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…

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…

It seemed as if I had missed something.

Room 237 (2012)
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous, obsessive approach towards filmmaking was renowned, so perhaps it should be no surprise to find comparable traits reflected in a section of his worshippers. Legends about the director have taken root (some of them with a factual basis, others bunkum), while the air of secrecy that enshrouded his life and work has duly fostered a range of conspiracy theories. A few of these are aired in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, which indulges five variably coherent advocates of five variably tenuous theories relating to just what The Shining is really all about. Beyond Jack Nicholson turning the crazy up to 11, that is. Ascher has hit on a fascinating subject, one that exposes our capacity to interpret any given information wildly differently according to our disposition. But his execution, which both underlines and undermines the theses of these devotees, leaves something to be desired.

Part of the problem is simply one of production values. The audio tra…

You stole my car, and you killed my dog!

John Wick (2014)
(SPOILERS) For their directorial debut, ex-stunt guys Chad Stahelski and David Leitch plump for the old reliable “hit man comes out of retirement” plotline, courtesy of screenwriter Derek Kolstad, and throw caution to the wind. The result, John Wick, is one of last year’s geek and critical favourites, a fired up actioner that revels in its genre tropes and captures that elusive lightning in a bottle; a Keanu Reeves movie in which he is perfectly cast.

That said, some of the raves have probably gone slightly overboard. This is effective, silly, and enormous fun in its own hyper-violent way, but Stahelski and Leitch haven’t announced themselves stylistically so much as plastered the screen with ultra-violence and precision choreography. They have a bit of a way to go before they’re masters of their domain, and they most definitely need to stint on their seemingly insatiable appetite for a metalhead soundtrack. This kind of bludgeoning choice serves to undercut the action a…