Iron Man 2
Sequels, especially to an already critically lauded movie are always a nefarious sport, but when you consider just what the first Iron Man had in its favour, it’s impossible to fathom how this entry in the franchise falls so flat. Here we have a superhero who does not muse over his duty or wax lyrically about the moral imperative he has to save lives, rather bragging about his privatization of world peace and uses his gift as an extension of his own masculinity. Yet the thematic structure of such comic book adaptations weighs heavy upon the writer (Justin Theroux) and director (Jon Favreau), invariably favouring style over substance.
Since revealing that he and Iron Man are one and the same, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) has been living life to the fullest, be it arriving in his trademark armour to corporate events or simply blasting his guns to reaffirm his studliness. However Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) believes that Stark’s father is responsible for the downfall of his own and wants revenge against his progeny, a fact that Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Stark’s business rival is willing to exploit.
If the plot seems slightly leaden, it’s because it is, motivations never having been Marvel’s strongpoint with Theroux loathed to address such a flaw. The characters and their players are so visibly enjoying their roles that it only appears all the more disheartening that they have to fight such tired conventions being saddled upon them.
Downey Jr yet again brings a likability to narcissism that is both refreshing and highly entertaining to watch. He’s even given a genuine foil in the shape of Gwyneth Paltrow’s increased screen-time as Pepper Pots, verbally sparing with such rapidity it’s a genuine joy to watch. However Favreau’s obvious goal of expanding the background material with which he can later toy with leads to a slow pacing and convoluted story arc. We’re constantly introduced to new characters and previously-existing one’s in a new way but none are given enough time to be teased out fully. If anyone can explain to me why Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) for example, pops up half way through, I’d be delighted to here it. Yes his inclusion justifies itself within the narrative structure, but his role as catalyst for the central character’s epiphany results in Stark learning little by himself.
With the villains of the piece, it inevitably means that Stark’s true enemy is dialogue, or perhaps even sheer monotony. Even with his characteristic hyper-mumble, it can’t make up for the sheer about of talking there is overall. The opening montage, with all its time given to establishing the impediment the disclosure has had on Stark does nothing but reinforce the important point is that it hasn’t affected him egregiously, merely fed into the public appears fund from which he can draw and how he can get his rocks off. Granted, in his narcissism he is never condescended to or similarly idolized, it doesn’t explain why we need to see many examples of how many ways he can play nonplussed.
What story is examined amounts to a series of minor issues, items that would otherwise be considered irritations, given pride of place by a team so in love with the mythos that it pleases in the fanboy in me and nothing more.
In order to fill the quota of action scenes, we are granted them in the form of an ass-kicking notary, a race track showdown and an entirely irrelevant battle between Stark and his buddy Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle – and I don’t care how bad Terrance Howard was to work with, Cheadle has the charisma of a corpse, a glaringly obvious point when put into a cast such as this). They are well executed in editing and seamless integration of the CGI used, yet so inconsequential in the overall narrative that they hardly make a dent. The latter more so as a movie with such an abundant source of technology used throughout, leads to such moments and set pieces never truly standing out to the extent they should.
That the end product doesn’t have the same life as the first installment is a foregone conclusion. Favreau has crafted a stylish but ultimately empty pleasure, categorized for me personally with Rourke’s control of Russian being perhaps the greatest effect throughout. But what can you expect from a movie that relies on the titular character being encased in metal to justify an AC/DC driven soundtrack?