Monday, 29 January 2018

Approaching Infinity Part Three: Iron Man 2 (2010)

SPOILER ALERT: I probably like this film more than you do.

Iron Man 2 gets slapped around on the internet quite a lot, for no good reason I can see. In comparison to previous MCU entries, we get a lot of bad guy per square inch, and more character development than the rest of the films combined. There's plenty of practical action to complement the CGI work, and all told it does the job well enough. The world-building is solid without getting in the way of the main story, and there are a few comic-based crowd-pleaser moments thrown in. I still can't bring myself to believe that an entire Iron Man suit fits in a briefcase that still weighs little enough for agitated stick-figure Gwyneth Paltrow to toss around, but generally the faults are minor enough to let slide.

The Villain
Iron Man 2 does some interesting work with the bad guys. Mickey Rourke's constantly moist Ivan Vanko probably has the most coherent backstory and motivation of any MCU villain so far. He's a physical and tactical threat both in and out of costume, ties into the Iron Man origin pretty neatly and follows a clear objective all the way through. For me, those features alone make up for the fact that he's a bit of an arbitrary mash-up of whip-themed villains and Evil Shadow clichés. By now, it's pretty clear that the main drive of Marvel villainy is firmly rooted in James Bond's "we are not so different, you and I" bullshit.

Underlining this to the point of scoring through the paper altogether is Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer, who's effectively a Tony Stark cosplayer with some money behind him. That said, Rockwell does what he does every time you put him on a screen - steals it, eats it, then somehow steals it again. I genuinely lose all interest in Stark's suicide-adjacent storyline every time Rockwell appears.

The Story
Your dad was probably a more complicated person than you realised. Also, the guy from 9 1/2 weeks got huge and wants to kill you with laser-whips.

The plot's pretty serviceable, as these things go. Tony's inconsistently explained heart battery is killing him, but it's also the only thing keeping him alive. Pepper Potts is getting enough heavy lifting to do in the story to make her much more than the jittering irritant she was threatening to become. Everyone wants Stark's Iron Man suits, from the government to his business rivals. In the end, almost everyone gets what they wanted.  Even Vanko dies on his own terms, believing he's won by avenging his father. Only Hammer gets shafted outright, by my count. Happily Ever After...

The Universe
Iron Man 2 sneaks a lot of MCU into its relatively short running time. We get Hammer, Black Widow, War Machine, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Ten Rings moment and an always-welcome touch of Coulson on the side. Hammer never gets another serious mention after this until the Luke Cage series, sadly, barring a possibly homophobic comedy moment in the Marvel One Shot, All Hail the King.

The Stinger
This is the first time an MCU stinger has more or less been lifted straight from the film it references. More Coulson is always better than less, of course, so no complaints there. To me, though, this stinger reads mostly as a test of how "on-board" we are as an audience. They're saying, "look - you stuck with us through all the science fiction stuff, and that's great. The thing is, we more or less HAVE to do Thor, okay? It's going to be a bit of a gear change from the stuff we've been doing, but we'd get eaten alive by the comics people if we left him out."

The Take-Away
I don't get the Mickey Rourke hate, or the generally ugly vibe I hear so often around Iron Man 2. What's more, we finally get a villain with a game plan and a reason for opposing the hero. All told, it's a reasonably strong film.

Previously: The Incredible Hulk
Next: Thor

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