Mindful of the acclaim that was heaped on the first Iron Man movie, I went along to Iron Man 2 with an optimistic attitude. I liked the idea of a ‘Marvel superhero movie for adults’ with more developed, complex characterisation etc etc. I’d read that Iron Man, alias Tony Stark, is endearing for his all-too-human flaws, particularly so to female audience members, who are supposedly drawn to his ‘vulnerability’. Well, I dunno about the first movie, but in this one ol’ Tony Stark came across to me as an attention-seeking spotlight-basking wannabe rock star partyboy with not much going for him. In fact, I’d sum him up as an out and out dickhead when he’s not kicking bad-guy arse in his metal suit. Always did wonder about women’s taste in blokes…
Look, perhaps the debut Iron Man movie was the goods. As you’ll have noted, I didn’t see it. But Iron Man 2? I have to suspect that the few critics who are persisting in chirping on about this being a standout of its genre are drawing on credit points accrued by the first movie. I’m with the rest – part of the majority, for a change! – who are underwhelmed by this follow-up.
The plot is stock standard Marvel stuff: evil Russian genius, Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), seeks vengeance on Iron Man (Robert Downey Junior), whose company Stark Industries has thwarted Whiplash senior’s no doubt dastardly megalomaniac designs and, it seems, disposed of the old man in the process. I may have missed some vital info due to a lapse of concentration, I do confess. Whatever, nasty Whiplash is pretty upset.
Spectacular but predictable battles ensue, with Whiplash wielding twin nuclear-powered whips of mega-charged lightning bolts to mighty destructive and sparky effect on the way to the inevitable big duel with Iron Man. Of course, the outcome is never in doubt, and this is one of the inherent weaknesses of the movie. How do you keep up the dramatic tension when everyone knows in advance that the superhero is gonna win? Well, you don’t! (Perhaps the man in the tin can is not vulnerable enough!)
To be fair, superheroes are indestructible and we like that about ‘em. It’s not whether they win that’s the point, but how. We want the odds to be so heavily stacked against them that we can’t work out how they’re going to triumph, even with their superpower advantages. And that’s the case in Iron Man 2. Problem is, Iron Man and his military mate ‘Rhodey’ (Don Cheadle) win too easily in the end, and there’s no imaginative quality to their victory. Leaves you feeling cheated.
And what about all this characterisation that purportedly sets Iron Man apart from other superhero movies? Robert Downey Junior was lavished with praise for his performance in the first Iron Man flick, but I didn’t discern anything special here. His Tony Stark is a Peter Pan who prefers partying hard and taking centre stage in self-financed social extravaganzas to settling down in a committed relationship with his increasingly shitty main squeeze, Pepper Potts (played rather woodenly by Gwyneth Paltrow). Suited up he’s a hero, but as Tony Stark he’s in avoidance mode, on the run from his feelings (and especially, from expressing them), from hard decisions, from adult responsibilities…
Well, all a bit deeper than yer average Marvel superhero I guess, but really, you’d hardly call this an original psychological profile. I mean strewth, almost everyone I know fits this mould – and I’m in my mid-50s, which makes me and me mates more hard-core dysfunctional than 30s-something Iron Man. He’s a mere pup, with years in front of him to resolve his ‘issues’! It takes something special to remain arrested in yer development.
Which of course, he doesn’t – lead characters in movies traditionally develop along an arc and end up learning something about themselves as they complete their trajectory. Without giving anything away, let’s just say that the writers stick to tradition here. Pepper Potts was grateful. Me, not so much so.
If Tony Stark didn’t make the grade as a character in this sequel to his triumphant debut, what about the others?
Mickey Rourke is the standout, stealing the show with his performance as the villain Whiplash. His character ain’t complex, but boy does Mickey do big, bad and mean with style!
Sam Rockwell also excels as arms dealer Justin Hammer, who aspires to knock Tony Stark off his pedestal as Mr Popular playboy. Rockwell is terrific hamming it up as the toothy all-American salesman hustler. And that’s about it for the characters. There’s not much to Pepper Potts, and even less to Scarlet Johansson’s character, “Black Widow’, whose function is largely decorative.
But OK, you don’t go to a movie like this to experience a layer-by-layer reveal of complex characters. It’s action you want, right? The movie delivers on that front. The Vmax format, as the name suggests, serves up vision and volume to the max via a massive screen and equally massive amplification, and Iron Man exploits the medium to the full. The action scenes are spectacular – everything you expect and more. Yet, I found myself quickly bored, then irritated by the visual and aural assault.
You can’t help but wonder about the future of the Hollywood blockbuster action movie. Will the masses retain an insatiable appetite for violent spectacle, now that it can’t get much bigger or better? Or louder! I noticed some of the Iron Man 2 audience covering their ears, and indeed, the noise levels approached rock concert volume at times. So now that we have mega everything, where to from here?
That question is the most interesting thing to emerge out of Iron Man 2 for me. 3D is the obvious answer, and I have to say I was entranced by Avatar, crappy story notwithstanding. James Cameron pushed 3D to new, amazing places, but even so, the magic is in the novelty of the experience. I do not see 3D as the future of big-production action movies – if, indeed, there is one.
Jeez, who knows – maybe there’ll be a return to prioritising elements that have become incidental to CGI-enhanced action, like cracking good stories featuring genuinely involving and well-developed characters.
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