Ivan Vanko isn’t my favorite villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He probably wouldn’t even crack the top five, if I'm really being honest. Why, then, am I obsessed with Vanko, played by Micky Rourke in Iron Man 2? He ain't snapping anything. It's really all about the way he says one single word.
"Bird" is the word.
Ba-ba-ba-bird is indeed the word when it comes to Rourke in this movie. I have a serious soft spot for everything and anything Iron Man 2 (can’t explain it), especially the movie’s depiction of Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who is my favorite antagonist in the MCU. Without Rourke’s Vanko and his magic word, however, much of the wonder of Hammer would not be possible.
Resume the throwing of rocks, doesn't matter, I am what I am. I know everyone panned it, but I love Hammer and I love that bird and I love Iron Man 2, which, thank Thor, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary on May 7, which means I get to write about Vanko and his bird.
Rourke, for his part, spends most of this movie in a black hoodie, covered in tattoos, sporting quarantine hair, and wearing a cross necklace that he borrowed from that time Mr. T dressed up as the pope. He’s set up as a Russian Tony Stark, but, not really. It doesn't help that his first scene in the movie contains one of those “scream to the heavens over a body that just died” moments.
Forget that. Soon enough you get Vanko cranking out the electro-whips, and (kind of) turning into Whiplash-by-way-of-Crimson Dynamo. He isn’t really either character, though. He's just Ivan Vanko. His most memorable action scene comes during the Monaco sequence, but that is not where one finds the true glory of Vanko.
After a prison escape (and a great little moment of him flicking debris off of his shoulder), Vanko pairs with Justin Hammer in an effort to make god bleed. The fireworks commence. For the rest of the movie (pretty much), Rourke wears the aforementioned black hoodie, etc., and uses reading glasses that he just bought at a Rite-Aid counter checkout. It's glorious. Rourke’s hacker moves are luscious and lovable, and, yes, “drone better.”
And when Hammer offers him a deal to pair up and take down Stark? Vanko only has one serious demand.
“I vant my boerdd.”
Let us unpack this, in the hopes of getting closer to the root of my obsession. We’ve seen Vanko care for a boerdd (bird) back in Russia, and it’s clear he loves this boerdd. He gives it little nips of vodka, so Vanko is trapped in an alcoholic cycle of enablement with this boerdd. It’s his only real demand to Hammer, and the boerdd talk marks the only time that Vanko loses his temper a little — and it's at this moron with the fake gelato. He doesn’t just want any bird, he wants his boerdd. There is a difference.
You know what's fascinating here? This bird that he loves so much ... it doesn’t have a name. This bird that literally wets its beak from Vanko’s own cup is never given a name.
Vanko doesn’t say, “I vant my boerdd, Harriet.” He doesn’t say, “I vant Marty Chiswick, that is the name of my boerdd.” He just says that he vants his boerdd. I have reason to suspect that the bird has no name, and that he just calls it “boerdd.” The way that he says the word makes me want to give a million dollars to the dialect coach who worked on this movie.
My dead soul sparks to life every time Rourke says the word “boerdd." He doesn’t get passionate about much — even when plotting and scheming with Hammer in Hammer’s awful Dell lab of mediocrity, he’s just going through the motions. He gives zero f***s, except when it comes to his unnamed, alcoholic boerdd.
Why? Why is he like this, why is the movie like this, why is the bird not named, and how did Rourke get away with these acting choices? I don’t know, and I don’t care. I just know that the resulting scenes fly on the wings of a boerdd, and that you should let them into your heart.
The real bonus of Vanko saying "boerdd" over and over is that Hammer, almost trying some kind of adapted Sanford Meisner exercise, picks up on it. He realizes early on that boerdd is the woerdd, so he starts saying it too. He says it like Sam Rockwell says things, so it isn’t pronounced in the same way (meaning, with Rourke's fantastic faux Russian accent). Rockwell makes up for that with volume — Justin Hammer probably says the word “bird” more in this movie than characters say the name “Rachel” in any of the Dark Knight movies.
“I can get you a bird, I can get you 10 birds. We got you the BIRD! Look at this BIRD! It’s a great BIRD! Oh, now you like the BIRD. You know what? Take the BIRD.”
Rockwell hits it so hard with a feathered ball-peen every time he says it. At this point, Vanko is (presumably) forever parted from his original nameless boerdd, so Hammer gets him another. Vanko isn’t pleased. It may look the same, but it is not his boerdd. It’s just a bird. Vanko bonds with it anyway, and this bird soon becomes the new boerdd.
When Hammer has one of his goons put the boerdd in a bag? You can see it on Vanko’s face — he was already gonna take this dope for all he was worth, but now? Now he’s got boerdd-fueled revenge on the brain.
Iron Man 2 is not a perfect movie, and it is very clear it was made in the midst of a writers’ strike. As a result, things have an improvisatory tone, and some things that should not be bits are bits.
This is the crazy infinity pool from which the movie draws its power. It's what makes me love this insanely odd movie. I watch it more than the other two Iron Man films. I’m obsessed with it to this day. I will forever be analyzing and celebrating the way that Rourke says one short bird word.
When I'm choosing a movie in the MCU to watch, sometimes I just vant my boerdd.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.