(*** be warned, SPOILER alert! ***)
I loved the first Iron Man movie. I went in knowing that it was going to be a sure hit. I was surprised at how many people didn’t know much about the character at the time of the movie’s premiere (but us insiders knew very well). Robert Downey, Jr. was perfectly cast as Tony Stark and John Favreau’s direction was nothing short of brilliant (who knew that the “serious clown” in Seinfeld would become such a big name Hollywood director?).
Coming in to see Iron Man 2, I was a little dubious and fearful (movie trailers nowadays just blow their wad and simply show us EVERYTHING, negating our desire to actually SEE the movie). Everything was shaping up to be a great movie sequel: Robert Downey, Jr’s return as the title character as well as its original director, throw in Mickey O’rourke as a bad ass villain and add War Machine and you’ve got a recipe for another smash hit. The movie was a hit nonetheless but not before taking a few hits and dents of Iron Man’s image in my eyes.
The movie was boring. While writing a graphic novel script (www.crimebusterinc.com) for my colleague, Hector Collazo (which, incidentally, worked for Marvel Comics and has illustrated/inked a few Iron Man issues), he critiqued some of my initial drafts as “talking heads”. That’s when you turn page after page after page and all you see are characters talking. No action. Just talking. Comics are a visual medium and when telling a story, every page should have impact and action. This isn’t a comic book, but a comic book movie and nevertheless, should be able to achieve the same storytelling goals of a comic. Tell a story with all the trappings that make comic books so successful: action, interesting characters, conflict, visual appeal and more action.
The movie lumbered a long time revolving around issues I really didn’t care for. I sat and watched Tony Stark’s narcissistic, playboy, over-the-top behavior and saw how it was basically the same shtick from the first movie. Where was the character growth? Sure, he grew serious when faced with his imminent death by his own creation but it wasn’t handled very well. The story just muddled through, showing Stark’s self-destructive behavior. We see him give the company away to Pepper and getting drunk. Then good ‘ol Nick Fury (what’s up with all that leather? Show up in a military uniform once in a while) makes an entrance and provides a temporary quick fix to his health problem. He also provides a highly convenient clue to his ailment along with a trunk full of revelations regarding Howard Stark. Why choose to give that information now and not before? It’s like Nick Fury has some precognitive super abilities the original Marvel writers didn’t know he possessed.
Stark’s father issues where quickly thrown in as an afterthought, never being mentioned or alluded to in the first movie and simply a vehicle for Stark’s “eureka!” moment. The subsequent creation of that missing element that provides the answer and solution to his recovery was nothing short of fantasy. It was done fast and easy. Tony Stark is brilliant but not that brilliant. Then there’s this side plot with the government trying to acquire Stark’s armor technology for the military and a defense contractor from Hammer industries vying for power as he attempts to also develop a competing suit. Throw in the tepid love interest with Pepper Potts and you have a movie that’s turned into a primetime soap opera.
If you want to see a totally down and out Tony Stark, read the “Demon in a Bottle” storyline from Marvel a couple of years back. The screenwriter could’ve updated that story and ended the movie with Stark totally washing out and setting up the third movie with War Machine’s appearance and with Iron Man’s triumphant recovery. I felt that Favreau was attempting to juggle too many story lines and blew some real great opportunities to really round out some others like Whiplash and The Black Widow.
Whiplash was a weak character in the Marvel universe but Mickey O’Rourke did a great job humanizing that character and bringing some real menace and gravitas to it. Unfortunately, he isn’t seen onscreen as much as I would’ve liked. I wanted to see him have more interaction with Tony Stark in and out of the suit. I wanted to see just how smart Ivan Vanko was compared to Tony Stark, two characters with equally brilliant fathers but with totally different upbringing. Ivan’s demise at the end was over far too quickly and felt like a total letdown. His drones proved to be ineffective and just canon fodder for Iron Man and War Machine; a lot of flying around and pyrotechnics with no real menace to the tin cans.
The whole “you lose” statement uttered by Ivan as he died at the end was SO stupid! If you’re going to blow up yourself, taking your adversaries with you, you DON’T initiate a timer set to oblivion with giant red blinking lights to give your opponents time to get away! Not only does Tony Stark get away, he also flies a considerable distance to save Pepper just in time. How did he know one drone was right beside her on the ground? Why didn’t she simply run? Instead she just stares at the red, blinking light oblivious to its meaning, waiting for the hero to save her. Up until this point in the movie she was strong and assertive, chastising and even putting Tony Stark in his place like the spoiled child he is while acting as CEO. In mere seconds she was reduced to a clichéd damsel in distress and an idiot.
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow was another blown opportunity. As pretty as Scarlett Johansson is, she didn’t have the chops for the character. I was expecting a European unknown for the role, complete with Russian accent. Instead the character parades around with a clipboard for the majority of the movie and appears in the end in leather-clad costume kicking ass. Sure, the fight scene was totally well done and she looked great in costume but that was pretty much it as far as character development went. The Black Widow was originally a villain up until her defection to S.H.I.E.L.D. If you’re going to do future movies to set up the Avengers, introduce her as a villain. She could’ve been a spy working in Stark Industries stealing technology secrets for the Sam Rockwell (I really like this actor) character, laying the foundation for a third movie when she finally reveals herself as the Black Widow. Instead the film makers try to cram everything into one movie, never utilizing finesse, layering and foreshadowing to tell a story that may pay off in a third sequel (and you KNOW a third movie will be made). Like in Spiderman 3, too much stuff was thrown in with little development as far as story and characters.
Before I forget, I didn’t like the fact that his “buddy” Rhodey steals a spare Iron Man suit. I had problems with how easy it was for Rhodey to get into Tony’s lab and simply don a suit of armor. Where’s the security here? I can believe he has access to the LAB but not necessarily a SUIT. I assume there would be some serious and immense security surrounding that technology. Also, if you saw the first movie, getting into a suit involves a whole robotic-assisted procedure. Rhodey knew how to activate all that too and had the passwords? In a minute? Isn’t the suit specifically sized for Tony’s physique? Perhaps this was the reason they got rid of Terrance Howard: he was taller than Downey. So your friend steals the suit, hands it over to the military, they strip it and steal the technology, they bastardize it by adding inferior weapons to it and you’re still friends as if nothing happened? Really?
I enjoyed the first movie a whole lot better than this one. I will most likely skip it when it comes to Bluray. The movie wasn’t a bomb, it just fell short in my opinion where story was concerned. I love Favreau’s work and hope he does a third movie. If he ever reads this post by any small chance (yeah, right), I hope he takes me up as a script doctor (or some other minor editorial role) for the next one.
PS – If you stick around till the end of the credits, you get a cool glimpse of Thor’s hammer out in the Nevada desert. Can’t wait for that movie!