Anyway, in the end it turns out there is such a thing as a film Robert Downey Jr can’t save. Or… is there?
I honestly do think that, somewhere inside Iron Man 2, there’s actually a reasonably good movie desperately struggling to expose itself, like a drunk Tony Stark unable to find his iron zip at the Avengers’ mansion glory hole. Sadly, that good movie is smothered underneath so much weirdness and digression and meandering that by the end, you’re just left confused and a little bit sad that this sequel is not even remotely as good as its predecessor.
At the core, you’ve got a revenge story which casts the eternally charismatic good guy Stark in some welcome shades of grey. Mickey Rourke does a great job with Ivan Vanko, one of the many lives that has been heartlessly crushed out of all recognition, through no fault of his own, by the breaking wheel of Stark Enterprises. It’s telling that Vanko has made the downfall of Tony Stark the consuming passion of his entire life, while Stark has literally no idea who Vanko is, or why he’s so very bloody mad. After busting up Stark’s party in a pretty well-done sequence set at the Monaco Grand Prix, Vanko’s left ripe for manipulation by Stark’s business nemesis Justin Hammer, which forms the spine of the middle act.
If that had been the whole plot, I’d say this would be a solid film, and a decent successor to the best comic book flick of 2008 (The Dark Knight was bollocks, hope this helps.) You’ve got at least three good, solid main characters, being played by extremely capable artists, and a supporting cast that is also pretty excellent. Downey’s Stark is still the best cinematic realisation of a comic book character I’ve seen yet; Rourke does a fine job with what little screen time he actually gets; and Sam Rockwell, playing Hammer, is actually legitimately effing brill. He inhabits his role right down to the soles of his feet, which is no small ask, considering that his character has no dimension. At all. Not even a little one. None of the dimensions.
Unfortunately, though, that’s not the whole plot. Nothing is ever made of the golden opportunity for Stark to face his fundamental capitalist-peacenik hypocrisy, and to count the cost of treating geopolitics as his own personal playground. Instead, there’s a whole thing about Stark’s glowing cold-fusion heart slowly killing him. It’s spoiling nothing to say that he finds an answer, pulling it through his rectum like a magician’s bunting in the film’s most bizarre sequence, and there’s never a shred of explanation why it matters to this story, or why we should care. Then there’s a weird animosity that explodes between Stark and his best mate James Rhodes, and it comes out of fucking nowhere, purely so the writers can get War Machine on the board. But once he’s there, they’ve got nothing for him to do but backstop Tony in the climax, and he’s not even very good at that. And then there’s all this fannying about with SHIELD and Sam L. Jackson, building towards the 2012 Avengers flick.
After the opening act, this film gets greedy, and just piles more and more plot onto its plate, until the blue cheese dressing has ended up all over the pavlova, and now it’s just a colossal, inedible fucking mess. To its credit, the movie manages to resolve all these strands middling well, but it seems out of breath doing it. A lot of important details are completely ignored, and none of it feels as satisfying as it should. And ultimately, the flabby plotting leads to the movie’s cardinal mistake: leaving us waiting way too long between action set pieces.
In a nutshell, they should have done what they did in the first film, and kept it stupid, simple. Iron Man 2 is actually the same length as its predecessor, but it feels about half an hour longer, and not in a good way. Honestly, I seriously doubt Avengers is going to be a good enough movie to justify Marvel stuffing its many, many franchises with all this expository garbage. And, while it was nice to see some stuff about Stark’s taut relationship with his father Howard, this, too, goes absolutely nowhere. It’s just another load of wobbly bingo wing padding that should have been ruthlessly culled. Finally, we sure as flipping heck didn’t need War Machine in this movie, the shittest, blandest, off-brand Iron Man knock-off Marvel have ever come up with. And this is a company that tried to sell us The Unicorn as a credible baddie. This is The Unicorn:
Mediocre and disappointing.