Friday, April 17, 2015

Review: Iron Man 2

Is Iron Man 2 the sophomore slump? Is it a masterpiece? Or is it simply okay? Does it hold up today? In what ways? Why am I rhyming?

Iron Man 2 is a deconstruction of the end of Iron Man.

Tony Stark: "I am Iron Man."

Which is followed by more unseen adventures, happily blasting away bad guys in his one-of-a-kind armored suit, right? Happy ending, right?

Hell, no.

The MacGuffin that saved him is killing him, the government isn't going to stand back and let him be a superhero, and the rest of the world is slowly figuring out his "one-of-a-kind" armored suit.

Not only is this film truly setting up an entire universe of films to follow, it has to show us how such adventures could exist after the happy ending of the first Iron Man. It had to show us that not only were the world's problems just beginning, but Tony's problems hadn't yet ended.

I read a quote recently from Travis Knight of Laika Entertainment. The gist of what was said was this. There has to be a reason that whatever happens in a movie or book or whatever is what you're showing. To pick that moment of a life to make into a movie means that that must be the most important moment in the character's life. What's left? The second most important moment?

This ties into the method that the Iron Man films use for sequels. In the words of Ron White, "I told you that story so I could tell you this story." Not a tacked on separate story, but one that acts as an extension of the first story, which is probably the best way to do a sequel.

Tony Stark's tale is one of legacy. The damage of what he's done in the past, as well as what he wants to leave for the future. The basic framework for the story is a combination of "Demon in a Bottle," where Tony had to cope with his alcoholism while trying to defeat Justin Hammer's evil scheme, and "Armor Wars II," where Tony was not only dying from a technological virus, but was also accused of stealing his designs from the father of a man named Kearson DeWitt, who ends up fighting Iron Man in powered armor.

Basically, these stories were smashed together, a couple characters were changed, and they set it within the framework of the plot and themes of the first film.

Of course, this story wasn't just the second chapter of Iron Man, it was the first real chapter of the MCU. That's where things fall apart.

Basically, they wrote a script they were happy with and showed it to the Marvel higher-ups. The higher-ups liked it, too. So much so that they told Jon Favreau to add all the S.H.I.E.L.D./Black Widow stuff to the movie. And it's such an obvious patch job. You can take out Nick Fury and just have Tony find an old box of his dad's stuff that he decides to look through before he dies. You can take out Black Widow... and she wouldn't leave much of a hole behind her.

A lot of the problems with this movie can be traced back to the S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff. The pacing would be a bit better if you lost the diner scene, and the themes would be more cohesive if you didn't have to suddenly start caring about all the little details that were shoved in to establish the idea of a shared movie universe. In fact, as the movie was being filmed, other people were still making additions to Jon Favreau's script.

In the end, the experience was so bad that Favreau declined to return to direct the third movie. And Mickey Rourke had some choice words, too, but I'll get to that in a bit.

As for that post-credits scene... it's pretty much pointless, seeing as how Thor's been released on DVD for almost four years. Just go watch Thor. In fact, that scene is actually in Thor. Sorry, but the post-credits scene just hasn't aged well.

Tony Stark
As I said in the Intro, they decided to add a bit of an Oppenheimer-esque depression to the character, which compliments the adaptation of "Demon in a Bottle" by giving him a concrete, dramatic reason to turn to alcoholism.

As I said, one of the themes of the film is the deconstruction of the first film, and that's still true. Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark is a flippant, disrespectful jerk with a heart of badassium. And while it's refreshing to see him keep that personality even after becoming a hero, this movie partially exists to show that being a sarcastic jerk to people you don't like isn't exactly a good idea if they're the people actually in charge.

Tony said it himself. He's not a joiner. He's a lone wolf, and while the last movie was about Tony becoming a hero, this film deals with him becoming a better human being. In the first Iron Man, Tony Stark took a level in global responsibility. In this movie, he takes a level in personal responsibility. Not only with how he treats those in charge, but how he treats those around him. Slowly but surely, Tony Stark is becoming a better person. Soon enough, he'll stop saving the world to undo the damage he caused, but instead because it's the right thing to do.

Pepper Potts
While Gwyneth Paltrow's portrayal of the female lead is a bit more panicky with a shorter temper, it makes sense, considering Tony's unexplained downward spiral and semi-stable relationship with her. I just wish she had stayed the CEO of Stark Industries at the end of the film. It would have added a new permanent dynamic to the lead characters, and would have eliminated a few unfortunate implications of her short-lived leadership of the company.

I hate to say it, but this feels like a step down from the last film.

James "Rhodey" Rhodes
I'm just glad I can actually talk about him this time.

With the limited time Don Cheadle had to create his interpretation of the character, he's pretty clearly just going with Terrence Howard's performance from the last film. And he's freely admitted as such.

So having said that, he does a good job. He kind of falls into a bit of the old "black best friend" role, but Cheadle manages to bring enough unique charm to the role to make it memorable. And with his interactions with Tony, you can tell that he cares about his buddy, despite conflicts of interest. It's easy to see why Tony trusts him as the next Iron Man. Or War Machine, whichever.

Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow

Let me put it another way. For an hour and a half, Scarlett Johansson is playing Black Widow pretending to be Natalie Rushman. It's a performance of a performance. And while that might be something I could definitely talk about in a certain other Marvel movie down the road, neither "Natalie" nor Natasha affect enough of the plot to leave an impact. But that's mostly because a lot of the character's scenes were cut, which is to be expected when you shove ancillary characters into a movie like this.

I was going to leave my analysis there. But then an anonymous commenter brought up a point in Part 1 that I couldn't ignore.

Who are you, faceless enigma?
As such, I'm forced by reviewer laws to share my thoughts. Natasha Romanoff is a terrible spy. She's not willing to take a punch to keep her secret identity intact...

Note that in the Tony/Rhodey drunken fight, she ducks into a fighting stance.
She's the one who says the magic words to make Tony lose the rest of what passed for his self-control.  She uses the thinnest possible alias short of "Natasha Roman." She reveals that she's a spy to Tony during the Nick Fury meeting when S.H.I.E.L.D. might have probably gotten more usage out of her as Tony's babysitter in plain sight.

But Odin forbid we not have fanservice, apparently.
Black Widow is a pretty terrible spy. The only thing she accomplished was to drive Tony past the brink, beat up a room full of rent-a-cops, and reboot Rhodey's armor. I know two out of three ain't bad, but still....

Justin Hammer
If I haven't made it clear already, I'm a huge fan of Sam Rockwell in general. He plays Hammer (along with a lot of his other roles) with a certain charm... Minus the charisma. It's like charm, but without the charm. And that's what I find so charming.

Justin Hammer is an idiot. Like, you know how Bruce Wayne pretends to be an idiot billionaire? That facade is the kind of person that Justin Hammer actually is. And it makes a kind of sense. Justin Hammer is pre-Afghanistan Tony Stark cranked all the way up to eleven. Tony's self-interest is represented by Justin's greed, his apathy is represented by malice, and his flippant attitude is represented by idiocy. Justin Hammer isn't what Tony Stark used to be, but he represents how the world saw Tony.

Unfortunately, Justin Hammer is a wannabe Obadiah Stane. As fun as Sam Rockwell is to watch, the character simply isn't much of a threat. Of course, that's what Ivan Vanko was for.

Ivan Vanko
The character is a combination of the original Crimson Dynamo from the comics (Anton Vanko), and a minor villain called Whiplash, alongside some motivation from "Armor Wars II." Ivan Vanko is the evil counterpart of the reborn Tony Stark. Like Tony, he was imprisoned by somebody who wanted weapons and pretended to give him what he wanted while working on an armored suit to escape.

And from there... the character is a little generic.

But Mickey Rourke is freaking phenomenal. I mean, the level of research he did was amazing. He went to Butyrka prison to meet with the inmates for research (describing them as very polite), and many of his tattoos are designs lifted straight from actual inmates. (He was also supposed to have a Loki tattoo, but that was removed in post with CGI to avoid any potential confusion as to the character's loyalties once Thor came out.) And that bird (or "Burd") that both he and the internet love so much? Rourke paid for that out of his own pocket, as well as the character's gold teeth.

See how generic the character was before Rourke got involved?
And in fact, the character was supposed to be as complex as Rourke's performance. But with the revamp of the script to include more Marvel Cinematic Universe setup, the character's more humanizing scenes were sadly cut. Although they altered the ending to make Whiplash's death ambiguous, Mickey Rourke refuses to return for another movie, and has said many less-than-flattering things about the production.

But when push comes to shove, a lot of the character's humanity comes through. From what I've seen on the internet, the character is widely considered an anti-villain by many fans of the film, simply through what bits of the performance were left. Especially in Russia, from what research I've done as well as the fact that my views from Russia have gone up considerably since I began posting my Recaps of Iron Man 2.

But at the end of the day, the man is a criminal, a murderer, and his ultimate goal is to destroy a man who did nothing to him. But that just makes him the villain this film needs.

Howard Stark
John Slattery takes the torch this time. Considering that he's just here to be a Walt Disney homage, he does a good job in the role, balancing the calculating bastard that Tony always saw his dad as with a fun-loving side that Tony probably can't help but see himself in.

The day Howard shipped Tony off to boarding school probably was the happiest day in his life. Because he knew his son would be safe from whatever conspiracy was going on around him. But... I don't want to delve into future spoilers just yet.

Nick Fury
Samuel L. Jackson.

There you go. That's the whole characterization. I mean, you half expect the man to start quoting the book of Ezekiel.  But that's not to say he's not enjoyable to watch. If you like to see Samuel L. Jackson take charge and do his "badass agent in a black jacket" thing, you won't be disappointed by his performance, just the lack of meaningful screen time.

Phil Coulson
Clark Gregg's black horse fan-favorite character doesn't get to do much, but it's made clear that he's Nick Fury's go-to guy with a side order of awesome.

Love you, Clark.
The composer, John Debney, recorded the score in only five days, which is really the most interesting thing about it. It's a good soundtrack; it does what music is supposed to do and compliments the action on screen, but nothing really stands out except for DJ AM's remix of "Another One Bites the Dust" and "Robot Rock."

Actually, as another fun fact, the bits of the Stark Expo feature a cheery, Disney-esque song called "Make Way for Tomorrow Today." It was based on a song called "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow," which was written by the Sherman Brothers for Disney's Carousel of Progress. So who did they get to write the homage song? Richard Sherman himself.

One of the things they tried to do with this film was up the ante, aesthetically. After Iron Man was released, Jon Favreau apparently had a lot of people working on tomorrow's technology telling him how spot-on he actually was with some of the details. So with this movie, he wanted to take the technology even further. Holograms, shiny technology, transparent phones, and even the suits themselves.

This ends up working really well. The first film needed to be more grounded in reality. Now that the audience is sold on the idea of a man flying armor, they can afford to be a little bit more unbelievable.

Speaking of believability, remember how I praised the practical effects of the last movie? Well, this movie's a bit more prone to taking CGI shortcuts, mainly because of the heavy metal suits involved. But you know what? The CGI on the suits is really good, and they end up integrating practical effects whenever possible.

A lot of the CGI is only noticeable if you know it's there.
And I already gushed at length about the Mark V armor, so long story short, while CGI may be used heavily, it's used well and plays to the strengths of CGI in general.

Best Actor: Mickey Rourke
The man gave 110% and was rewarded by having his best scenes edited out.

Best Character: Justin Hammer
Seriously, Marvel. If you ever decide to adapt the Masters of Evil into the MCU, bring back Justin Hammer. I don't care if it's just a cameo.

Best Line
Any line delivered by Sam Rockwell.

Final Thoughts
In 2010, this was my favorite MCU film. In 2012, I considered it the weakest entry. Now, in 2015, watching it with an objective eye, I've come to a new verdict.

Perfect? No.

Good? Yes.

Great? I'd say so.

Better than Iron Man? Not really.

Better than The Incredible Hulk? Absolutely. And at the end of the day, that's all it needed to be.

While certain scenes and plot points lose their impact after the release of subsequent films, the main plot is still enjoyable enough, with good dialogue, great performances, and a heaping helping of fun and action.

Next time, it's time to look at a certain God of Thunder. See you next time, when I go over 2011's Zeus.

...Thor, sorry.


  1. If I ever an Iron Man show I will put a Justin Hammer Sr. (The one in the comics) and Jr. (The one in the films). Sr. would be a Big Bad and Jr. would be his comic relief

  2. The Ultimate Universe tried something with two Justin Hammers. They were both older than dirt. Having an older one and a younger one could mirror the Tony/Obadiah relationship in an interesting way.

    1. Didn't even think about that, the idea was basically having Jr. trying to one-up Tony constantly while Sr. funds villains and the like

    2. I've got thousands of ideas for Marvel shows, most of them based on combining movie, videogame and comic universes, for example having both movie versions of Pietro

    3. I've always thought they should do something with the Imperfects from that video game everyone hated. Any ideas?

    4. I guess they could appear as the main villain group of a season, but I'd hace to ser more of the game first. I think I'll make a blog to talk about my ideas