IRON MAN 2: Exactly As It Should Be

Reading all of the online articles posted about it, you'd think this Summer blockbuster season was populated by a bunch of really awful films being released on a very well-informed and comparably underwhelmed movie-going public.  I don't think it's nearly as dramatic as all that.  Sure, there have been tons of really bad flicks, buy what month goes by in theatrical releases when that isn't true?  What really bothers me, though, is that aside from the actually pretty bad and disappointing movies, there is one really big one that everyone is describing as a huge letdown:  IRON MAN 2.  I don't get it.

IRON MAN 2 is exactly the film it should be, especially when taking the first film into consideration along with the rules of the sequel.  We had a largely-uknown hero get his due from the audience, in a light, much more character-centric take on the superhero genre, that featured some really amazing special effects, and a charismatic star turn from Robert Downey, Jr.  The sequel is bigger, has more action and more special effects, features more quips and one-liners from its star, further establishes and expands the mythos and world of the Marvel films, and is a really fun ride, even if it does do a bit of wandering.  But these are all things that seem to cause problems for people.  A major complaint is that it has too much going on.  I disagree.  I think that, for its aims, it may actually do too little.

This time out, Stark is being attacked by a vengeance-obsessed Russian (Whiplash/Mickey Rourke, who I'll get to a bit later), an arms-dealer competitor hungry for the Iron Man tech (Justin Hammer/Sam Rockwell), the government and, by extension, the military, and his own body, which is being slowly poisoned by the very technology that's keeping him alive.  On top of all of this, though, this second film is also the set-up for the next two years of Marvel releases, teasing Captain America and Thor with weapon cameos, nods direct and indirect to S.H.I.E.L.D., and most of all, setting up Tony Stark as an integral part of this universe.  That's a lot of stuff to cram into a two and a half hour run time, and Favreau does a pretty good job of getting it done, especially considering the fact that it's fun and engaging.

The whole film plays a bit loose, and if it seems to only get its story going about forty minutes in, well, it should.  Stark is a loose character, always a bit flighty, and I really enjoy the fact that, unlike most big superhero flicks, it doesn't always feel like he has some sense of duty.  He's got an ego the size of Texas, easily, and he thinks he can get away with anything.  Some of the best parts of the movie have nothing to do with anything other than Tony being Tony: genius savant, ladies' man, egoist.  Just the sight of him eating a hangover donut in the Iron Man suit after an out-of-control party and showdown with his best friend, or his perfect interplay with Pepper Potts, or his completely devastating and quite funny showdown in a Senate hearing is enough to keep me coming back for more.  This allows the film some much-needed room to breathe, which is what a lot of these pictures lack.

I also felt much more acclimated to this style during the second time I watched IRON MAN 2.  It flows a lot better than I thought it did, and even the final battle doesn't seem like as much of a let-down in how brief it is.  I think I initially suffered from what a lot of people who saw it did: high expectations.  The difference is that now I've seen that it in fact met all of my expectations, and perhaps even surpassed them.  It's not a disappointment in any case.

As for the film doing too little with certain things, it just feels a bit too small.  Whiplash is an interesting character, but we get too little time with him.  I wanted more of his bloodlust.  It's also a shame that he doesn't end up with ties to some of the super-villains that I know are coming up in the future films (AVENGERS and, hopefully, IRON MAN 3).  I also think that there could have been some more time spent on S.H.I.E.L.D.  We're introduced to Black Widow, but what's her role in the organization?  She has some really great scenes, but the character is held back too much.  Nick Fury's two scenes are played mostly for comic effect and to set up the next films, but he's still a mystery.  But, maybe I'm alone here.  I did, after all, think that Peter Jackson's KING KONG could have used an extra ten minutes or so.

In any case, I think IRON MAN 2 is perfectly fine as a sequel.  It's not a well-oiled machine, but it has to be understood within the context that Marvel isn't attempting a single franchise here.  If the focus were only on Stark/Iron Man, the film would probably have been greatly streamlined.  The film, however, doesn't have any particularly deep flaws aside from a bump here or there.  As a Summer blockbuster, it's exemplary.  It's exactly what it should be, if not what I expected the first time around.


Willi said...

Thanks for actually reviewing this for what it is -- a blockbuster sequel. I consider myself a movie snob, and I still shared your sentiments regarding this movie the second time I saw it. I do believe it has a bit of sequel-itis. They should have moved the S.H.I.E.L.D. bits for a third movie. But I'm wondering if there will even be a third flick as they are spending so much time with Thor and The Avengers. I still enjoyed this movie immensely despite how much is packed into it. Now what was truly *too* much *and* poorly done was Spider-Man 3. That was a tremendous disappointment in every sense of the word.

matt said...

There will undoubtedly be a third film - after THE AVENGERS. As far as this being a blockbuster sequel, I think it's really quite successful. I just had a blast watching it. Similar film experience: THE A-TEAM. No matter what people say, THAT is a blockbuster. A damn fine one.