I’ll admit it: when Iron Man came out in 2008, I pretty much had to be dragged to it by my much-more-enthusiastic-for-comic-book-movies brother. The trailer hadn’t made it look particularly interesting or different, and I was skeptical about their casting choice for Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr.?? Wasn’t he one of those guys who got famous, took up drugs, and fell off the end of the earth?? But I went anyway and I loved it. It was action packed, Robert Downey Jr. did a fantastic job, and it was unexpectedly funny, which endeared me to it instantly. Needless to say I jumped on tickets for the Thursday night midnight premiere of Iron Man 2 like a fat kid on a Smartie. The basic story for the film went something like this:
A slowly dying Tony Stark must pull himself out of his downward spiral of partying and eschewing his responsibilities to stop the military, his competitors in the arms business, and a bitter Russian physicist, who have teamed up to steal the iron suit technology.
I seem to be in the minority here among both critics and normal people but I loved Iron Man 2 less than Iron Man. (I’m used to it – the same thing happened with Batman Begins/Dark Knight) I think part of it is my instinctive loyalty to whatever I see first, but it’s more than that.
If the logline I wrote sounds a bit convoluted, that’s because Iron Man 2 has kind of a convoluted story. Sequels often suffer from this disease, unusually either because they’re just setting up the third film in the series and don’t actually have time to finish anything, or because the studios are so desperate to continue a profitable franchise that they don’t much care what the second film looks like as long as it draws in the fans (and their money). I cite Pirates of the Caribbean 2 as an example of the former and every Land Before Time sequel as an example of the latter.
They stopped numbering them after a while… I think even they forgot how many they were up to.
I think Iron Man 2 belongs in the latter category too, as there weren’t really many lose ends left hanging at the end of the film (thank God – I HATE it when movies do that). The somewhat (but not deal-breakingly) lackluster story was probably the result of switching writers (Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway all put their stamp on the script for Iron Man, while the sequel is credited solely to Justin Theroux). This reason for this could either be that the producers saw Tropic Thunder and thought Theroux would be an even better choice than the old writers, or that Marvel/Paramount didn’t want to wait for the script to go through four drafts because they were in a big hurry to get the second film out before everyone forgot about Iron Man and started stalking the next comic book movie du jour.
Aquaman, anyone? With the prominence of bottled water in this country, HE COULD BE ANYWHERE!
Personally, I think it’s a little of both. The story isn’t bad enough to totally fail, but there are large stretches of the movie where nothing very actioney happens, and sometimes character motivations get a bit lost in the drive toward the big showdown. For instance, how exactly does Ivan Vankov (Mickey Rourke), the evil Russian physicist, achieve his goal of getting back at Tony Stark by massacring innocent bystanders and blowing everything up?
I weighed the cost of making this electric outfit and anger management therapy. The outfit was cheaper.
In fact, the whole not-Tony side of the equation is much too complicated. The new screenwriter, Justin Theroux, tries to incorporate too many players, like rival arms mogul Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) from the secret agency S.H.I.E.L.D, and Tony’s new ninja/assistant Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), who don’t really need to be there for the story to work. In fact, I think the only reason they’re in the film at all is because they’ll be needed later on for the Avengers movie. As you might expect, we have to sacrifice something else to fit them all in.
Rest in Peace, Jarvis the computer (voice of Paul Bettany), whom I love, and is barely in this movie
So the lack of a really tight story has a lot to do with why I think Iron Man 2 doesn’t live up to Iron Man, since in my world, story is king. Also, I think part of the reason my instant loyalty reflex wasn’t triggered this time was that while the first movie was unexpectedly funny, the second seemed to be well aware that it was expected to live up to the example set by its older sibling, and became self-conscious about it. Theroux tried to re-capitalize on the jokes that worked well last time…
like the inept robot arm
… but he didn’t quite get there because the same joke isn’t as funny the second time around, even if you change the wording. That’s not to say that there aren’t any funny moments in Iron Man 2, because there are, plenty, it’s just that it’s not AS FUNNY as its predecessor, and that disappointed me. A lot of the humor in the first one came from Tony’s interactions with his assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who manages all the practical parts of Tony’s life and is the only one who can get him to do anything.
PEPPER: I don’t think you could tie your shoes without me.
TONY: I’d make it a week.
PEPPER: A week, really? What’s your social security number?
(from Iron Man)
I loved Pepper in the original, but in this one I feel like Theroux has dropped the ball on her character a bit. Where she was unflappable before, now she has a tendency to scream hysterically and go to pieces when things get a bit hairy. Where she once jokingly deflected Tony’s advances, now moons jealously over his pretty new assistant and allows Tony to walk all over her. Where once she could effortlessly direct Tony’s behavior, she’s now reduced to following him around nagging at him like a fishwife.
Toneeeeeeeeee, you PROMISED you would paint the garage today!
Even their trademark banter isn’t quite right. They used to bat snappy witticisms back and forth like a pair of verbal tennis champions, while in Iron Man 2 half the time they’re talking over one another and you can’t even make out what they’re saying. Was Theroux attempting to camouflage the fact that his stock of witty remarks was entirely used up in Tropic Thunder or is everyone just trying to hard? In short, Iron Man 2 made me have less respect for Pepper and actually ramped the sexual tension DOWN a few levels. Which is weird, because their relationship actually PROGRESSES in Iron Man 2… mostly I think because everyone felt it was supposed to and not because it was organic to the story they had written.
You were a jackass to me the entire movie, but sure, I’ll make out with you(or helmet).
(FYI this was the best part of the trailer and they cut it from the actual film!)
Tony himself is also harder to like in the sequel. The arc reactor in his chest is slowly poisoning his blood, and instead of breaking out his mad engineering skillz and fixing the problem like Tony from the last movie would have done, he decides to tick off all the boxes on his bucket list (most of which involve partying and/or walking all over his friends) and generally basking in the adoration of his/Iron Man’s legions of fans.
Stark Expo 2010, also known as Tony’s Festival of Self-Love
(Does anyone else think the speech he makes here sounds suspiciously
similar to Robert Downy Jr.’s Golden Globe acceptance speech?)
Don’t get me wrong, though. Tony Stark wouldn’t be Tony Stark if he wasn’t in love with himself. But he was endearingly narcissistic in Iron Man, while in this one he’s more annoyingly narcissistic. If you’ve got any narcissists in your life, you’re well aware of what a difference this distinction can make to your sanity.