The Cynical Optimist : Why the love for Iron Man 2?


Disclaimer: This discussion of Jon Favreau’s latest film, “Iron Man 2,” contains spoilers and inexhaustible, unrestrained tirades. This is not a review, nor will it be an especially coherent discussion. Thank you.

Justin Theroux’s script for “Iron Man 2″ is dreadful. I’m not really sure how else to say it – it’s just a mess. It suffers from one of the worst cases of sequel-itis I’ve ever seen. That is, the absolute necessity to cram as many villains and storylines into the existing formula as possible.

This film isn’t even about Iron Man, or Tony Stark for that matter. It’s a two-hour commercial for “The Avengers.” The first film only had four main characters: Tony Stark, Pepper Potts, James Rhodes and Obadiah Stane. You were introduced to the characters, the plot became apparent, and everyone worked toward the resolution of that plot.

In “Iron Man 2,” you have the introduction of Natasha Romanoff, Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko, while the roles of Colonel Nicholas Fury and James Rhodes are enhanced significantly. As War Machine, Rhodes steals away screen time that could have been used to better serve the internal struggle of Tony Stark. Meanwhile, while you’re trying to learn all of these new characters’ names and motives, there’s about two hundred plot threads unraveling at the seams.

I’m not sure why Romanoff was in this script, unless Theroux clearly imagined Scarlet Johansson in a Lyrca spandex suit, breaking a goon’s neck with her powerful thighs – in that case, I commend him. As a S.H.I.E.L.D spy, she didn’t really seem to do much spying – nor did she do anything to really betray Tony Stark’s trust.

She didn’t bring any kind of new romantic angle to the story either. One might assume she would enter a love triangle with Potts and Stark, but being as Stark and Potts don’t really have any kind of significant relationship – this is impossible. Now, if Romanoff used her sex appeal to get information from Stark, and used him for the greater good of S.H.I.E.L.D, that might have been compelling.

Speaking of S.H.I.E.L.D, Samuel L. Jackson is just a bit too casual for Colonel Nicholas Fury. I mean – we are talking about a grizzled war hero who occupies a high-ranking position in a top-secret government agency, right?

In “Iron Man 2,” he’s just walking around in broad daylight in a leather trench coat and eye patch, eating donuts with Iron Man and Agent Romanoff. It’s funny, I guess – preposterous in only a way that people will defend as “just like the comic books!” – but it should at least stick true to the characters and the story being told.

One of the dozen storylines being tossed around in this script is the idea of Tony Stark dying – that the Palladium-powered suit is slowly killing him. With this, they shoehorn the “Demon in the Bottle” storyline from the comics, in which Stark becomes an alcoholic. Because these two ideas are combined, neither is that effective.

Stark miraculously creates a new element (which is never named, classified or even explained) to take care of the whole Palladium situation – and the alcoholism appears in one (awful) sequence in which Stark is drunk in the Iron man suit at a party, blasting bottles of champagne and scratching records with the late DJ A.M.

War Machine shows up, and the two have a wrestling match – the outward representation of Stark wrestling with his own inner demons, I suppose. It’s not as appalling as the boxing match from “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” but it certainly is reminiscent of Mr. Fantastic’s disco dance moves in “Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer.”
Robert Downey Jr. was born to play industrialist playboy and genius engineer Tony Stark. Stark’s textbook narcissism – his abounding charisma and intellect – is portrayed so effectively by RDJ, it doesn’t seem like a portrayal at all. In fact, he sleepwalks through half of the movie – as there isn’t much material for him to sink his teeth into.

Sam Rockwell, on the other hand, steals the show as rival manufacturer Justin Hammer. Every single second this guy was on screen, I was entertained and interested in what he was going to do next. If this was an actual standalone Iron Man film and not a prequel to “The Avengers,” it would have been amazing to see what Rockwell and Rourke could have done with more screen time – unfortunately they had to share with Fury, Romanoff and War Machine, who added little to the story of Tony Stark.

Being as this is the second film, one would expect Tony Stark to journey into darkness – his future uncertain. Being as he easily dealt with alcoholism and seemingly unavoidable death in a matter of minutes, we’re left with a relatively happy ending. I wanted to see Stark left in uncertainty.

Sure, he conquered his enemies, but at what cost? It would have been nice to see the alcoholism slowly build throughout the film. There’s a moment in the film where Stark is hurt, and Rhodes helps him up and stares at him. Stark says, “What are you looking at?” and Rhodes replies, “I’m looking at you Tony.”

That scene could have been so much better served if it were Tony Stark drunk, and Rhodes helping him get back on his feet, rather than the Palladium core in his chest giving out. There just wasn’t any gravity to any of Stark’s inner struggles.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the film is the conclusion. Mickey Rourke’s Vanko, who is so completely bad-ass at the beginning of the film, is reduced to yet another guy in a knockoff Iron Man suit.

The first film played out like “Robcop,” with Iron Man fighting the equivalent of ED-209. Here, Iron Man and War Machine team-up, Wonder Twins style, to defeat Mickey Rourke by pulling a “Ghostbusters” and crossing the streams.

I liked the movie – though certainly not as satisfying as “Iron Man” and light-years away from being a successful sequel like “Spider-Man 2″ or “X2: X-Men United,” it was still entertaining. The eight-year-old kid inside me will never cease to be amazed at super heroes flying around, beating up bad guys. On that level, I was satisfied. As someone who loves a good story, I was disappointed.

I have to wonder, if “Iron Man 2″ can’t handle this many storylines or characters effectively, how in the Hell can “The Avengers” hope to juggle heavy hitters like Thor, Captain America, Hulk and Iron Man in the span of one film…