Monday, July 6, 2015

Summer of Marvel: Iron Man 2 (2010)

What can I say about Iron Man 2? I liked it. Hmm. Now what am I going to talk about for the rest of the column?


Some dude in Russia, Anton Vanko, sees the disclosure on the news that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is Iron Man. He starts building his own arc reactor, which is the thing that powers the Iron Man suit, so he can prove that Iron Man isn’t invincible.

Back in the US, Stark grows despondent and reckless when he realizes that he is dying because the reactor in his suit is poisoning him. He hands his massive company over to his assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and he starts having wild parties and doing stupid(er) things. He even decides to compete in the Monaco Grand Prix. During that race, however, he gets attacked by Vanko. Stark defeats Vanko, but Vanko attracts the attention of Stark’s rival Justin Hammer, who breaks Vanko out of jail so he can build a line of armored suits for his company.
In the meantime, Stark gets drunk and angers everyone at a party he throws. He needs to be subdued by Air Force Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who confiscates an armored suit for the government; so far, Stark has refused to part with them. At the same time, Stark learns that his new assistant is really Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and he meets Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of SHIELD, who claims Stark’s father was a member of SHIELD and wants him to join too.

Soon, Stark cures the problem of the arc reactor poisoning him. He then learns that Hammer has created heavily armed drones he intends to show off for the government, but Vanko arrives and they fight to end the movie.

Why I Liked This Movie

Hmm. Ok, stick with me. By and large, I’ve found that I like sequels better than originals in the “franchise” genre, i.e. the genre where “properties” are put on film with the hope of being able to milk an existing fan base through three or four movies and some spin-offs. The reason is simple. The first film in every franchise series is invariably an origin story, especially in the comic book universe, and origin stories suck. It’s in the sequel that the writers normally first get the chance to offer real stories.
Iron Man 2 is not an origin story. The writers don’t waste time trying to explain who Tony Stark is or how he ended up in the suit. Instead, they get to focus on the next step in the story. That gives this film an instant boost because it adds the element of the unknown because the story isn’t following a tired formula that everyone follows. This is unchartered water.

What’s more, the Marvel universe is much more prone to interesting movies than the regular comic book fare because Marvel likes to delve into the heroes in the story and what makes them tick. That shifts a significant portion of the screen time from seeing useless CGI punches being tossed to seeing the writers make the characters interact. The end result of that is that the characters tend to be much more interesting, the dialog is less transactional (“I will stop you now”) and more about who these people are and how they interact, and you end up caring more for the characters.

Trust me, nothing spells “soul death” like watching Superman trade punches with another cardboard villain who can’t be harmed physically for forty f*cking minutes!!! Arggg! Fortunately, you will never find that in Marvel films (excluding the Hulk crapfests): “Hulk smash pixels until you slit your wrists with popcorn bucket!”
Anyways, Iron Man 2 is a movie I enjoyed for these reasons. It is populated by real characters with different personalities and different goals whose interactions are often endearing or humorous. There were few fight scene to bore me, none were all that long, and none of them felt really pointless. The actors were perfect too.

Paltrow is an excellent foil for Downey Jr. Cheadle evokes a lot of sympathy because you know he’s a good guy and he’s being held back by Downey’s irresponsibility. Johansson is hot... and is in this movie. Rockwell is slimy as Hammer and you really despise him. Even Vanko, who is rather clich├ęd, is enough of a brooding presence that you at least get a sense of menace whenever he is on screen – too often villains just prance around and act melodramatically; not so here.
Ultimately though, the guy who sells this movie is Downey Jr. Stark comes across as simultaneously inspiring and annoying as hell. You want to punch the guy. He’s such a genius with such a potential to save the world, and yet he acts like a spoiled child who is more interested in fart jokes than achieving his potential. THAT SAID, HOWEVER, (here is the key), he’s not a slacker. Stark is an ass and an annoyance, but he’s also a brilliant scientist with a strong sense of responsibility. He works hard. He bathes. He does take his responsibilities seriously... too seriously at times actually. Nothing about him is the pathetic modern slacker that these films jam into the hero roles (cough cough Green Lantern, Green Hornet, etc.). He really is a hero.
Unfortunately, he’s also a bit of a control freak in the worst possible sense. Indeed, Stark doesn’t trust anyone else to handle the suit and he is rather fascist in his outlook, thinking that he can impose order on the world to make it a perfect place.

All of this makes him a genuine contradiction and easily the most complex and unpredictable character ever written in the comic book film world... and Downey Jr. is 100% believable as him. In fact, thinking about it, I can’t imagine another actor who could handle this role. Most would try to hero-him-up and give him a secret pain which is keeping him from being perfect. Some would slacker him down into Van Wilder. Others simply would never present themselves as having a dark, a-hole side. And others would make him into manic depressive Batman who wants the world to die so its misery ends.

Only Downey Jr. can balance the good with the bad, the responsibility with the obnoxiousness, the self-pity with the nobility, and give us this unique Tony Stark. Only Downey Jr. revels in the complexity and doesn’t try to make Stark into a one-note antihero.

That is why I like this film.



Kit said...

Great review, Andrew!

One thing:

"Unfortunately, he’s also a bit of a control freak in the worst possible sense. Indeed, Stark doesn’t trust anyone else to handle the suit and he is rather fascist in his outlook, thinking that he can impose order on the world to make it a perfect place."

Just curious, are you aware of the plot of the next Captain America movie, Civil War? Because, to a certain extent, you just predicted it.

Kit said...

"Trust me, nothing spells “soul death” like watching Superman trade punches with another cardboard villain who can’t be harmed physically for forty f*cking minutes!!! Arggg! "


I take it you did not enjoy the climax of Man of Steel?

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Kit! :D

Actually, I'm not aware of the plot, but you do see his control freak instincts play out in Age of Ultron which I really enjoyed.

And no... I did not enjoy the 40 minute "climax" of Man of Steel. I would have turned it off if I could have. Instead, I picked up my phone and played Mahjong.

Kit said...

In Civil War (the comic books) the government passes a "registration act." Tony sides with the government and Captain America sides against the government.

AndrewPrice said...

Huh. Isn't that what X-Men has been about?

Kit said...

Yep. In the comic books they are all about the government trying to register super-powered peoples because… gays and Bushitler PATRIOT ACT.

djskit said...

I really enjoyed Sam Rockwell in this one. Talk about a full cast of 3 dimensional characters. Happy too. This is what separates Marvel from other movies.

AndrewPrice said...

djskit, Agreed. Marvel generally does a great job of giving you three dimensional characters who you come to like regardless of the action.

Kit said...

Another thing Marvel will do is throw humor into their fight scenes. I think this keeps them from being drawn-out 40 minute slugfests similar to what you saw in Man of Steel.

tryanmax said...

Rockwell alone is a draw for me, and I really enjoyed him in this film. I'm not sure why Iron Man 2 gets such a bad rap. I think it's an all-around solid film.

Kit said...

"I call this the 'Ex-Wife'."

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, The humor is vital. I laughed a lot during the action scenes in Ultron... and for the right reasons! :D That helps make the action interesting, which it really isn't when it's just a CGI slugfest.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I've become a real fan of Rockwell. As for the bad rap, I'm not sure. All I can think is that the villain is a bit of an afterthought.

djskit said...

There is also strong libertarian/Ayn Rand vibe to the film with Stark pitted against Gary Shandling - which may have caused "liberal" reviewers pause:

Senator Stern: My priority is to get the Iron Man weapon turned over to the people of the United States of America.

Tony Stark: Well, you can forget it. I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one. To turn over the Iron Man suit would be to turn over myself, which is tantamount to indentured servitude or prostitution, depending on what state you're in. You can't have it.

Koshcat said...

I liked this movie better than I thoughts I would. If there was a complaint is it was too long.

AndrewPrice said...

djskit, Iron Man has strong libertarian undertones. I like that.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, Same here. I was pretty sure I would hate this one, but I really liked it.

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