Iron Man 2 (Avengers Countdown): Why I gave Iron Man 2 a second chance, and you should too.
May 4, 2012
Iron Man 2 (2010) – New Review
“If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in him… All I have to do is sit back and watch as the world consumes you.”
Synopsis: Tony Stark has been busy. In the past six months, he has used his unique Iron Man technology to maintain an unprecedented level of world peace. After discovering that the miniature Arc-reactor in his chest is fatally poisoning his blood, Stark grapples with his mortality and legacy.
Its no secret that we at Shut Up & Watch The Movie were not fans of Iron Man 2. It seemed like everything that made the 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 self-destructive spiral, and doesn’t recover until the final act. But despite its issues, a second look at both Iron Man films revealed a strong undercurrent that I hadn’t noticed before: legacy.
Why Iron Man 2 felt flat:
On the surface, Iron Man 2 spends a lot of time on the Iron Man technology and whether or not Tony Stark’s invention is the new face of modern warfare. Stark insists it is not, the government insists that it is, and then one day Ivan Vanko opens pandora’s box by tearing up a racetrack with an arc-powered suit of his own. This attack throws Stark into a self-destructive spiral, leading to a wild party, and an Iron Man vs. War Machine slug-fest in Tony’s living room.
While this sounds like a good story line, its not particularly gripping because as audience members we know that there’s only one Iron Man hero. Sure, Stark’s buddy Rhodey gets a suit (and becomes the psuedo-sidekick War Machine) and there are a handful of armored villains, but the hero always wins, right? Tony Stark won’t let some ruffian Russian robots start World War III. With this knowledge rattling around in our self-conscious, Tony’s alcoholism and Iron Man “drunken bar-fight” with his best friend Rhodey feels unnecessarily tedious and juvenile.
Why Iron Man 2 deserves a second look
This isn’t a story about Tony Stark struggling with vanity and alcoholism, its a mortal man’s struggle with his own purpose and legacy. When you understand legacy as the central thrust of the Iron Man saga, all of these odd-shaped puzzle pieces begin to fit into place.
The first film highlights the heritage of Stark Industries. Tony tells us that his father’s legacy was weapons developed to win WWII, “that’s how Dad did it, that’s how America does it, and it’s worked out pretty well for me so far.” – The twist comes when Tony realizes the true legacy of Stark Industries: mass murder at the hands of terrorists. “Those are YOUR weapons in the hands of those murderers! Is this what you want? Is this what you wish the legacy of the great Tony Stark to be?”
Determined to alter his legacy, Stark uses Arc-Reactor technology to power the Iron Man suit and right the wrongs of his company. Tony redeems his family legacy. …Or so he thinks.
Enter Iron Man 2.
The Arc-Reactor that keeps Tony alive is poisoning his blood and he doesn’t have much time left. He reopens the Stark Expo, announcing: “It’s not about me. It’s not about you, either. It’s about legacy, the legacy left behind for future generations. It’s not about us!” Determined to leave a great legacy before he dies, Stark names his assistant Pepper Potts as CEO of Stark Ind., and he reprograms the War Machine suit so that Rhodey can use it. (In case you didn’t catch that, Tony wanted Rhodey to steal the suit.) Ivan Vanko’s appearance doesn’t reignite Tony’s narcissism and alcoholism, it causes Tony to doubt his own change of heart, his redemption, and the integrity of the Stark legacy. Tony, directionless and dying, simply throws himself one final going-away party (the only way he knows how.)
Finally, Tony sees a video of his father, Howard Stark, speaking of the Stark legacy. Howard admits that he wanted to contribute more to the world than weapons but he was limited by the technology of his time. In a very touching scene, he asks Tony to fulfill the Stark legacy, “I’m limited by the technology of my time, but one day you’ll figure this out. And when you do, you will change the world. What is, and always will be my greatest creation… is *you*.”
Cue the single manly tear.
This statement spurs Tony on to create a new element for his suit (blood poison free this time), and defeat Ivan Vanko. Alive and not dying, Stark sets everything back to rights.
Themes: Legacy, Partnership, Responsibility with Technology
I’ve proven how central ‘legacy’ is to the Iron Man films, and Iron Man 2 specifically emphasizes passing on something of value to the next generation. Responsibility is a sub-theme, stressing the importance of using technology with integrity. There’s some discussion about whether or not handing over your technology to the government is the best way to keep everyone safe (the film answers that with a resounding “no”.)
Partnership takes a surprising spotlight spotlight here, revealing once again that villains can never get along. – Seriously, what is it with those guys? Its like they signed a contract “will betray each other in the 3rd Act.” As for the heroes, Tony Stark thinks he has to carry the weight of being Iron Man alone. His partnership with Petter and Rhodey may be tenuous, but pays off. In the end, the hero is stronger with allies than he is alone.
Now that we’ve got that messy “what is this movie about” business out of the way, Iron Man 2 is a fantastic movie. The characters, the cast, the directing, everything is great. Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) are great antagonists, mixing humor with sheer brutality. Each villain has their own spin on the “legacy” concept (rivalry and revenge) but both unite in their desire to dethrone Stark Industries. SHIELD agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Natasha/Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) are a tad underwhelming, but they’re really just making cameo appearances until The Avengers film anyway.
Here’s looking forward to The Avengers and Iron Man 3!