A sleek black car slides perfectly into place aside the entrance of a building where weapons are made by someone other than Robert Downey Junior. Nobody gets away with that in Iron Man Land, and so exits driver and director Jon Favreau with badass bombshell Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson in a skintight sneaking suit. The characters fit in a bit of banter that includes “what are you wearing?” and the question has merit. She looks like she was peeled off the side of a bomber plane.
Bewildered by Gatling guns and cleavage, Favreau has found the self-aware magic of the franchise both as actor and director. When the first Iron Man was released, just about everyone declared it perfect while I let out a defeated sigh. It was yet another comicbook movie ruined by a final fight where the villain takes off his helmet and explains the moral overtone of the plot for anyone who might have just walked in. Thankfully, Iron Man 2 surfs on the momentum of half a billion dollars earned by that first film, and on the revived celebrity of its stars.
The humor is of a classic quality, having more in common with 1940 screwball favorites His Girl Friday and The Philadelphia Story than Raimi’s Spider-Man schlock. Tony Stark is, from all angles, the disarming personality. No longer a closeted superhero, the outed Stark is ready to be fabulous. He ping pongs past protest from his entourage, comprised of pitifully exhausted people in his life who can’t take much more of his rainbow swagger.
Who could blame them? At the start of the film Tony Stark has resurrected his empire as a monument to his own awesomeness and donated his entire modern art collection to the Boy Scouts of America. I can only assume he’s earned a shit-ton of defense contracts because he’s converted the landscape of Queens to reflect the ugly excess of his life. How he affords this after “privatizing world peace” is unclear. It’s a technology convention that looks like a science fair diorama lit up like Las Vegas. This complete lack of taste is carried to the climax of ten thousand bullets fired from the fakest looking Japanese garden in Tonytown.
At the same time this flash wears thin on us as well. As much a testament to the lighter side of Tony Stark, it should be a cover for the calculated strategy that he would have, even in the face of death by “palladium poisoning,” a completely unnecessary subplot that’s used as an excuse for his devil-may care attitude but… didn’t he always have that? Tony Stark was Marvel’s Falstaff long before veins crept up is neck in a digital pattern.
These script oversights are frequent, and without a well paced, comprehensible goal it mostly just satisfies our short term desires for the franchise. There’s something poignant about the Tony Stark experience but these movies never seem to pay it any mind. You sort of have to read between the lines and guess where things could have made an impact. We’re wondering how Tony’s best friend, Col. James Rhodes can be shocked when his testimony against Iron Man is used against the hero by a Senate hearing committee. Then, after stealing one of Tony’s Iron Man suits, he turns it over to the army but recommends against putting the suit in the hands of a rival weapons manufacturer.
What else would they do with it?
We should be thinking about the fact that Tony’s best friend just took him down when nobody else could. Stark projects himself as a fool so that people don’t study his deeper weakness, but then can’t function if nobody trusts him with responsibility. The movies don’t care to study that. They just vaguely set up these events in an effort to move the story along.
That said, Iron Man 2 is more familiar to the franchise than the first film. We’re treated to a wider view of his playboy lifestyle, out of control alcoholism, new-model battlesuits and the famous arsenal-in-a-suitcase trick.
Iron Man villains typically have the odds stacked against them. That’s what differentiates it from the usual equal ground comicbook face-offs. His opposition is closer to a collection of nagging goofballs and this film takes advantage of that. Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) has deep, dark, personal reasons for wanting Stark ruined, but Tony’s never even heard of the guy. He effortlessly drops the Russian knock-off multiple times, walking away with a bored look on his face as Vanko shouts “you lewse!”
Equally enjoyable, Sam Rockwell takes the stage as Justin Hammer with self-tan stained palms and a Little Richard quickstep. Hammer invents weapons with daffy nicknames and is a master of comic timing, especially when pitched against a talent like Mickey Rourke’s.
Iron Man 2 also works because the script knows where Tony Stark’s real concerns lie, right down to the equal parts resentment and inspiration he derives from old recordings of his deceased father. Tony’s dependable talent and dangerously undependable personality are as important to the film as effective action sequences. I only wish the narrative hadn’t been scattered, with characters coming and going for no other reason than to advertise other Marvel films still in development.
Overall Score: 7.75 – Good. (7s are good, but not great. These films often have a stereotypical plot or are great movies that have a few minor flaws. Fans of this movie’s genre might love it, but others will still enjoy seeing it in theaters.)
If screenwriter Justin Theroux hadn’t tried to (or been coerced to) cram so much of the mythology into one film, it might have been a slick ride. All its finer points are set within an unstructured framework that almost falls apart when it incorporates plot threads more important to The Avengers.