If I were to include all the things that make Iron Man a good movie with all the worst traits of the absolutely useless The Incredible Hulk, I’d fit snugly into my opinion of Iron Man 2 as a picture.
Of course, that statement is not enough to sum up how it is a movie so allow me to elaborate:
The film almost immediately takes its plot reins from the final beat of Iron Man, where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) said “fuck it” to secret identities and laid out in public his being Iron Man. This coincides with the death of an elderly man in Eastern Europe and his grieving son Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) takes it upon himself to begin taking up his own revenge on the Starks. To fuel this vengeance, Vanko, a second-generation physicist, looks at his father’s research and uses it to effortlessly create something it was thought only one man could create: an arc reactor.
Lucky for Stark, the US Government does not know about this second arc reactor’s existence just yet, but they are still insistent that Stark surrender the Iron Man technology to them, with Stark’s Air Force brass best friend Rhodey (Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard and the role ending up so much better for it) standing as the middle man.
And a chemical reaction with the palladium in Tony’s arc reactor is in fact poisoning him and accelerating his impending death.
… And there’s a shit load of other plot lines thrown in. Director/Actor Jon Favreau and Co-Writer Justin Theroux clearly don’t have much restraint in how many dumb things they want to throw into the fray to provide some semblance of a plot – there’s Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson in yet another amazingly inspired bit of comic book movie casting) upgrading himself from being a glorified cameo and Black Widow (Scarlett Johannsson) being mysterious and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) dealing with how many secrets Tony is holding from her – that it eventually muddles into The Amazing Spider-Man 2 territory of plotlessness, the only true substance being in how much Iron Man 2 services itself as a trailer to The Avengers than in being a coherent story for itself.
Like really. If there’s any film in the MCU than can be called out for being an advertisement for the next films, it’s Iron Man 2. In addition to the disorganization of its multiple threads of plot, it’s clear that each thread means to reach out to the next big thing that might promise another direction for the franchise. Return of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Check. Black Widow shoehorn? Check. Hammer Industries? Check.
Which speaking of the character of Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) – rival to Stark as a military supplies contractor – brings me to note something. While again almost everybody in the cast is perfectly serviceable save for Favreau and Johansson (who we completely know is purely eye-candy but still… dammit, Scar Jo, you can do better than dazily waltz around inconsequentially to the scene), Rockwell is the only actor other than Downey Jr. that gives a pop-out performance. Which comes, a lot more in this field than RDJ, from dismissing outright what the character in fact is in the comics – a decrepit old man who would have no stomach for the sort of energetic dancing gladhappy-handing shenanigans Rockwell engages in during the film.
Still Downey Jr. is best in show as he fits more into Stark’s character like a glove than Rockwell comfortably shakes his own persona into Hammer. Paltrow, Clark Gregg, Jackson, Cheadle and Rourke do what they can to remind others they are in the movie and important to what Stark has to do – especially frustrating when these roles are more artificially tailored to their skills by that same confused script by Favreau and Theroux than Stark is to RDJ, but dems the brakes with them.
See, what makes Iron Man 2 a much more frustrating affair than any movie fearing Robert Downey Jr. in the role of Tony Stark once again is how aesthetically speaking it’s fine-tuned – we get some great design work visually and audibly and even a fantastic cameo by John Slattery playing
Walt Disney Howard Stark that is possibly my favorite moment of the whole film – but creatively speaking, more effort is clearly wasted on making the fan service apparent rather than the actual story working out on its own. And let me tell you, the fan service is not what I come to a movie for. I don’t care about Captain America’s shield yet, especially when it’s the butt of a dumb 2-second joke shortly after the movie goes “HEY GUIZE LOOKZ WAT WE GOT HEAR!!!” I don’t care about Black Widow if she’s not going to do anything except have a glare stuck on her face for all the screentime she wastes. It’s not for me.
It’s especially not for me when the stuff that isn’t fan service – ie Rockwell and Downey Jr. – is the only thing that works in the movie. Please, I’m glad Favreau dropped out of Iron Man 3 if he actually couldn’t figure out what truly went right about his first picture.
I mean, look, it’s not a film I dislike. It’s still pretty entertaining for me on the stance of its humor, its performances, even its action sequences – which include a run little prison escape, an a brief ten second ground drone battle that you can expect use to scream “FUCKING AWESOME AT THE SCREEN!” before Stark cockblocks you with lasers – that are pretty ok (although once again if the fight scene involves Black Widow or Favreau’s Happy Hogan, then… no. It’s a mess of editing. They’re bad omens, I guess.). But there’s nothing in Iron Man 2 that actually surprises or shakes me the way that Iron Man or Guardians of the Galaxy did that make me re-watch them again. And considering how many looser ends it leaves, which it does (I was not lying when I say the script leaves itself a mess – it resolves the plot threads clearly Favreau cared about and the rest are just meaningless fluff pieces apparently), I just can’t put myself through that disappointment by watching it again.
Again, it’s not by any means a film I actively dislike. At all.
But it’s a film that’s hard to love.