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Iron Man 2 (2010)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

IRON MAN 2 (2010)

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson

Written By: Justin Theroux Directed By: Jon Favreau

The Short Version

Question posed: how to top one of the best comic book films ever made?

Answer: they tried, but didn’t succeed.  Made a fun movie, though!

Iron Man 2 is the difference between plot and story.

Coolness covers for a lot of things.

It doesn’t have to be great to be good.  Of course you want to see Iron Man 2.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Like something you might find at an expo food pavilion, maybe.

Pairs Well With...


Apparently, it’s Whiplash’s vodka of choice.  Na Zdorovie!

“Get a roof.”

Let get the obvious out of the way first: Iron Man is one of the best comic book movies ever made.  Marvel and all of the other Hollywood Powers That Be could have all the pipe dreams they wanted about following it up with something even better, but however hard they tried, they weren’t going to do it.  We all knew that going in, and – big surprise – we were right.

In the big rush to stuff as much cool stuff into two hours and small change as possible, Iron Man 2 makes lots of mistakes and covers them up in Cool Whip.  And because it’s yummy and tastes like dessert, we forgive the movie for its sins, and walk away reasonably satisfied.  That’s a pretty neat trick for a rather unsatisfying story.

I’ll pause here to note that there’s a difference between “plot” – the logic of getting from A to Z – and “story” – the telling and the experience of getting from A to Z.  In most big budget action flicks, the plot ends up having more holes than the PGA tour, but the story is satisfying.  But Iron Man 2 goes against the prevailing winds: its story peters out on a fairly regular basis, but its plot is fine.  (When dealing with superheroes, of course, some disbelief will always need to be suspended, but as far as these things go – yes, the logic works from end to end with no real nonsensical gaps and few if any shark jumps.)  Why should Tony Stark follow the status quo, right?

The ideas in the movie – all “too many” of them – have the potential to be great; the amalgamated screen story based upon them is not.  But since most of the audience is there for the eye candy and the zing anyway, it is good enough, and even manages to play better after additional viewings, for that’s when the individual story components really come out to display their ultimately unrealized potential.

Unrealized potential is Our Villain: Ivan Vanko/Whiplash.  (Yes, I know this Whiplash is a mashup of comic book Whiplash and comic book Crimson Dynamo; I’m going with the flow here.)  Mickey Rourke represents the single most inspired piece of new casting in Iron Man 2 for all sorts of reasons (the career parallels and divergences between him and Robert Downey, Jr. make interesting history for the super curious), chief amongst which is the fact that he’s an outstanding actor who gives his all the part.  Rourke did extreme homework to prepare for the role of Vanko, and that effort shows every time he’s on the screen (especially during repeat viewings).  He takes the seed planted by the script and makes a rich garden out of it… only to be cast aside on a regular basis, to the point where when he finally shows up again for the climax, it feels like an afterthought.  Rourke’s Vanko could have been one of the Great Comic Book Movie Villains, but the movie doesn’t really give him a chance.

But it sure looks cool when he slices race cars in half, doesn’t it?

Unrealized potential is Our Other Villain, who steals way more screen real estate than the one with the cool whips despite being a simple corporate douchebag.  At least Jeff Bridges gave Obadiah Stane some real character in the first film; Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer is too easily dismissible as a waste of space to ever be taken seriously… and he’s given lots of space to waste.  It’s not entirely his fault, mind; the script could have really done something with the Stark/Hammer rivalry, but instead goes with the lowest common denominator version.

But at least he sets up some fun moments wherein Robert Downey, Jr. gets to do his thing, right?

Unrealized potential is taking the low road for Stark’s way of dealing with the knowledge that he’s dying.  (This is noted very early on, so it’s hardly a spoiler.)  Yeah, it’s what we expect, but that’s the problem – everyone goes for the “self destructive ass” scenario, and it gets to be tired after a while.  Is it better written than Peter Parker’s asshat turn in Spider-Man 3?  Without question, and Robert Downey, Jr. – who has no small acquaintance with what Stark is going through here – does such an excellent job of acting through the crisis (especially during the moments when Stark is more lucid than he seems) that he keeps it watchable, but still.  Tony Stark’s supposed to be above clichés, and this is a massive cliché.

But once again, there is that whole “acting” thing to enjoy.

Unrealized potential is Black Widow, who could have been so much more (still waiting on that solo movie, by the way, and it should be solo and not a duet with Hawkeye, thanks), but who is here reduced to being an ass kicking babe in a catsuit or a half-buttoned blouse.  The character deserves better, and Scarlett Johansson is capable of bringing it.  There’s just not enough time, and no effort other than Johansson’s own.

But she does kick ass in an enjoyable fashion, doesn’t she?  (Even if a lot of that scene plays as a giant camera trick.)

Unrealized potential is… something that most people who pick up Iron Man 2 just aren’t going to care about until having superhero movie debates with friends after watching their own well-worn copies of the blu ray several times over.  And that’s just fine.

Because really, despite all of its unrealized potential and despite being loaded with several “downer” subplots, Iron Man 2 is still a fun movie, and that, in the end, is all that truly matters.

Yes, I do pay attention to things like “story” and “acting,” but when I go to see a movie like Iron Man 2, the first thing I want to do is enjoy the thrill of the action and marvel at the flashy eye candy, and on those counts, the movie delivers and it delivers well.  It also delivers the Tony Stark snark that took the original Iron Man to the next level, and yes, it allows the man playing Our Hero to act, so the most important expectations held over from last time are fulfilled.  Comic history notwithstanding, could I have done without War Machine?  Sure.  (What kind of idiot would allow the US Government of all entities to have one of these suits?!)  But he’s cool to watch anyway.  And I’d rather have a couple of short scenes involving Whiplash than none at all.  And it’s nice to see Happy Hogan get more of a workout this time around.  And so on, and so on, and so on.

Cool Whip covers a lot of stuff, and everyone loves something that tastes like dessert.

Bottom line, Iron Man 2 isn’t great, but it’s more than good enough.  Whatever its flaws, the action’s a blast a watch, Downey’s got game, and the parts of the movie that are supposed to be funny are funny.  It’s a fun way to escape for two hours, and that’s all any reasonable person can ask.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, July, 2013

More From The Bar! | Thor | The Avengers | The Amazing Spider-Man | Iron Man 3 | Ant-Man |

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