The first Iron Man seemed like a great start — the core strength of the movie rested on casting a great lead, Robert Downey Jr., as genius inventor Tony Stark who turns into a self-made superhero.
The solid origin story came with a collection of vignettes that showcased a Marvel version of superhero DIY. It was the little MCU movie that could — Iron Man in the Marvel comic universe is a B-lister at best, and failure at the theaters wouldn’t set the comic company back.
But the movie succeeded as a blockbuster, so the Marvel Universe as we know it continues in the much anticipated Iron Man 2, which unfortunately sees the pendulum swing far to the other side with a convoluted story, weak characterization, and perhaps a bit too much action.
Immediately after revealing his identity as Iron Man, Tony Stark finds himself fighting off jealous rivals and and the United States government which is determined to conscript Stark’s technology for military purposes. To make matters worse, he discovers an illness related to the arc reactor embedded in his chest.
Each problem is dealt with episodically, laying tracks towards an inevitable and action-packed showdown at the end of the movie with not just one big bad — they take on a whole set of rogue armors built by Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a nega-Tony whose jealousy spurs him to try and one-up our hero.
Criticisms regarding the first movie must have hit the producers hard — the Iron Monger as the movie’s big bad didn’t do the film any favors. And the choice of Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) and Hammer for the sequel make for less than compelling choices than archrival The Mandarin, who on further thought would seem incredibly out of place in this iteration of the Marvel universe.
Downey Jr. continues to play Stark with equal bits of eccentricity, self-loathing, and pompousness, but Iron Man 2 fails, not by effort, but in the execution as it tries to give Downey Jr.’s character more dimensions.
Stark’s daddy issues and his better-to-burn-out-than-fade-away suicidal tendencies feel cliche and artificially attached. All of the trials and tribulations his character goes through feel like they were mapped out by a committee who plumbed their favorite movies.
Stark rides a roller coaster of emotions in between meaningless action sequences, and while it’s easy to accept the fact that Stark is at his most interesting when he’s struggling with his demons, Iron Man 2 feels like the most shallow of self-help superhero movies.
Drama is forced into the story, and the payoffs are slim because the solutions to the problems come too easily.
Iron Man 2 feels bloated and dense with empty calories though it isn’t terrible — it’s just nowhere close to the quality of the first movie.
It’s supposedly the second of a trilogy, but it feels like this Iron Man has started running out of steam.
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