leadership style, it's that she's a "girl." (Although Pepper's age isn't specified, Paltrow is 38-years-old, by the way; she is hardly a girl.) Apparently 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 Hammer's 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.

Finally, in a well-trodden cheap shot at married women (oh, what ballbusting harpies we are), Hammer describes the potential for utter devastation held by 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 I've hit on the main points: slut-shaming, sexual harassment, girls are stupid, girls are bitches, and marriage sucks the life out of men. Thanks for making analysis so simple, Iron Man 2.

Yes, it's possible to like a movie and still deplore its messaging on women. But be aware of what you're watching.

Written by: Hannah Moulton Belec, May 13th 2010

I strongly disagree with most of the points of this review. If anything, this movie was more sexist towards men in comparison to women, and even then, it portrayed levels of sexism to both genders which happens at least once, even subtly, in just about every movie. The fact that feminists would actually concern themselves with sexism towards women in this movie is appalling. Pepper Potts becomes CEO of the company while lacking experience, anyone lacking experience while becoming a CEO of a company would get some level of bashing, regardless if they are a man or woman, concerning one's self over this matter is insignificant, and ignorant from the perspective of the viewer. Yes, some women were portrayed sexually, at the same time, these women were portrayed as people who could very well take care of themselves; Natalie Rushman as a prime example. On top of that Natalie did fight and badly injure several guards towards the end of the movie, all of which happened to be men; this in its self is sexism targeted against men portraying a woman in a superior way then men both physically and mentally, and that men are the only one's who are allowed to be shown as getting hurt or killed, especially in a violent manner. So, I shall say again, concerning one's self over the sexism against women in this movie seems hardly relevant to any major issue of sexism against women at all, men, especially in this generation and in the media's portrayal, are much bigger victims of sexism.


I've had a few people point out that they heard "your girl" and not "a girl." It's possible that I misheard Nick Fury. As others have pointed out, Pepper does have some experience running the company so regardless it's still a questionably sexist comment. Just because Pepper is romantically invovled (even at a miniscule level) with Tony doesn't mean she's not a good CEO pick.

I thought the Fox News clips were interesting, and I was definitely looking for gendered insults from the faux Bill O'Reilly but didn't find any, which was a pleasant surprise.

I thought Jackson said "you made your girl CEO" meaning "you made the woman you've had a crush on for years your CEO." And they made a point to show that the media was silly thinking she had no business being in charge by showing FOX slamming her! I loved the women in the film - and I think it's interesting that they were both redheads...hmmm.


when sam jackson says he made a stupid choice by making pepper ceo, he does not say "you made a girl" ceo...hey says "you made your assisstant ceo" so he is refering to her potentially being unqualified as a person not being unqualified because she is a woman

I have to say, I did enjoy the movie. There wasn't room for my letter grades (feminist and overall movie grades), but I gave it a B overall.

People enjoy culture, whether it's in the form of movies, books, music or anything else. All of these media contain messages aboout women, men, minorities, the rich, the poor...messages about everyone. I think it's important to just be aware of what messages the medium is sending, good or bad. It's a complicated thing, enjoying pop culture as a feminist. If we limited ourselves to positive female portrayals, we'd have very little to watch. But I think conciousness-raising will play a huge part in shifting that trend.

i am so tired of hollyrude that i don't think i can even be bothered to see the movie.

@K You're completely right, that's my bad.

@whatshername I think I'm more likely to interpret Pepper as nagging because the only thing her character seems to do is laugh off Tony's sexual harassment--of herself and others--and fret. We disagree on the point of Tony appreciating her.

Pepper does have de facto experience handling Tony's affairs as an executive assistant, but within the story's context I understand why people would question promoting someone from assistant to CEO. That seems obvious to me, working in an office setting, but there's room for interpretation.

What I object to, though, is the characterization of giving one's company to a girl as crazy or silly just because she's female. I'm not referring to Hammer's character, though. It's a scene with Samuel L. Jackson that I'm thinking of. He basically says: Tony, you're going off the deep end; you let your best friend walk off with your suit, and you gave your company to a girl.

Hammer's "get these bitches out of here" does help characterize him as an awful person, but it's still unpleasant to watch.

Thank you for the reminder of the loadedness/offensive of this word, K!


Overall I liked this review and the focus on feminist (or not) themes in the movie. There's one area where the review itself leaves some room for improvement.

In the future, would you consider refraining from using the term "Frigid" esp. in the negative way it's used here? Personally I'm okay with reclaiming certain words and this is one that has some problems. It's a cruel adjective with a history of being used on women with sexual problems and it's something of a sore spot for me.

Other then that it's a pretty good review & I think I would like to look for these themes if/when I watch the movie. I heard it's not as good as the first movie but I'll probably rent it on DVD.

I have to strongly disagree with your analysis of Pepper Potts, especially about her (lack of) experience running the Stark company.

She had TONS of it. She's basically been running the company this whole time, as has been painfully obvious since the first movie with her constantly keeping Tony Stark on task (what you interpreted as "nagging" but which I saw as her being the responsible one to his...not, which I didn't think we were supposed to dislike her for, but appreciate in her, as Tony does).

When Hammer ridiculed the choice of Potts as CEO, the way the whole scene was set up, I thought, was meant to underline his stupidity and unobservant nature - that he hadn't figure out her role in the company yet. Not to suggest that Potts was actually a silly choice.