May 17, 2010

Iron Man Deconstructed

As the wise Yahtzee once said of sequelitis, "A good sequel is one that uses the original as a jumping off point for a whole new story...while a bad sequel merely wallows in the original like a hippo." Iron Man 2 isn't a bad movie, but Iron Man set the bar so high that even if Robert Downey Jr. appeared naked in every scene, the sequel wouldn't vault past my expectations. It's not you, Iron Man, baby, it's me.

Read on, if you will, as I explore, dissect, applaud, nitpick, and otherwise discuss Iron Man 2. The following contains more spoilers than the Monaco Grand Prix. (Cut me some slack, I'm a little rusty.)

Arcs: For reactors only, no characters allowed

My biggest beef is that every character emerges the same person in the same situation as they were at the close of the first film; the sequel focuses on fluff and slick effects, leaving its characters to stagnate. Tony Stark is publicly Iron Man. Iron Man is (mostly) lauded as a hero. Pepper is Tony's assistant, again. Rhodey remains Tony's straight-laced friend. S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to vet Tony for the Avengers team. It's a series, not a campsite, we don't have to leave it how we found it.

The exploration of Tony's character is largely what endeared Iron Man to me and helped the original establish itself as a comic film a breed apart. Tony was an arrogant man humbled by a traumatic situation. He faced a crossroads, forced to humanize and personalize the consequences of his work, and strove to do right for perhaps the first time in his life. In Iron Man 2, Tony's progression is a flatline. Even faced with impending death, his personality scarcely changes in the long run. He does use his ego as a facade to hide his fears, which is an interesting, albeit brief, deviation for the cocksure hero.

As always, RDJ's performance as Tony Stark is the highlight of the film, delivered with verve and smarmy panache. Downey's Tony is quirky and completely endearing. Particularly enjoyable is his rapid-fire banter, especially opposite Gwyneth Paltrow and Sam Rockwell (though the talking-over-each-other shtick does grow a bit tiresome).

It's my party and I'll pee in my suit if I want to

Besides "Robot Rock" and Paltrow's delivery of, "You just peed the suit," the birthday party scene really gets my goat. First, how does Rhodey even put on the Mark II armor? His access to the lab is established, OK, but anyone who strolls in can don a suit? Why would Tony build arc reactors to independently power each set of armor when he didn't intend for (and was adamantly against) others using his technology? How is Rhodey so expert at maneuvering the suit when it's his first time wearing it? Iron Man devoted a good chunk of time to Tony learning how to pilot the armor; Rhodey's ease flies in the face of the film's own canon. Is Jarvis assisting Rhodey too? Why do the repulsor beams look like a move straight out of Dragon Ball Z? How many questions can I fit in this segment?

Iron Man's a Man's Man

I'm not among Marvel's target demographic, I get that, but I'm convinced Jon Favreau sat down with a twelve-pack and "the guys" to compose a list of "Stuff Dudes Love," then included absolutely every item in the film: expensive cars, racing, cheerleaders, big guns, fighting robots, explosions, Jon Favreau, boxing, Scarlett Johansson's boobs. I don't know where I'm going with this except to say the testosterone baiting was a little excessive.

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Rourke?

Perhaps the Iron Man series' greatest weakness is its lack of a good arch-nemesis. When the comics give you Fin Fang Foom - an alien dragon from the planet Maklu IV - and this guy to choose from...well, they ain't exactly the Joker.

That being said, Mickey Rourke is entertaining as Ivan Vanko; he's imposing, slightly deranged, and majorly creepy. Vanko's clearly a cool guy too, as evidenced by the many explosions he did not look at. Despite Rourke's impressive presence, the narrative fails to maintain tension between the hero and the villain, especially considering Tony believes Vanko to be dead for the majority of the film. Iron Man 2 doesn't learn from its past mistakes and wraps up with another rushed and anti-climatic boss battle; even the lead-up to Justin Hammer's Expo reveal was meandering.

I must tip my hat to Rockwell's hilarious performance as Justin Hammer. Hammer's rivalry with Stark, his poorly received speeches, his pitch for the "Ex-Wife" - what's not to love?

Still, Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane reigns supreme in the realm of awesome Iron Man baddies.

The spy who didn't do much

I was trepidatious about the addition of Scarlett Johansson as Natasha/Black Widow; there are few tropes I've grown more tired of than the ol' love triangle. Sometime mid-movie I realized Natasha's role wasn't as love rival and thought happily to myself, "ScarJo's not so bad. In fact, she's barely said a thing!..Wait, this is something to be happy about?" Truth is, Natasha doesn't play much of a part at all beyond eye candy. Her personality and contribution to the plot is so marginal, why include her in the first place?

Extra Pepperony

Enough complaining, I've saved the best for last. I love Tony Stark. I love Pepper Potts. I love 'em together. Honestly, I probably would've been happy if the entire movie was these two locked in a room bickering. Every scene with Tony and Pepper is sharp and delightful, both jockeying for the upper hand with their verbal sparring. Nothing made this fangirl quite as happy as them finally snogging...except maybe the omelette scene. Hey, where's my "You complete me" line from the trailer? Shenanigans!

Iron Man 2 may have fallen a little short of my lofty expectations, but far be it from me to turn my nose up at a perfectly good piece of pie simply because I was hoping for cake. No doubt I will want to see the film again (and again) and allow myself to simply sit back and enjoy the ride.


(Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Marvel, and


Toomin said...

Heyy, you've updated! Nice little deconstruction thar. I has a bunch of nitpicks/answers/comments, though =P

-Yeah, Tony's character development is pretty flat in IM2, agreed. But, I think this was the case in IM1, too. He does have his conscience slapped awake, but he still has his playboy attitude and need for attention ("I am Iron Man"). The only thing different about him is that he tries his best to do good with his suit and his technology, which is retained in the sequel. I didn't mind IM2's lack of noticeable development, but I guess that's 'cause I went in expecting a 'middle chapter' type story.

-The Rhodey-suit thing is explained in the donut shop scene. I think Tony says or admits to having reprogrammed the suit so Rhodey could use it at some point, as part of his "leave things behind to his friends before he dies" plan. I think that's what he said, anyway. I hope so, 'cause otherwise that scene, like you pointed out, makes no sense, lol.

-Yeah, it was a dude's movie. *sheepish shrug* :-P

-Agreed on the IM series' lack of a really iconic villain. Apparently, the Mandarin will be IM3's main villain, though.

I love the cool guy's song. :D But I agree, Vanko's not exactly the most intimidating villain, and the final battle sequence, as cool as it looked, wasn't suspenseful or really climactic.

-ScarJo's character was introduced probably to be used in the third movie. At least, that better be the case. 'Cause otherwise, that's a huge waste of boobs...I mean, um, acting talent, yeah. Heh.

-I admit I felt warm and fuzzy when Tony and Pepper finally got together on the roof.

Movie Meg said...

@Toomin - Hi! :)

-Good point, and I certainly wouldn't want Tony to completely stray from his usual arrogance and charisma. It is pretty par for course to establish the character in the origins film and simply take off running in the sequels; I guess I just naively hoped for more development.

-During the donut shop scene, I think Natasha says something about Tony setting up securities against unauthorized use of the armor, so I suppose that would suggest Tony had, in fact, granted Rhodey access. You're probably right, I just don't remember :D Guess I'll have to see it again (and hope I don't sound like a complete tool in my rant). Regardless, Rhodey's too damn good at piloting. Even a one-off line about Rhodey practicing with Tony would've fixed most of my issues with the birthday scene.

-I'd be fine with an updated Mandarin. I wonder if they'll bring back Raza from the first film? He was leader of the "Ten Rings" after all.

-Yeah, we'll probably see Black Widow's face again and more of her talents in IM3 ;)

(I have to see Kick-Ass one of these days...)

Toomin said...

Nah, it wasn't a tool-ish rant. I've seen annoying rants, and this one wasn't--it was more funny than anything.

And yeah, Rhodey did catch on to using the suit pretty quickly....maybe Tony's just a really good user interface designer? :/

clytemnaestra said...

"Iron Man 2 isn't a bad movie by any stretch, but Iron Man set the bar so high that even if Robert Downey Jr. appeared naked in every scene, the sequel wouldn't vault past my expectations."
I have to disagree with that :P

I think my absolute favorite thing about IM2 was actually Sam Rockwell. Of course RDJ was awesome and snarky, but I really liked seeing Sam smarm it up! It was a pleasant surprise to see him, because I didn't know he was even in the film - not sure what that says about the marketing, since everybody and their brother knew that Scarlett Johanssen would be in it...
But I think that RDJ & Sam's interactions were more interesting and fun, ultimately, than his interactions with Whiplash/Mickey-Rourke-on-speed. I think that the addition of Sam really helped to balance Ivan Vanko's ... crazy intense craziness ... with the humor and attitude that the series has become known for.

My complaint is along the same lines as yours, though. I don't really feel like Tony dealt with the issues that Vanko brought up in any meaningful way. In the first one, he had to confront some internal stuff as a result of the villain, but in this one, the internal conflict was mostly because of the heart issue & his dad but had nothing to do with the bad guy.

It seemed like the frenetic pacing of the movie worked to its disadvantage and made the movie seem seriously ADD. Jon F wanted to go in so many different directions that he couldn't fully explore any one of them. Which means that they all had to tie in neatly at the end, which brings us to your point about lack of character development. I love how you put this: "It's a series, not a campsite, we don't have to leave it how we found it." I would've loved to have Pepper stay in charge of Stark Industries! Otherwise, what? She's been demoted? She demoted herself?

The strawberry scene was my pet peeve, although it was also pretty cute. Pepper saying that Tony was the one who was best suited (haha) to run the company seemed off. He's the last person who should be running his own company! He's an engineer, not an executive! And Pepper made it painstakingly clear in the first one that she was the one running the show.

Also, just including Sarlet to show her boobs is entirely in line with the comic book/superhero movie genre, but come on! It just came across as pandering to the testosterone-filled 15 year olds, not part of the story or franchise.

So ... wanna see it again? :)

Movie Meg said...

@clytemnaestra –

-I agree, Sam Rockwell was awesome and I enjoyed his interaction with RDJ more than Rourke’s too. I like Rockwell more and more with each new movie I see him in. And, to be completely shallow, he pulls off the suit look veeery nicely.

-Re: Tony’s internal conflict (or lack thereof). I was going to snark about his dad issue but felt the post was getting a bit long. I’m fairly sure Tony’s issue with Howard Stark was first mentioned and then resolved in the scene immediately following. “Hi, Tony. Here’s how to create Starkium. Oh and by the way, I somehow know that you’ll need reassurance in the future though you’re still very young while I’m filming this and we could potentially develop the best father-son relationship ever. Anyway, I love you and have always been proud of you blah blah. Peace out.” How convenient.

-There were definitely pacing issues, very frenetic as you said.

-Pepper!! I wanted so badly for Pepper to remain CEO of Stark Industries! As much as I loved the rooftop scene, I couldn’t fully enjoy the smooching because I was still trying to wrap my head around Pepper “demoting herself”; it surprised me actually. She didn’t really show signs of being overly stressed/not being able to handle the job (the job that, essentially, she has already been doing for years). I mean, she was peeved by cleaning up after Tony’s disasters, but that’s nothing new. She seemed the opposite of overwhelmed – confident and in charge. Maybe it was the near-death experience talking. I’m going to pretend there’s a deleted scene where she says, “I was almost blown to smithereens so I wasn’t thinking straight. I’m still in charge of the company, neener.” Clearly, she’s the one suited (haha) for the job. Plus, plot-wise, it would free up Tony to do more Iron Man-y things in the sequels.

Heck yes I want to see it again :D