Iron Man 2 (2010) – Isaac’s Take

May 24, 2010

Iron Man 2 (2010) – Review by Isaac

I’m specifically calling this “Isaac’s Take” because I’m a megalomaniac.  Okay, not really. It’s because despite hearing “Iron Man 2 isn’t as good as its predecessor”, I was still disappointed and I’m going to be a little hard on it.

Synopsis: With the world now aware of his dual life as the armored superhero Iron Man, billionaire inventor Tony Stark faces pressure from the government, the press, and the public to share his technology with the military. Suffering from blood poisoning and unwilling to let go of his invention, Stark must delve into his past and confront powerful enemies.

I’m not sure what to think of this movie. I watched Iron Man the night before I saw Iron Man 2 thinking it was a good idea to familiarize myself with its story and style, but maybe that was a mistake. Iron Man 2 wasn’t as fun or adventurous, and things didn’t really get rolling until 2/3rds of the way in. My wife and I both had this feeling of “okay… when is the movie going to start?” I wasn’t exactly expecting this to be The Dark Knight, but I was at least hoping for a power-packed sequel like Spider-Man 2 or X2. Don’t get me wrong, this is still far from falling on its face like Spider-Man3 or X3. Iron Man 2 isn’t a bad movie. But if the original Iron Man showed us anything, it’s that a superhero movie can be fun, adventurous, action packed, and well-paced. Iron Man 2 captures only a handful of this.

I’ll start off with what I really liked: the characterization. Robert Downey Jr. returns in full force and gives a terrific performance. Gwyneth Paltrow is once again endearing as Pepper Potts. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Natalie/Natasha/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are underwhelming but a welcome addition. Despite criticism, I enjoyed Black Widow’s presence in the film and thought her fight scene terrific. If anything, she’s one less character to be introduced in The Avengers film (planned for May 4, 2012). Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) and Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) are fantastically cast and add a lot of depth to the film. Don Cheadle replaces Terence Howard and James “Rhodey” Rhodes, making for a slight awkward transition but satisfying enough by the end. (Apparently Jon Favreau hated working with Howard and wanted a replacement).

I loved the character of Justin Hammer (played by Sam Rockwell). Head of Hammer Industries (no pun intended), he’s Tony Stark’s business rival and least favorite person. Or perhaps a better title would be “Hammer aspires to be Tony Stark’s rival”. Sam Rockwell’s character is funny, quirky, intelligent, and plays opposite Robert Downey Jr perfectly. His presence prevents the film from taking itself too seriously.
I think director Jon Favreau overestimated the character’s ability to carry the story without assistance of action or quick pacing. The first two acts meander along with only one substantial action scene (the racetrack), leaving RDJ, Sam Rockwell, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Mickey Rourke to carry the film with dialog alone. These stars are up to the task, but the result is a lengthy, all over the place, and ungrounded storyline.

Mickey Rourke did a terrific job beefing up the villain Ivan Vanko, insisting on character quirks and speaking half his dialogue in Russian. But overall, Whiplash is underwhelming as a villain. The racetrack scene is excellent (a perfect Inciting Incident) and I expected it to really “kick-off the film” after a slow first-act. But alas, it did not. Vanko is simply captured, and the second act continues to limp along as all the blockbuster is saved for the 3rd act. [spoilers] Did anyone else think that Ivan Vanko was defeated way too easily? The racetrack scene was okay, but the ending left much to be desired from the Whiplash/Crimson Dynamo suit. The film spends a lot of time building anticipation of Ivan Vanko’s appearance and threat to Tony Stark. I get that he set out to “make God bleed”, but couldn’t he have put up more of a fight at the same time?[end spoilers]

The slowest and most meandering segment of the film is Tony Stark’s depression. I appreciate character depth and the traditional “superhero sequel” where the hero must decide if can bear the burden asked of him. This wasn’t nearly as bad as Tobey Maguire’s emo dancing, but it left some to be desired. Instead of excitement, Iron Man and War Machine slugging it out felt pointless. I get that their working with source material (which I haven’t read) and this was a necessarily valley for the character, but it made for a very directionally challenged second act.

As for the “heart of the film”, Iron Man 2 waits until about 2/3rds of the film before it delivers. Tony is struggling with his impending death/alcohol/daddy issues, until Nick Fury forces him to watch some footage of his dad. This is where the film really picked up the pace and got very interesting, it was my “Moment of Intrigue” (that’s what I call it, I’m sure there’s a scholarly term. You could probably argue that this is closely tied to the Inciting Incident). The Moment of Intrigue is when the audience member connects with the story and says “alright, I’m in”. Be it one hour or three, we’re committed to seeing the rest of the film and following the hero to the end. After the Moment of Intrigue, the film usually picks up and really starts rolling along in an intentional direction. In the first Iron Man, this comes early on when Tony Stark is captured and commits to build the suit to escape. Iron Man 2 develops some general intrigue, fun and charm; but ultimately fails to establish connection or direction early on, and delivers the Moment of Intrigue late in the second act. I think this is the single biggest flaw in Iron Man 2 and prevented it from being a great film like its predecessor.

Iron Man 2 does the ‘rope-a-dope’ but lets loose in the 3rd act. The ensuing pacing, humour, fighting, explosions, and special effects are really something. The team-up is excellent and War Machine comes close to stealing the show. While the trailer gives away most of this fight (curse you advertising industry!) there’s still some great work being done here. I kept thinking “WOW, if they can do this, why’d they save it all for the finale?”
-Which is a good question. This is a comic book movie after all. You know what this movie needed? – A superhero fighting crime montage. I know, I know, they’re almost as cliché as the ‘damsel in distress’ (which is used here), but Iron Man 2 needed it. How about instead of just bragging about establishing World Peace, we get to see a little of it. An opening credits montage featuring Iron Man flying around the world, punching holes through jets, blowing up tanks, disabling missile silos in North Korea… That’s just the sort of comic-book fun action Iron Man 2 needed to kick off the plot.

Rating: 3.5/5 Zipped Lips.

If the first Iron Man was the “Fun-Vee”, then Iron Man 2 is more like the “Hum-Drum-Vee”. It simply plodded along for too long before grabbing my interest and gluing me to my seat.


8 Responses to “Iron Man 2 (2010) – Isaac’s Take”

  1. Isaac Says:

    I should add that while several of us had this “meh” reaction to the drunken sequence, its likely that multiple viewings will solve the problem.

  2. What a good review. I think I just suspend disbelief and stop thinking about the Marvel original, but take the movie as a piece of creativity in its own right. I see the points you are making, but I still thought it was head and shoulders above so many other movies from comic books.

  3. Isaac Says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your last statement. Its still in the top ten of its genre, easily. But the main reason I was disappointed is because the first Iron Man set such a high standard for comic book movies, and Iron Man 2 seemed to slip backwards a bit.
    I am hesitant sometimes, because wanting really great cinema sometimes means losing the ability to sit back and just have fun. In the end, its far better to enjoy an OK movie than to pick it apart. 🙂

  4. Fortress Guy Says:

    We were not expecting it to be “The Dark Knight” either, and were glad is was not! Yeech. But as you say, it did take its time getting going, and it did lack a certain adventurous spark.

    Johansson was good on screen, though with little to really do. Paltrow in our opinion is still flat. Rourke was indeed surprisingly good, but the whiplash get-up seemed insufficient to go against the Ironman armor.

    Nick Fury seemed a bit of a out-of-nowhere deus ex machina in the sense that he came in uncalled with just the exact piece of info Stark needed to get back on track. A little convenient.

    Still we agree, a fun movie but pale compared to the first. Also like Greer said, better than many other comic offerings. Although we do need to keep aiming higher.

  5. Isaac Says:

    I’m glad we (more or less) agree. I think we’d all have enjoyed Iron Man 2 more if it wasn’t for the critical success of Iron Man.

  6. […] must find uncover a subsequent heart and passion to drive the Superhero on. (but more on that in Iron Man 2). At at its core, Iron Man is a story of redemption. “I shouldn’t be alive… […]

  7. […] Jon Favreau did a fantastic job of directing Marvel’s first big movie. I wish all superhero films were executed with such exquisite attention to detail. He captured the essence of Iron Man: Tony Stark discovers a reason to live for something other than himself. He begins as a spoiled and naive playboy, the ‘quintessential capitalist’, but its not long before the billionaire is thrown into a cave (‘with scraps!’) and given an ultimatum. This is where Iron Man finds its heart; Tony Stark becomes a man of character. In a stirring montage (gotta love those montages), our hero builds the MK1 armor, pounding away with a purpose. This is more than a thrilling tale of how Tony Stark made the superpowered armor, this is the mythic essence that drives our hero onward. This is the powerful ‘origin story’, the ‘heart of the hero’ that will call audiences back to film after film of Iron Man’s legacy. Executing the ‘Origin of the Superhero’ is the most important part of the mythos, and every sequel must uncover a subsequent heart and passion to drive the Superhero on. (More on that in Iron Man 2). […]

  8. […] original so loveable got lost in the shuffle of multiple villains and Stark’s alcoholism. (See my original, albeit perplexed, take on it here.) This busy sequel meanders somewhat through the middle, gets bogged down with Tony’s […]

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