Part 3 of A List to Marvel At
By design Iron Man 2 cannot do much but be inconsequential to both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its own Iron Man series. Marvel were obviously not expecting Iron Man to be such a break out character, and so with the same team of Favreau and company made a movie to both tie fans over until The Avengers, and to include some more overt references to this larger plan. That breezy nature could have worked to its advantage, what with Tony Stark being the laid back partying superhero this could have had the hang out tone of a good, superhero party movie. But sadly this movie became so concerned with franchise building it forgot to make a great movie on its right.
The actual plot doesn’t start until the first forty five minutes of the movie, that of Tony Stark having to deal with Justin Hammer having Whiplash – the son of Howard Stark’s business partner – build drones for him (because he was a person he could trust with no objections apparently), whilst also dealing with the palladium not being an effective enough metal for the arc reactor keeping him alive. Fortunately the solutions to these plots are a series of interconnecting coincidences that give the illusion of a plot. Where The Incredible Hulk had a surprisingly good pace this languishes, stretching out the time as much as possible with sideplots about birds that were the result of no one telling Mickey Rourke “no, that’s stupid”.
A redeeming feature of this movie, at its core, is the link between the the origins of drone warfare and 60’s atomic age optimism, mirrored by both bad antagonists. Unfortunately Rourke provides little interesting characterisation (and is a non superhero figure who can be crushed by cars, apparently), and the always entertaining Sam Rockwell is given so little to work with. It’s weird when you cross that with Tony Stark, with whom we spend much time with essentially pratting about until the story allows him to take action again. Robert Downey Jr. still essentially owns this part, but this is the point where the smugness is supposed to become a problem in the plot, and he can’t help but try and make it look cool. Theres an argument that you could view Iron Man 2 with Whiplash being a tragic sympathetic hero attempting to change the status quo of Tony Stark’s dangerous military technology. In that respect he makes more sense as a villain than Jeff Bridges in the first film. But while I normally expect heroes to win and save the day, here is so little that can change that it makes you wonder why we are even here.
The answer is that we’re here so the movie can take more subtle, around the sides parts of its world building and shove them into the forefront. Where as in the first Iron Man the shield was in the background, here they have to make a big deal about it. Nick Fury also returns in a fun cameo, and this is of course meant to be the big introduction of Black Widow. But compared to other films in the series she is given so little to do; even her one admittedly cool action scene has next to no bearing on the plot. I always kinda thought that Black Widow could have been better introduced in The Avengers: the first scene has her kicking ass, she brings the team together and works out Loki’s plan. In many ways it could have then been construed as her origin movie. As it stands, its in here, and Scarlett Johansson would be given better material going forward.
In some ways the movie is saved from being a complete slog by its own inconsequentialness. Jon Favreau is allowed to go a little further with style he established in the first movie, which POV shots, crash zooms and slow motion, that keeps things occasionally exciting. That screwball comedy nature also keeps things fresh between and Tony and Pepper ( “She did quite the spread on Tony last year”,”She did a good story as well”) and allows Sam Rockwell to have some fun scenes of his own. But for the big bad guy, maybe they should have not have spent so much time making the villains so silly. They would do that better in the next Iron Man film.
It’s ironic that Tony Stark spends a big part of this movie finding a new element, because this movie is just a massive waste of resources. This is a good example of the failings of having to abide to franchising and a future universe. Thankfully, all other movie studios learnt from this movie’s mistakes and never had that problem again! And fortunately for Marvel Studio, they had a fantastical new character to bring to the fold…