Movie Review: Iron Man 2

Courtesy Marvel Studios
Crank up the Black Sabbath.

All right, before I go into detail about Iron Man 2, let’s get the nerd-wank out of the way first: How cool is this? We’re actually going to get a live-action Avengers movie. The threads are coming together more and more and I couldn’t help but gasp like a little girl at the growing implications of it. I know, I know, it’s a couple years away and I had a feeling the thing at the end of the credits was going to be what it ended up being, but still. Holy crap. HOLY. CRAP. The Avengers movie is actually happening. It’s TOTALLY HAPPENING. GUYS. THIS IS GOING TO ROCK SO HARD.

You good? I’m good. Let’s get on with this.

Iron Man 2 picks up right where its predecessor left us, with Tony Stark smirkingly admitting to the world “I am Iron Man.” Six months have gone by, in which Iron Man has stabilized east-west relations, saved a ton of lives and made PMCs think twice about their business decisions. On the surface, Tony seems as arrogant, charming and intelligent as before, but his behavior is growing more and more erratic. The truth is, the palladium that powers the arc reactor keeping his heart from being perforated by tiny slivers of shrapnel from one of his own weapons is poisoning him. Unless he’s able to come up with a solution, the miracle of science that both keeps him alive and powers the Iron Man suit is going to kill him.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
“Lightning in a bottle, huh? Let me see what I can do.”

This is really the central premise of the film, allowing director Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. to build the character of Tony Stark. We don’t quite reach the bottom of his character arc, but there are shades of ‘Demon in the Bottle’ here and there. The first act of the movie, for the most part, is just Tony being a somewhat erratic douche, clearly riding high on the tides of his success partially because that’s who he is and partially because he doesn’t want people to know how sick he is, especially Pepper. The scenes between Tony and Pepper have a lot of the same chemistry as in the first film, and contributes to the sequel’s overall success.

The unfortunate side effect of putting Tony’s internal conflict front and center is that the villains of the movie are given secondary status. In the first film, once you got over the idea of ‘The Dude’ being an envious power-mongering weapons mogul, the villainy really wasn’t as interesting as Tony’s growth from carefree genius playboy to self-sacrificing superhero. Here, we get two villains, as we must inevitably in comic book sequels, but in this outing, the reason for their teaming up doesn’t feel contrived in the slightest, unlike the Riddler & Two-Face in Batman Forever.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
“Armor? Pfft. Real men need no armor.”

In Iron Man 2, we discover that the aforementioned arc reactor was actually a collaborative project between Tony’s father Howard and Russian physicist Anton Vanko. Anton’s son, Ivan, is very upset that Tony’s done so much with his father’s technology but hasn’t acknowledged the Russian’s brilliant assistance once. So, he miniaturizes the arc reactor himself and equips it with a pair of very nasty electrical whips. The other bad guy in this outing is wanna-be Justin Hammer, a weapons manufacturer who has Tony’s sort of money but none of his smarts, charm or bravery. He wants to try and put both Stark and Iron Man out of business but just doesn’t have the tech to do it. When he sees Ivan in action, though, he thinks he’s found a way to not only catch up to Stark’s level, but surpass it.

As I said, these guys are hanging out in the back seat for the most part, while we’re focused on Tony and how he’s continuing to grow. Integral to that growth are his friends, especially Pepper and James Rhodes. Pepper’s made CEO of Stark Industries which leaves Tony free to be Iron Man, while Rhody tries to convince his buddy to stop shouldering his burdens all by himself. While everybody in this movie does a really good job of inhabiting these comic book characters with humanity and emotional weight, Don Cheadle in particular steps up to have Rhody be the kind of best friend someone like Tony needs – a straight-laced, orders-following guy who still puts his friends first and isn’t afraid to put foot to ass when necessary.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
It’s hard to consider a movie a failure when you get to see something like this.

This might seem to be a glowing review so far, but unfortunately Iron Man 2 doesn’t quite measure up to its predecessor. The energy, whimsy and pioneering that set the first Iron Man film apart is somewhat lacking here. Some of the more glaring problems are one or two plot holes, a couple gags that go on just a bit longer than necessary and the shoehorning of tie-ins to future projects. Don’t get me wrong, I love the hell out of Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury, and in the words of MovieBob, the best way to describe Scarlett Johanson as the Black Widow is “HO-LEE…”, but honestly, there’s no need to pick up a metaphorical bullhorn to announce “THE AVENGERS MOVIE IS COMING.” We got that. We’re geeked for it. Tone it down and focus more on what’s happening right now. That said, there’s a gag involving something from an Avenger that, while slightly contrived, still struck me as very funny. I laughed at it hard.

Still, this does stand out among comic book movie sequels as one of the better entries. While it falls short of hitting the mark set by Spider-Man 2, it doesn’t miss by much. It’s fun without being stupid, action-packed without being terribly contrived, and errs on the side of humanizing the characters rather than reducing them to caricatures. I know there are some people out there who felt this was confused, messy or even boring, but I for one never felt bored watching the film. When there wasn’t action, there was good dialog, and when there wasn’t dialog there was character development. It’s not the best writing out there, to be sure, but you can certainly do a hell of a lot worse. It’s flawed, loud and might occasionally be a little annoying, but it’s also charming, fun and awesome – not unlike Tony Stark himself.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
It’s totally his boss’ dirty laundry.

Stuff I Liked: The Hammer drones (or “Hammeroids” as Tony calls them) are neat, the moment that Tony has regarding his father about two thirds of the way into the movie, and the interaction between Downey and Jackson. Also, I’m glad we got more ‘Happy’ Hogan, even if I had to smirk at the one scene with him and Natasha in the car, considering Hogan’s played by the director.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: As I said, there are a couple holes in the plot, including the Grand Prix sequence of events and the whole Hammer-Vanko-bird thing, and some of the gags don’t quite hit the mark they’re going for. The SHIELD stuff, while not bad, still seemed to be more for the benefit of upcoming projects than supporting this one and thus felt a bit unnecessary. The final confrontation and resulting ‘race against time’ bit felt a tiny bit rushed and a little messy. Finally, while I really appreciated how they did the sequence and I’m aware I was supposed to feel this way, the scene where Tony’s drunk and in the Iron Man suit made me a little uncomfortable.
Stuff I Loved: The Mark V suit popping out of the briefcase. Whiplash’s manly first appearance on the Grand Prix track. Pretty much everything ScarJo did with her character. The continued and real-feeling relationship between Tony and Pepper. War Machine. Just… War Machine.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
“It’s called ‘being a badass,’ Tony.”

Bottom Line: If you haven’t seen this in the cinema already, you might want to check it out, especially if you’re a fan of the first. I’ll probably pick it up on DVD when it comes out, because as flawed as it is, it’s still a pile of fun and has some great character-building moments and action sequences that are worth watching. It’s not fantastic, and not as good as the original Iron Man, but it’s still pretty damn good.

9 Comments

  1. Jay "The Chef"

    May 11, 2010 at 11:11 am

    I think a part of the reason why it seems like it didn’t live up to Iron Man 1 is a slight “Been there, done that.” in that because this movie isn’t the first “Holy SH@* it’s live action Iron Man!”

    It is the one risk movies that continue exactly where the last left off take that sometimes doesn’t work.

  2. Finally, while I really appreciated how they did the sequence and I’m aware I was supposed to feel this way, the scene where Tony’s drunk and in the Iron Man suit made me a little uncomfortable.

    I don’t see how this is a bad thing. I mean, if you were supposed to feel uncomfortable and it worked, doesn’t that say something good about how the movie affected you? You were emotionally involved, congrats! It’s like watching a horror movie and being upset that you jumped.

  3. I’m with you on the “I’m aware the scene should make me uncomfortable, but I disliked being uncomfortable with it” department. In part, however, it was because they didn’t show the effects of shards of broken glass raining down on all the party members, highlighting how very stupid and dangerous that stunt would be. They tried to get it both ways – show Tony being irresponsible, and give Rhody the necessary excuse to step in, without showing any repercussions for Tony being irresponsible besides the issue with Rhody.

    Also, I had this moment of “Seriously? Ask a gorgeous redhead what to do on your last birthday, she says ‘whatever you want with whoever you want’, and your thought is ‘Get drunk in my supersuit at a big party’? Where’s Fun Lecher Tony, damnit?”

    Frankly, the whole “Demon in a Bottle” storyline is one I hope they’ll keep out of the Iron Man/Avenger films, for a couple reasons. They managed to keep this tied to his dealing with the radiation poisoning, and all, so I’m as OK with it as I can be with the idea, realizing the necessity of it for the War Machine plot.

    Just don’t get me started on the chest-high plothole in the War Machine subplot.

  4. Not loving this movie with every inch of your geeky heart is grounds for dismissal as my friend.

    DISS. MISSED!

    Please leave all your geeky materials including your dice, RPG manuals, and wallet in the bin by the door.

    😉

    You actually had some really good points on this one. Whiplash really reached his peak in the middle of the film with the fight scene at the race track. When he came out as Iron Lash at the end his fight was short, abbreviated if you will. I didn’t care much for the “Our powers combine!” resolution to beating him.

    The part where he creates the new element was never fully explained. What did he zap with that beam of energy? Was that a music triangle? If I zap your average music triangle will I be able to make the new element? And just because it has a more powerful energy surge associated with it?

    A friend of mine pointed this out after we watched the film: How did Whiplash know to find Stark at the race? I know it was a Stark sponsored event but how did he know that Tony Stark was going to be racing the car and not up in the booth?

    I know I just pointed out a bunch of flaws with the film but I loved it as much as the original. The shield scene had me squeeing more than a bit. 😀

  5. @Jason – I sort of shared that moment of “bwuh?” Though it came out more like “Wait… she said that? And he’s… not telling her to turn around and start dancing? What the hell is this?”

    @John – I do really like it, and I didn’t want to spend too much time ruminating over the flaws you pointed out by name. I saw them, too, but the end result was good enough that I’m willing to let them slide. THIS TIME.

  6. @Danielle Exactly!

    @Jason That’s the limitations of the PG-13 rating. Check out the documentary “This Movie Is Not Yet Rated” for a very good look at just how consequence-less violence is forced to be to maintain the rating.

    I actually liked this better than the first. I thought the original plodded along a little too much with the background. It needed one more action sequence to keep it moving. I thought there was a lot more development in this one whereas it was glossed over a little too much in the beginning.

    I hope that there’s a Director’s Cut of this coming to Blu-Ray as there were a few scenes that could benefit from extension.

    @Josh I’m surprised you didn’t mention the reference to The Five Nightmares at the end of the movie. I was jumping up and down in the seat hoping they would continue what they started by making Pepper CEO.

  7. @Josh – EXACTLY! I heard somewhere that Favreau cut a bit of IM/BW flirtation because the fans would feel like it was some kind of crime against the Tony/Pepper dynamic… which really just compounded Missing the Point for me. Guh. Not at least having him make the pass was a disservice to everyone who liked Stark in IM1. I would hope there’s a Deleted Scene on the DVD where Tony does do what we all know Tony would’ve done, and she blows him off – then drunk and disorderly party. Makes a hell of a lot more sense that way.

    Then again, I’m one of the guys who thought That Ending should have actually had a momentary head-cock, followed by a “Well… That was… weird.” “Yeah, let’s not do that again.” “Deal.”

    @Ben – I’m not saying I’d want to see blood or anything, but even just a few party-goers covering their heads and yelling, or pushing their way out… that would have been something, and I think it could still carry a PG-13. Then again, the “standards” for ratings aren’t… well… standard. Just “does this committee say so”. Bleh. Easier yet, though – just stick to fruit. If the whole thing had been a Gallagher scene, it still would have been highly irresponsible drunk superheroing, but less troublesome from my point of view.

  8. Sorry, I’m going to have to be the Humourless Feminist and do this:

    “It’s hard to consider a movie a failure when you get to see something like this.”

    Nah, it’s still a failure, mostly BECAUSE we get to see that. What else does she do? Nothing! Buggering nothing. She’s just there to look at. Her lines are meaningless. Her figure is …well, I’m that weight, and I sure as hell know I couldn’t tie other guys in knots like that. Don’t tell me it’s all in “how you use it” because it isn’t, it’s just an excuse to get a girl in a catsuit on screen.

    A friend of mine said that the best way to not get hideously angry about the female characters in a Marvel/Hollywood film is to just mentally edit them out. In the case of Pepper and Scarlett Johansson In A Catsuit, this is very easy to do: if you remove the characters entirely, you still have the same film. Nothing of substance is lost.

    This just depresses me MORE.

    Women going to see this film have nothing to identify with. Scarlett Johansson In A Catsuit isn’t a real anything. Pepper shrieks all the time. There’s nothing THERE.

    I’m also pissed off that there was nothing for me, either. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the mecha porn. I loved Whiplash (yum yum yum yum yum) and I loved his bird, but who was I meant to identify with, there? I spent most of the film just wanting all the characters to go on fire. Except Whiplash, who could come home with me and weld things.

    And that is what I thought of the film.

  9. As for plot holes, I just figured:

    (a) Whiplash knew Stark was going to be at the race. When he saw on the big screen that Stark was hopping into the car, he just figured, “Even better; he’s coming to me!”

    (b) Rhodey doesn’t have a chest generator, true, but we know from the first film that it’s pretty easy for a suit to just have one in it, and we know in this film that Stark actually planned on Rhodey to take the suit.

    (c) I, too, did not enjoy the magical triangular element until I realized what it was supposed to be: VIBRANIUM! 😀

    If Iron Man was A+, Iron Man 2 was A to A-. Great stuff, tons of fun, can’t wait for Captain America!

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