There’s a unique sense of fun about the first Iron Man movie, and it’s enough to largely overcome whatever difficulties may be present. The villain is overdone. The message of peace overwrought. Generally, the script could have been tweaked. None of it matters a great deal though, because the experience of muddling along with the world’s biggest playboy as he comes to terms with having the greatest toy ever, and the responsibilities of same, make for an undeniably fun ride.
Iron Man 2 still has a good dose of that charm, and it certainly excels in the villain department, but it has decided to focus so much on developing the story that it gets rather bogged down at times. That’s a strange thing to say, and I even like the story it puts together, but at some point the film itself is suffering from Tony Stark’s famous narcissism.
Now “outed” as Iron Man, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is being pressured by the government to hand over the suit to military. His disinclination to do so leads to problems generally, because they threaten to come take it, but also with his friend Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who finds himself in a difficult position.
In the world of less friendly problems, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) runs a competing arms company, and he’d like nothing better than to knock Stark off his pedestal using any means necessary. There’s also the slight matter of Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), whose father helped create the Arc Reactor. Ivan, aka Whiplash, builds his own version of superhero suit in the hopes of bringing down Iron Man.
Well, and the element powering Tony’s own suit, and keeping him alive, is also killing him. Just another day at the office.
Tony has a lot on his plate, but the movie leaves us wondering whether general villainy, or his inability to let people in on his condition is causing more upheaval. When Hammer partners up with Vanko in the hopes of creating Iron Man 2.0, happy days are not on the horizon, but Tony’s dilemma is really cause for more concern, and opens the door for some much needed uncertainty.
There is solid ground being covered between the flash and bang, which is far less frequent than in the first film, but somewhere along the line all the sub-text became text, and the effort to have more meat than sauce may leave you choking. It’s great to piece together a story that tries to solidify a sense of legacy, something sorely lacking and infrequently mentioned in our society, but since the word “legacy” is used more than a dozen times in the film, it isn’t really such a tale at all. The dueling dysfunctional father relationships would go over quite a bit better without Tony actually saying, “He never told me loved me, and didn’t care about me,” only to be rebutted by his father saying, “I love you, and care about you.”
That’s not storytelling. In the world of summer blockbusters, a flaw largely to be ignored, but Iron Man 2 sets forth in its story development with such hubris that it hardly allows you to let go of the idea that to a certain extent it is calling you stupid.
Still, while the film is trying to be serious in ways it cannot pull off, it also far surpasses the original with its characters. Tony is a bit more man, a bit less shtick, and both Rourke and Rockwell deliver.
Like the first film, there is a lot of fun to be had here, even if things are slightly off somehow. 2.0 is better in some ways, worse in others, and I had less fun, but we’re still using a yardstick that starts out better than most things.
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