Skip to main content

I’ve successfully privatised world peace. What more do you want?

Iron Man 2
(2010)

(SPOILERS) Difficult second album syndrome. So difficult, the main architect subsequently surrendered control to – or was tactfully pushed aside for – Shane Black, and the trilogy ended on a blissful high (although mileage on that view varies). Iron Man 2 is as typically over-stuffed as has become the de rigueur cliché for sequels, and you’d have hoped studios would have learnt by now. Two villains (neither of whom quite come together, one through intent – he’s vaguely comic relief – and the other through being a bit shit), two Iron Men (well, one War Machine and an Iron Man), the escalating involvement of SHIELD, and with it Black Widow. Oh, and the inclusion, in part anyway, if not as habitually, of the fan favourite Demon in a Bottle addiction storyline. Where Favreau’s spitballing command of the ship got the 2008 original over its bumps, here he actively seems to get in its way (or the demands of Marvel do), with the result that its mostly down to its very watchable cast that Iron Man 2 manages to entertain despite itself.


Curiously, Justin Theroux is pegged as sole screenwriter on Iron Man 2, particularly since he’s only ever mustered a co-credit on other pictures (Rock of AgesTropic ThunderZoolander 2). The resulting picture manages to be both very busy and fatally lacking in momentum. I suspect Favreau thought he had a slow build on his side, but the movie instead feels like it’s treading water most of the time. It exudes an unappealingly self-satisfied, bloated feeling, in no hurry to get anywhere, taking for granted that it has its audience captive already, so cutting itself far too much slack. It also, surprisingly, is thrifty on the action front. Fine if you’re constantly building tension, but problematic when you’re casting about aimlessly (there’s the Grand Prix scene, a fight with Rhodesy and the climax… and that’s about it). 


Tony StarkYou know, the question I get asked most often is, ‘Tony, how do you go to the bathroom in the suit’… Just like that.

Where Iron Man 2 mostly lands on its feet is with Tony Stark. And that in turn is mostly because of Robert Downey Jr. It’s potentially dangerous territory, going straight from establishing your hero to puncturing his armour, and having Tony coping with dangerous levels of blood toxicity throughout ran the danger of weighing him down with a The World is Not Enough-type injury that proved entirely off-putting. It isn’t, fortunately, and repositioning him as the underdog only ultimately falters because Favreau’s unable to juggle the different elements his protagonist must cope with entirely successfully. Tony getting blotto to dull the pain is both amusing (going to the toilet in his suit) and dangerous (leading Rhodey to steal one). 


The scrutiny of a senate committee (the late Gary Shandling on top form: “Do you, or do you not possess a specialised weapon?”) and Tony’s resistance to its demands delivers probably the best scene in the picture (which means it’s a shame its front-loaded, quality wise. More could have been made of the theme of Tony – reasonably – believing the government can’t be trusted with his tech while simultaneously illustrating that he can’t be trusted with his tech either. Instead, the plotline rather peters out).


Amid Tony’s tribulations there’s also a sloppy family heritage subplot – albeit we get the first appearance by Tony Slattery as his deceased father, so that’s a positive – in which he must work out the legacy he’s to make a good on and thus create his own periodic element… from a scale model of the 1974 Stark Expo that’s effectively a treasure map. No, I’m not really buying it either. 


Pepper PottsWhat do you mean you’re not dying?
Tony StarkI was going to make you an omelette and tell you.

If that’s iffy, the Tony-Pepper relationship really scores on revisit. The chemistry between Downey and Gwynie is dynamite and it feels entirely appropriate to Stark’s reluctant growth that the characters get together (regardless of Rhodey’s disenchantment: “You look like two seals fighting over a grape”). Paul Bettany is also great as Jarvis, obviously. And Don Cheadle’s a vast improvement over Trevor Howard as Rhodes, even if the character remains one of those second fiddle types (see also Hawkeye, Falcon) who fail to stoke sufficient interest to root for either way.


Pepper PottsShe is from legal, and she’s a potentially expensive sexual harassment law suit. 

Talking of characters that are a bit of a bust, I’ve never made any secret of my lack of enthusiasm for dead-eyed ScarJo as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. Emily Blunt would have killed it in the part, but you only have to see how alive Gwynie is in a scene with Downey and how… notJohansson is. Her stunt double is kickass of course, but the main takeaway from her action set piece is Fav’s comic relief chops as Happy Hogan. Indeed, it’s only reaction to the character that allows her any kind of impact (“Are you blending in well here, Natalie? Do you even speak Latin?” quips Tony of her continued presence at Stark Enterprises once her true identity has been revealed to him). I suspect one of the reasons we haven’t seen a Black Widow movie so far – despite the many vocal adherents of the character – is that deep down Kevin Feige knows there’s no traction to her as portrayed by ScarJo, so when the solo movie does land, the lead won’t be the star of last year’s flop Ghost in the Shell.


You can argue the necessity of SHIELD as the glue that leads to Avengers, but it doesn’t make them feel any more vital to the proceedings or any less intrusive. Nick Fury is basically an exposition machine with an eyepatch rather than a character (“Please step out of the donut” is a good line, though), and Agent Coulson’s essentially a twat. How could you not want him dead? What idiot thought he could conceivably headline a TV spinoff? Sir Ken’s teaser with Thor’s hammer is nice enough, I guess. But employing Ken as a director is a guarantee against greatness.


Ivan VankoIf you can make God bleed, the people will cease to believe in him.

The biggest stumble with Iron Man 2 is probably the lead villain, though. Much hype preceded Mickey Rourke’s casting, on the basis of an Oscar nominated turn in The Wrestler, but he comes with so much baggage, not least his Rhett Butler tache perched atop a face that speaks a thousand misadventures, that he never really convinces. Ivan Vanko has been retconned as vitally linked to Iron Man’s genesis (their fathers worked together, but Ivan’s was motivated by money…. Okay…), which just feels clumsy, and there’s never any sense that Whiplash/Crimson Dynamo is much of a mastermind, however much he may tell his erstwhile ally Justin Hammer to “Learn to let go”. We needed a villain who felt like an equal to Stark, but Ivan’s never remotely that; the character only ever comes across as faintly silly, while opening on his development of his father’s plans is a mistake; we aren’t invested in his revenge and the character ends up something of an also-ran.


Tony StarkI’ve successfully privatised world peace. What more do you want?

Favreau also comes a cropper at the Monaco Grand Prix with the first action set piece. Ivan with his electric whips are neither especially cool nor especially threatening; it’s just gammy old Rourke, stripped down and gnarly. Added to which, the choices for the destruction derby represent errors of cutting; you don’t show an F1 cut in two as a prelude to the same thing happening to Tony’s car; all the shock value is spent by that point. The suitcase suit isnifty, though.


But, if Hammer’s also no kind of serious menace to Tony, Favs was on the money casting Sam Rockwell; a guy as charismatic as Downey is hard to find, but Rockwell knows exactly how to deliver Hammer as Tony’s sleazier, inferior, not-really competition. Hammer’s sales pitch is showmanship of a rich used-car dealer (“This is my Eiffel tower… I call it the ex-wife”), while his increasingly uneasy interaction with Ivan works a treat (just watch Rockwell trying to process Rourke’s pronunciation of “I want my bird”).


The big climax, when it gets there, rather underwhelms, once again stuck with going for suits (more and more suits, drones this time) fighting it out with each other. The only point where tension is derived is from Tony rescuing Pepper; that aside, it’s a big expensive bout of déjà vu. The unfortunate truth of Marvel Phase I is that the goodwill of its inception carried the next four pictures. And the unfortunate truth of Iron Man 2 is that RDJ carries a picture that has no real get up and go.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

No time to dilly-dally, Mr Wick.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)
(SPOILERS) At one point during John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, our eponymous hero announces he needs “Guns, lots of guns” in a knowing nod to Keanu Reeves’ other non-Bill & Ted franchise. It’s a cute moment, but it also points to the manner in which the picture, enormous fun as it undoubtedly is, is a slight step down for a franchise previously determined to outdo itself, giving way instead to something more self-conscious, less urgent and slightly fractured.

She worshipped that pig. And now she's become him.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)
(SPOILERS) Choosing to make The Girl in the Spider’s Web following the failure of the David Fincher film – well, not a failure per se, but like Blade Runner 2049, it simply cost far too much to justify its inevitably limited returns – was a very bizarre decision on MGM’s part. A decision to reboot, with a different cast, having no frame of reference for the rest of the trilogy unless you checked out the Swedish movies (or read the books, but who does that?); someone actually thought this would possibly do well? Evidently the same execs churning out desperately flailing remakes based on their back catalogue of IPs (Ben-Hur, The Magnificent Seven, Death Wish, Tomb Raider); occasionally there’s creative flair amid the dross (Creed, A Star is Born), but otherwise, it’s the most transparently creatively bankrupt studio there is.

Isn’t Johnnie simply too fantastic for words?

Suspicion (1941)
(SPOILERS) Suspicion found Alfred Hitchcock basking in the warm glow of Rebecca’s Best Picture Oscar victory the previous year (for which he received his first of five Best Director nominations, famously winning none of them). Not only that, another of his films, Foreign Correspondent, had jostled with Rebecca for attention. Suspicion was duly nominated itself, something that seems less unlikely now we’ve returned to as many as ten award nominees annually (numbers wouldn’t be reduced to five until 1945). And still more plausible, in and of itself, than his later and final Best Picture nod, Spellbound. Suspicion has a number of claims to eminent status, not least the casting of Cary Grant, if not quite against type, then playing on his charm as a duplicitous quality, but it ultimately falls at the hurdle of studio-mandated compromise.

I mean, I think anybody who looked at Fred, looked at somebody that they couldn't compare with anybody else.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) 
(SPOILERS) I did, of course, know who Fred Rogers was, despite being British. Or rather, I knew his sublimely docile greeting song. How? The ‘Burbs, naturally. I was surprised, given the seeming unanimous praise it was receiving (and the boffo doco box office) that Won’t You Be My Neighbor? didn’t garner a Best Documentary Oscar nod, but now I think I can understand why. It’s as immensely likeable as Mr Rogers himself, yet it doesn’t feel very substantial.

I think, I ruminate, I plan.

The Avengers 6.5: Get-A-Way
Another very SF story, and another that recalls earlier stories, in this case 5.5: The See-Through Man, in which Steed states baldly “I don’t believe in invisible men”. He was right in that case, but he’d have to eat his bowler here. Or half of it, anyway. The intrigue of Get-A-Way derives from the question of how it is that Eastern Bloc spies have escaped incarceration, since it isn’t immediately announced that a “magic potion” is responsible. And if that reveal isn’t terribly convincing, Peter Bowles makes the most of his latest guest spot as Steed’s self-appointed nemesis Ezdorf.

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

She can't act, she can't sing, she can't dance. A triple threat.