by Jay Stringer
IRON MAN was a fun movie. It was a really fun movie. I came out of the cinema feeling full of flight and impatient for the DVD. Then a strange thing happened, over subsequent viewings of the film “wore off.”
It’s still a well-made film. Structurally Favreau made all the right choices, and he built up the development of the suit in a way that made it feel important when Stark took to the sky in the Mark 2. Special effects have made us hard to impress, we’ve seen people flying a million times, but the film showed us why it would be fun to fly. And Robert Downey Jr. fills the screen with his wit and charm, like Peter Venkman in a metal suit, he makes you want to watch him.
Aside from that though, the plot is pretty basic. It’s a by-the-numbers origin story and there’s nothing going on beneath the surface. It was a very simple film that skated by on a bag full of charm.
After seeing the film about three times I think I’m done, whereas I can watch THE DARK KNIGHT every six months and get something new.
So how do they follow it up? IRON MAN 2, in my opinion, is a much better film that lacks the charm of the first. It looks and sounds the same but it’s very different.
We peel beneath the surface of Tony Stark and the world around him. What’s exposed are a few raw nerves, an upbringing that’s left him insecure and needing to be loved by millions of people. We get to see that saying you’re a superhero doesn’t instantly make you a nice guy.
The film starts right where the first one left off, and we see Tony spiraling out of control. His ego is running wild and he’s dangerously close to flying off the rails. But it’s one thing to get help when you hit rock bottom, it’s another thing entirely to get it when you’re on top of the world with millions of screaming fans. By midway through the film this has been taken as far as it can probably go in a blockbuster, with interesting results. We see Tony literally drunk driving the armor, and for the first time in both movies the audience isn’t sure if they should root for this guy. There are interesting moral questions that are raised and then tossed away quickly in order to keep the film moving. I’m not entirely sure if I’m impressed that the film raises them, or frustrated that they don’t explore them. Maybe both.
Any chance to see three of my favourite actors –Downey Jr, Rourke and Rockwell- in the same film is going to end up in the ‘win’ column for me. At the same time, Rourke doesn’t get much to do. He’s in a few scenes, he provides the know-how to take on Stark, and he has a pet bird. Sam Rockwell takes up the slack, keeping the plot moving along and doing the heavy lifting as the main antagonist. It’s perfect casting, you could see Rockwell cast as Stark in a different film, so here he gets to play someone who wants to be Stark.
Don Cheadle brings a different vibe to the role of James Rhodes than his predecessor. If Howard and Downy Jr. tried to out do each other, bickering like two alpha males, Cheadle brings a calmer and more concerned Rhodes. He’s torn between his duty to his country and his duty to Stark. He looks more like a guy who’s spent his life cleaning up Tony’s mess. It also provides a great motivation for the long-awaited appearance of War Machine; he’s just being the guy who will take responsibility for his friends’ actions.
The women don’t really get a lot to do here, maybe even less than last time around. Yes Johansson gets to look great in lyrca and kick ass, and Paltrow gets to step up and run the company, but the plot never feels like it needs either of them. For Johansson’s Black Widow that’s deliberate, I’d wager this was just a primer for appearances in later Marvel films. But for Pepper Potts this is two films in a row with nothing more to do than show how much she secretly loves Tony Stark. This is something that will need to be fixed for the inevitable third film.
Favreu has stepped up his game as an action director, showing a lot more confidence with the action scenes. Each action beat in the first one felt like a bigger version of the previous one, as if the director knew he could do the one thing and kept repeating it. Here each scene gives us something different, and it makes them much more rewarding. Each one has a personal stake involved, too, which keeps this from becoming TRANSFORMERS 3.
The most irritating parts of the movie for me turned out to be the Nick Fury scenes. I went into the film hyped for these, and looking forward to seeing this Marvel Universe continue to grow. But really Samuel L Jackson plays the same role he’s been playing for ten years, except this time with an eye patch. It felt like the film stopped dead each time he was introduced, even though he plays an important role in developing the sub plot. These scenes will probably be a stable of all the Marvel Movies from now on, and for the sake of building a new on-screen continuity I can live with them.
Is this a good film? I think so. It’s got a lot more problems than the first, but that’s because it’s far more ambitious. It’s trying to go further and mine deeper. I get the feeling I’ll return to it on DVD a few more times than the first one.