I’ll be honest. This stretch was supposed to be the hardest. The Incredible Hulk was hard to get through last night, and I followed that with Iron-Man 2. These two movies are regularly derided as the low points of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I had prepared myself and my fellow companions for this. It was going to be a rough two days, and then we can get into the better #content.
Iron-Man 2 could not have been more of surprise for me. I remember thinking this movie was awesome when I first saw it, because of all the reasons that get a 15-year old excited. ELECTRIC WHIPS!!! IRON MAN BRIEFCASE!!! ARMY-BOTS! HOLOGRAMZZZ!!!
I ate that stuff up. I then fell out of love with the movie because everyone around me said it was bad, and I admitted to maybe having a bad read on the whole situation. Given all of this, it had been a while since my last viewing of the second Iron-Man movie, and my expectations were pretty low going into the experience. What I found was the pieces coming together for a universe that were unfortunately browbeaten by much of the cliche that Favreau and crew were so expertly able to avoid in the first installation. Amidst the cheesy one-liners and the general invincibility of anyone who mattered, there is an interesting story here.
This movie’s first act is probably its strongest in terms of developing and progressing the character of Iron-Man. We pick up years after Tony Stark has revealed that he is the man behind the mask. He has essentially “privatized world peace,” (his words, not mine) and is reveling in the fame and glory it has brought him. However, we begin to see cracks not in his flying-weaponized armor, but rather in his emotional stability. We will obviously see this theme on a far grander scale in the finale of the trilogy, however this story is laying the long fuse that the events of The Avengers will light. The crumbling facade of the narcissistic playboy begins to deteriorate as he learns of the repercussions he faces by continuing to use the arc reactor to keep him alive. This causes Tony to ponder things of long-term worth–and he usually runs the other way. This is a sad depiction of a man who at last has to take responsibility for the monsters he has created, the principal monster being himself.
This movie actually does a good job at showing this by forcing Tony into conflicts with people all shockingly similar to him. The first act ends with a fight with Whiplash, whose suit is powered by a copy of the iconic arc reactor. The second act ends with a fight between Iron-Man and War Machine, a sad conflict between friends that could be a really poignant moment if not for all of the really stupid dialogue. Finally, the two team up to fight an army of drones along with a robotic Whiplash. The escalation of each scene reinforces an undertone that continues in these movies: Tony is constantly at war with Iron-Man over control over his soul. This conflict is quickly brushed over, because this comparison is far more overt in the Hulk storyline. Interestingly, the Iron-Man rendition is far more compelling and unfortunately missed far too often.
One who has not seen this movie in a while might wonder why it is reviewed so poorly if it handles such complex issues in such a fun way. This movie has a ton of bad in it as well. Iron-Man 2 really begins to fall apart at the end of the second act. The birthday party scene is definitely supposed to seem pathetic, however the production of it should not be. We don’t see enough broken and too much brazen. This is unfortunate, because this is supposed to be the bottom of the valley moment. The film sets this up for us to feel very sorry for this man who has lost himself to the illusion of safety as a means of protection. Tony just never quite sinks low enough, unless that was the point of him pigging out on donuts, but even then it just seems to reinforce that he has not fully accepted the need for Tony to exist without Iron-Man. Maybe, this was the point of the movie–that the rich never get the comeuppance that they quite deserve. Or they were just using that conflict to build up to Iron-Man 3; however, it is extremely dissatisfying during the movie.
There are many other issues; as much as the origin story relied on science in begging you to suspend your disbelief, Iron-Man 2 threw in the towel and decided to get crazy. Holograms are literally everywhere in this movie and doing things that make no sense. Elements are being created on a whim. Jon Favreau is getting his ass handed to him by ScarJo, which I am totally fine with since he is a director that casts himself in his own movie. There is a lot of nonsense.
Despite all of this, Iron-Man 2 has aged pretty well over its five-year life. The major thematic elements– the dangers of drone usage and the struggle between humans and our use of technology–are warnings that are more relevant today than they were in 2010, and this will not be the first time that Marvel predicts/lucks into relevant socio-political criticisms (Winter Soldier). This movie also does a fantastic job at setting the stage for the rest of Marvel’s phase one. We are reintroduced to Agent Phil Coulson, and we officially meet Nick Fury and Black Widow. But, the characters are the least of the universe building. The two Iron-Man projects accompanied by the Hulk have been heavy handed with the science mumbo jumbo. However, the dichotomy between these movies and the miraculous nature of Thor and Captain America is one of many strokes that made Avengers a wonderfully painted masterpiece. This movie is absolutely necessary for this undertaking to occur, and while it was perhaps not handled with the care it deserved, it is a beaten and bruised capsule with more treats than I originally anticipated.
Come back tomorrow as I sift my way through a different kind of mumbo jumbo… Norse mumbo jumbo. We will be revisiting Thor in all of its gratuitous and rainbow bridge-y greatness.
I also get why people might hate this scene and Hammer for that matter, but I really can’t get enough.