02/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Marvel Apparently Doing Iron Man 2 on the Cheap

From Variety comes this report that Mickey Rourke is being offered a measly $250,000 to play a major villain in the upcoming Iron Man 2, a low-ball figure that may cause him to make The Expendables instead. I've previously written about Marvel's apparent attempts at penny-pinching the May 2010 sequel before, but this new information is startling. Marvel is allegedly as badly hurt by the economy as any company (unlike DC Comics' relationship with Time Warner, Marvel Comics has no giant conglomerate to fall back on) and they are trying to find ways to save.

The latest casualty was Samuel L. Jackson, who will now NOT be playing fan-favorite Nick Fury in this sequel (or apparently in The Avengers, if that even gets made), allegedly due to a very low-ball offer for a genuine supporting role (as opposed to the applause-inducing cameo at the end of the first film). Folks, on opening weekend, geeks and non-geeks alike were talking about two and only two things: Robert Downey Jr's performance and making sure their friends knew to stay for the end credits for the Sam Jackson cameo. Hey, I guess Marvel can always go with someone who has experience playing Nick Fury, Mr. David Hasselhoff.

Also in negotiations to apparently work for peanuts are Sam Rockwell as a second villain and Emily Blunt as Black Widow. Blunt as Black Widow serves two functions, since she could theoretically take much of Fury's expository dialogue and allow the producers to potentially dial down Gynneth Paltrow's role, thus allowing them to go cheap on her too. Toss that in with Don Cheadle replacing Terrance Howard (boy, am I starting to wonder if his exit wasn't about money after all) and you certainly have an eclectic and interesting cast for this superhero sequel. None of these fine actors are so underemployed that they have to take whatever they can get for a sure to be huge moneymaking tent pole picture. We'll see who bites and for how much money.

I can understand that Marvel wants to cut corners when it can, but is playing hardball with the sequel to your most valuable property really the way to go? Iron Man single-handedly made Marvel into a real movie studio and briefly created the impression that they were movie making geniuses. Whatever issues I had with Marvel's choices in the past, they spent A-grade money on a B-level comic book character and let Jon Favreau make the film he wanted to make. They took a risk and it paid off big time for them. And they've been making some whip-smart choices about who directs their various properties, so I was hoping to be able to cheer for them for awhile. But this is not smart decision making. Yes, they may be saving up so that they can blow their wad in other, more technical arenas, but Iron Man was a success because of its characters and fine actors, not because of its occasional flying robot action scenes.

If you want to cut costs, don't do it on your flagship franchise, the one that is all but guaranteed to return said investment. There is a strong possibility that Iron Man 2 could very well be the highest grossing film of summer 2010, with only Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part 1) standing in its way. If spending an extra $20 million gets a top-flight cast and makes sure that the current cast is happy, then spend $20 million. Hey, Marvel... want to save almost $200 million in production and marketing costs? Don't make Ant Man.

On the plus side, the current spendthrift ways make it more likely that Marvel will cast Jon Hamm as Captain America in Joe Johnston's film adaptation (since he'll likely work for peanuts). Of course, if Marvel is set on going cheap, then there is always the frightening possibility that the 1990 Albert Pyun Captain America film may end up being the superior version.

I come at this not as a foe but as a friend. I didn't worship Iron Man like a lot of people did, but there were ingredients there for a vastly superior sequel. With a stunningly successful original behind them, and most of the introductory exposition out of the way, the filmmakers can make a film that has the confidence to deal with the various geopolitical issues that were brought up rather than toss them away for a rock-em-sock-em robots climax. I understand the need to save money for any major company. But if you're Marvel Studios, Iron Man 2 is not the film to cut corners on (and for that matter, neither is Captain America).