Review – Iron Man 2

I actually first saw Iron Man 2 in theaters in the Summer of 2010. I remember walking out afterwards feeling a vague sense of disappointment that I couldn’t put my finger on. The acting was fine. RDJ was wonderful as always. Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, and Don Cheadle are all solid actors. The story (for the most part) made sense and there was just as much action as the first film. And yet, I still felt an inexplicable air of crappiness. I had watched the Rotten Tomatoes score, which started high, gradually dip into the 70’s (as opposed to the first movie’s rock-solid 94%), but I didn’t really agree with the consensus that the film was undone by an over-reliance on setting up the impending Avengers franchise. No, the problem with Iron Man 2 is that it is incredibly corny.

Corniness is something I could never abide in movies. The thing about comic book movies though, is that we’re expected to suspend our disbelief. There could never be such thing as a real super hero, etc. But Iron Man 1 rode the line perfectly between being deadly serious like the Dark Knight and cartoony like Spider-Man 2 (to use good examples). The Afghanistan-centered first act was relevant, realistic, and incredibly exciting when Tony Stark so dramatically turned the tables on his captors. The rest of the film was pure popcorn adrenaline, but rarely crossed the line into corniness. It adhered closely enough to the real world that the events of the film felt like they had consequences.

In the sequel, Jon Favreau lost that balance and fell head-first into cartoon territory. The thing is, this loss of balance was evidenced by rather small details that, added together, results in a loss of investment in the viewer. This is why my disappointment was hard to quantify. Taken as a whole, the tone feels just like the first movie, but on reflection you realize that the seriousness and gravity is missing. Here are just a few examples of moments in the film that stretched the boundaries of realism too much and took me out of the story.

  • In the beginning of the film, Tony Stark makes a grand entrance to his “Stark Expo” in his Iron Man suit, which is removed to show him with a pristine tux and perfect hair underneath. With the way we know the suit comes on and off, this would be pretty much impossible.
  • In one of the centerpiece action sequences, the race track scene in Monaco, Tony Stark spontaneously decides to drive the Stark F1 car himself in the race, as a total surprise to everyone, including the visibly pissed off professional driver. This is outlandish enough as it is, but what’s more interesting is that the villain Ivan Vanko has posed as pit crew in order to get out on the track and attack Tony directly. If nobody, not even Pepper Potts, knew that Tony would be in the car, how did Vanko know to impersonate pit crew?
  • In the Senate hearing scene, Tony turns the tables on his accusers by wirelessly streaming embarrassing video from his phone to a TV set up in the corner. So the US Senate has TVs that are set up to receive wireless streaming video that happens to interface with Tony’s custom phone?
  • Same Senate scene, Gary Shandling’s Senator Stern character says to Tony, “Fuck you, buddy” live on CSPAN. Ridiculous.
  • When ScarJo’s “Stark Industries Intern” character is first introduced, Tony does a Google image search on her which pulls up a number of professional photos of her in lingerie. This character later turns out to be a spy for SHIELD. Where did she find time for professional underwear modeling, and subsequently post these on the internet under a fake name?

There’s more than this. A lot more. Jon Favreau giving himself way more screen time as the bumbling chauffeur Happy Hogan, Tony destroying half his house in a drunken Iron Man on Iron Man fight with Rhodes, Rhodes somehow being able to get into and operate an Iron Man suit without any instruction, Tony inventing a new element to power his suit based on an atomic structure hidden in a model from the 1960’s…… It goes on and on like this. There’s too much goofy stuff to ignore.

It doesn’t help that the main villain of the film spends the entire second act working in a shop, and then is defeated in about 20 seconds at the end of the film.

As I alluded in the beginning, there is plenty that’s good about Iron Man 2. The 70-something RT score is accurate. The cast is great, the effects are solid, the action is engaging, and there were story elements that, had they been further developed, would have really resonated. But I believe the crucial ingredient that takes a good comic book movie and makes it a great one, is a sense of realism. Or in place of that, emotional gravity. Iron Man 2 was lacking both.

Of course it doesn’t really matter how good these films turn out, as long as they are successful enough to justify 2012’s The Avengers. If there’s any way to make that movie NOT turn out to be a disaster, I can’t think of it.

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