Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

12 May 2010

Iron Man 2 (movie)

I wonder: if Iron Man hadn’t been so good, would Iron Man 2 seem like a better movie?

It’s a moot question; I can’t unsee Iron Man, and I wouldn’t if I could. But without its successful predecessor, audiences might be more forgiving to the sequel’s weaknesses and be more apt to remember the good parts.

Iron Man 2 picks up six months after the first movie, and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) has transformed the world: the presence of Iron Man has caused an unprecedented level of peace around the world, and the only threat is a whining senator Tony Stark can safely tell to kiss his ass — but in a very witty manner, of course. But then a Russian seeking revenge recreates the ARC reactor, which powers the Iron Man armor, and comes looking for revenge on Tony …

With electric whips that can slice through metal. Well, not all of a genius’s plans can be top notch — this one’s a legacy of the comics, and it’s nowhere near as stupid as it sounds (and I know, it sounds pretty stupid). Those whips could be seen as one of the many small flaws in the movie, which include the horrible, horrible quips that fall flat, the insistence of director Jon Favreau for an increased role for actor Jon Favreau (as Happy Hogan, Stark’s chauffeur), the horrible, horrible science, the lack of impact Tony’s illness seems to have, the use of a da Vinci code-style plot device …

Wait, what was I saying? Oh, yes, that those are minor complaints. I almost forgot for a moment. Those really aren’t important compared to two other problems.

The first is the lack of repercussions for Tony Stark’s obvious hubris. He’s created world peace — or so he thinks — he’s on top of the world, and he’s not going to let anyone forget it. Tony is begging — begging — for comeuppance, and to a degree, he richly deserves it.42 He should lose something precious through his arrogance or his drinking or something, but he doesn’t. Not really, anyway — he has a brief argument with his girl Friday, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), but it’s more a tiff than an argument. Even his best friend stealing a suit of armor doesn’t seem to have any consequences. Instead of ruin, Tony’s hubris leads to mild inconvenience.

The second problem is a bit of a surprise. Most superhero sequels experience Multi-Villain Syndrome (MVS), in which multiple villains get crammed into too small of a plot or running time; Spider-Man 3 is a prime example. But Iron Man 2 avoids that, using its two villains to complement each other, just as Batman Begins did. The two villains are both creepy, but in different ways: Anton Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is a dirty, ragged genius focused on revenge, while defense contractor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) is a smarmy, venal capitalist who aids Vanko and screws with forces he doesn’t understand.

No, in this case, the multiple heroes are the problem. James Rhoades (Don Cheadle) gets a pass — the character, if not the actor, was in the first movie — but neither Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) or Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) add anything. Fury seems to pop up to remind us, “Yes, there will be an Avengers movie soon”; all of his exposition could have been delivered by a generic government stooge. Romanov is there for Tony to leer at and for an action scene almost unrelated to the rest of the movie — and, oh yes, for the audience to leer at Johansson in skin-tight spandex. There’s not much for Jackson to work with; Johansson seems lifeless and mumbling at times.

But that’s dwelling on the negatives, seeing the flaws that weren’t there in the first movie. In truth, a lot of the likeable stuff is still there. Downey is still the witty rich jerk we all secretly want to be — unabashedly cruel toward his enemies, unthinkingly generous toward his friends. Downey plays the role so well Stan Lee and all who followed him might as well have been writing it for him. Stark’s still a genius, and the character’s daddy issues come to the fore — naturally enough, since his mentor, his surrogate father from the first movie, betrayed him. Just like the original, Iron Man 2 is inspired by comics but not slaved to them. The action sequences are great again, and the final battle is better than Iron Man’s listless finale.43 As I said, Justin Hammer and Anton Vanko are excellent villains, credible threats you can really hate, and Rockwell and Rourke do well with their roles.

So there’s a lot to like. It’s just Iron Man 2 doesn’t really add anything any positives that Iron Man didn’t have — except for the awesome suitcase armor — and it accumulates detriments the original managed to sidestep.

Iron Man 2 is a good but not great superhero movie. But I can’t see myself rewatching this one like I can the original.

Rating: Iron Man symbol Iron Man symbol Iron Man symbol Half Iron Man symbol (3.5 of 5)

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