An audience with the “Iron Man 2” crowd

So, a couple of weeks back, a volcano went off in Iceland. That meant that planes in Europe couldn’t fly for several days, which meant that suddenly a London press junket was canceled and rescheduled in Los Angeles, which meant that, one recent Thursday night, I wound up seeing “Iron Man 2” at the AMC Theater in Century City instead of “A Star is Born” at Grauman’s Chinese for the TCM Classic Film Festival. (The world is getting much smaller…)

Moreover, thanks to the volcano, the next morning, instead of my Crunchy Raisin Bran and 1% milk, I was instead being buttered up by with French toast and applewood-smoked bacon buffet at the Four Seasons, a free Iron Man action figure, and a theoretical chance to ask a question of the all-star cast of “Iron Man 2” — i.e., Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle,and soon to be super-villain of the year Mickey Rourke — not to mention director/co-star Jon Favreau, writer Justin Thoreaux, and producer Kevin Feige.

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Of course, considering the 150 or so people in the room, I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get to ask any questions, but it was a pretty entertaining event. Robert Downey may have famously given up a number of vices, but being a perpetual class clown does not seem to be one of them, and it wasn’t like he was the only interesting person in the room.

The first question, about whether Favreau or he felt any pressure in terms of living up to the success of the first “Iron Man,” set the tone. Favreau admitted he had never been involved with a sequel before, unless you count his “under five” bit part as “Assistant” in Joel Schumacher’s notorious “Batman Forever.” It certainly is a change from small independent films like Favreau’s career-making acting and writing debut, “Swingers,” which he compared to throwing a party and hoping people would come.

“…[On ‘Iron Man 2’] we knew that people were going to show up,” Favreau said. “We just wanted to make sure that everyone who showed up had a good time and that this was going to be as fun or more fun than the last party. So it’s a different kind of pressure.”

Downey then felt the need to start listing sequels others on the panel had been involved in, real and fictional. “Scarlet Johansson was in ‘Home Alone 3.’ Don Cheadle, 11, 12 and 13.”

That led to a question that was geeky in a way that anyone whose ever been a superhero comics fan will recognize, and which wound up being answered by producer Kevin Feige. It was about the “time-line” of the film. It turns out that, if viewers pay close attention, they can figure out that “Iron Man 2” actually takes place before 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk.” (Having seen both movies, I have no freakin’ clue how you’d deduce that.)

The Incredible Hulk

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And it’s Peggy we’re going to be spending a good chunk of tonight learning to admire ever more as she realizes that she is a skilled creative, even if Sterling Cooper “hates creatives.” The cause of all that is a last minute assignment to put together material for a new Bacardi campaign, forcing her, pretentious Paul Kinsey and turtlenecked hipster Smitty to work over the weekend as the higher ups, which now include both Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove, all attend a swank Derby-themed shindig hosted by Roger Sterling and his new young wife, Jane.

Meanwhile, things aren’t easy on the home front. Not yet retired secretary Joan Harris, nee  Holloway, and her new husband, who, er, raped her last season are getting ready for a dinner party for his MD colleagues. The good news is that not even this psychotic can keep Joan under his thumb. As he fearfully tries to bully her — over table settings — he says angrily that he doesn’t want to have a fight, her answer is succinct: “Then stop talking.”

Joan Holloway

Joan is a survivor, no doubt. But before the night is over we learn that her husband may have some potentially serious career problems on top of his obvious violent tendencies — which nevertheless seem under control, just for the present.

Things are only a little less fraught at the home of Don and the now very pregnant Betty Draper. The Drapers are dealing with Betty’s dad, whose slide into dementia seems to be manifesting itself this week as something more like eccentricity, having young Sally read to him from The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (which, perhaps fortunately, she doesn’t seem to quite understand).

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