Film Review: Iron Man 2 (2010)

Iron Man 21

If Incredible Hulk is the Avengers’ redheaded stepchild, then Iron Man 2 is the spoiled little brother that nobody likes. Iron Man 2 rode into theaters on a wave of crazy fanfare, the first movie to officially dive into the master Avengers narrative. The original was a ball of fun, Mickey Rourke’s version of Whiplash looked to be a freaky villain, and who can’t use more of ole’ RDJ chewing up the scenery?  Plus, the ominous “like all guilty men, you try to re-write own your history” line in the trailer made the film look to follow in the stellar tradition of thoughtful comic book sequels such as X2: X-Men United, Spider-Man 2, and The Dark Knight that really exploded the possibilities of their previous films. In short, Iron Man 2 had everything going for it.

And then the whole thing was just a goddamn mess.

When you really step back from Iron Man 2 and look at the master narrative, the problems become obvious fast. Tony Stark is fighting the U.S. government to keep control of his Iron Man suit when Rourke’s Ivan Vanko shows up as Whiplash to settle a vendetta. The first fight between the two, an electrifying brawl in the middle of a speedway, is a stunning smash-up. It’s also the only moment in the movie that make’s anything of Rourke’s full-on nutzo appeal. From there, Rourke gets locked up to work with Stark’s industry rival, Justin Hammer, Iron Man falls of the wagon and has to get a hand up from Nick Fury and Black Widow as they shamelessly plug the Avengers initiative, and the whole thing runs into another anti-climax as Justin Hammer’s new military machines go haywire. The government, Whiplash, Justin Hammer, booze – Iron Man 2 can’t figure out what the hell its villain is supposed to be. The narrative is all over the place, with no overall threat to tie it together or keep us excited from scene to scene.

Reasons for these issues have been mulled over since the film’s release. Many people blamed Marvel’s decision to rush into the production of the film while the studio was still getting its legs; others said the issue was more that Jon Favreau simply isn’t a great director, and he really stumbled without the obvious origin narrative to work from. Rourke was also rumored to be a massive problem to work with on set, resulting in his character’s role in the film being drastically reduced (seems like partially a stretch, as that would involve a huge mid-production script re-write.) But excuses, excuses – a massive budget, big-names stars, the future of a studio’s biggest franchise, there’s no excuse to fuck things up this bad. No narrative momentum, a deluge of boring scenes, a blatant hocking of Avengers that actually managed to make that movie look less desirable (and how the hell do you accomplish that?) – it’s a pretty epic misfire in the place of what should have been a sure thing.

To be fair, the movie has a few redeeming points. RDJ continues to bring the delight as Stark, but while his charisma is still undeniable, it’s like the screenwriter skipped writing him actual one-liners this time and relied on Downey to just sell generic dialogue. Don Cheadle adds some much-needed spunk in the role of Col. Rhodey, even if the movie can’t figure out much to do with the idea other than rush Cheadle into the War Machine gear. And there’s no arguing – that first fight between Iron Man and Whiplash is a damn sweet one.

But those things alone don’t make up for giant missed opportunities. Word has it that Iron Man 3 – already hitting theaters in May 2013 – has completely revamped the franchise’s tone, going for a less pulpy, more espionage-oriented approach under the hand of director Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.) And of course, early buzz on Avengers says that film finally gives Iron Man the jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring film climax he deserves. Here’s hoping. The current Iron Man is too fun of a cinematic creation to let IM2 completely taint his legacy.

Rating: 2/5 ★★☆☆☆ 

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About Josh_C

Josh has studied film at the Universities of Missouri and Florida, and he is currently studying horror film and popular culture in the Communication and Culture program at Indiana University. He has previously worked with the True/False Documentary Film Festival and the Ragtag Theatre in Columbia, Missouri, and he served as short-term production assistant on This Film Is Not Yet Rated. He is currently working on a dissertation on independent horror, horror film festivals, and horror fandom; feel free to contact him to discuss any of the above! He is also studying Dark Carnival Film Festival (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com).

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