I’m gonna go ahead and skip past the part where I praise Iron Man 2 for being a fun-filled popcorn flick with top shelf acting, confident direction and really cool tech. I’ll leave that to the majority of you out there to discuss among yourselves.
What I’m going to do instead is try to help the few of you out there who find yourself with an odd feeling when the final credits roll. A confusing feeling. Confusing because what you’re feeling doesn’t quite make sense. You liked the movie. You enjoyed yourself. You laughed in all the right places. You loved the cast. You loved the action. You loved the jokes. But for some reason you’ve still got this nagging emotion inside that just doesn’t add up. How, after $200 million dollars of entertainment packed into 2 hours, can you be feeling…disappointed?
Listen to me closely…it’s not your fault.
Do you hear me? It’s not your fault.
It’s. Not. Your. Fault.
Some people, not all, but some, are going to feel a little let down after Iron Man 2 but they won’t be able to tell you why. They’re going to use words like “suck” and “stupid” and “lame” but those words won’t be accurate. It’s just that the problems with Iron Man 2 are so nuanced that they’ll fly right over people’s heads on repulsor-powered palm-rockets, leaving them unsatisfied but unable to articulate why.
Here’s why. (spoilers below)
Part of the fun of a super hero movie, especially one as fun and light as the Iron Man franchise, is seeing the hero get the girl, beat the bad guy and save the world. But in order for those events to be satisfying, you need to meet a couple of conditions first; namely: the girl needs to be unattainable, the bad guy needs to be evil and the world needs to be in danger. Obvious, right? Well, Iron Man 2 has none of these things. Let’s take a closer look…
Getting the Girl: Pepper Potts loves Tony Stark. If it weren’t already in our minds from the slow burn of the first movie, it’s immediately apparent in this film. So what’s keeping them apart? Outside forces? Timing? Circumstance? Nope. Tony’s just not ready to stop ogling other women. And while that’s funny, it’s not endearing and absolutely murders any romantic tension. Sure, there’s a potentially engaging subplot about Tony’s failing health, but that’s resolved so quickly that it’s almost a non-issue. So when Tony finally gets the girl in the end, you sorta don’t care. She was always his anyway. He just finally got around to kissing her. Funny? Perhaps. Romantic? No way.
Beating the Bad Guy: This seems silly to have to say out loud, but in order to REALLY enjoy seeing a villain get his comeuppance, you’ve got to hate them. You’ve got to see them behave so despicably that you want to get in there and sock ’em one yourself. Iron Man 2 has 2 villains. One, Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer, is just a jerk who’s rendered impotent nearly every time he’s on the screen. The film constantly makes jokes at his expense which completely undermines any threat he may have posed in our minds. Funny? Yes. Despicable? Not a chance. The other villain, Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash, picks a fight with our hero but then gets his butt thoroughly trounced upon doing so. Then in the very next scene it’s revealed that he wasn’t even trying to kill Tony, just make him look bad – which he didn’t – not to us anyway. And that’s it. We don’t see another act of super-villainy until the end of the movie. Interesting? Maybe. Despicable? Not really.
So when these guys are beaten, you can’t really celebrate their defeat properly because quite frankly, they haven’t earned it. Hammer is carted off by the authorities (although I’m not really sure on what charge) and Whiplash is defeated in the most anti-climactic boss battle I’ve seen since Equilibrium – but at least in that movie it was intentional. Here, it’s over so quickly that you almost can’t believe THIS was the film’s main bad guy. I mean, his only real beef was with Tony, which leads us to…
Saving the World: No need. We woulda been fine. Whiplash was ONLY a threat to Tony – and not a very big one at that. Other than Tony’s life in a too-late-to-be-effective third act reveal, there’s absolutely NOTHING at stake. The bad guy has no plans for world domination, no obsession that will cost millions of lives, no…anything, really. In short, he poses a threat to no one but Tony. This means that Tony isn’t saving the world. He’s only saving himself. And considering what a self-centered guy Tony is to begin with, we’re really left with nothing to root for. Then to top it off, the film’s action-packed climax was Tony and his armed-to-the-faceplate sidekick War Machine double teaming a guy who Tony’s already beaten single-handedly at the start of the film. Was it cool? Kinda. Was is satisfying? Not at all. There were no stakes. And no stakes means no victory party.
Then in the film’s most nonsensical moment, Tony is awarded a medal of honor, but it’s never exactly clear why and for what.
So listen…if you’re one of the few people out there feeling not-quite-full after a helping of Iron Man 2, take comfort in the fact that it’s not you. This new Iron Man has some welcome upgrades and a couple of slick modifications, but under the hood, it just doesn’t outperform the previous model.
As a side note, a friend of mine recently told me he suspects that people who think this film is superior to the first film also prefer the Star Wars prequels to the original trilogy – which I feel is self-explanatory.