Film Reviews

Iron Man 2 Jon Favreau

Rating - 10/10

Like most people who bother to write thousands of words about other people's creations, I get a kick out of tearing down the hard work of others. Even so, unless we’re talking about Scarlett Johansson’s acting, there’s not a single bad word to be said about Iron Man 2 that holds so much as a single ounce of water.

The fact that it’s currently hovering only around a respectable 70% on Rotten Tomatoes is a travesty, an oversight of both justice and self-flagellating film/comic geeks who couldn’t live with themselves if they swallowed their nerdrage for more than a second. Here’s the deal, Jack: As a whole, Iron Man 2 is better than Iron Man. No, it’s not “as fresh,” as you might have heard echoed across the Internet from those self-styled mouthbreathers who fail to recognize that this is a sequel, so by its very definition, it is “less fresh,” where we mean fresh as in new, not fresh as in “the critic who pissed, moaned, and nitpicked about Iron Man 2 is less fresh today because he has a borderline religious aversion towards deodorant, which is unfortunate, because homefry weighs about 400 pounds on a good day, and that produces a lot of rank body odor which will prove difficult to remove from the walls in his mother’s basement, where he resides.”

But why is Iron Man 2 better? Let’s explore that. For starters, you have the single most amazing collection of actors ever assembled for a superhero film. Yes, that includes Nolan’s Batman thing. Heath Ledger was great, and Aaron Eckhart isn’t bad even when he’s spouting off dialogue that seems like it was taken from a dumbed down cop movie from the Reagan era (THE CITY WILL BE SAFE AGAIN! THE NIGHT IS DARKEST BEFORE THE DAWN! LAW AND ORDER! BLARGH BLARGH BLEARHGH), but per capita, the amount of greatness on display in Iron Man 2 is enough to make you think you’re watching an honest to god film, and not a “comic book movie.” In a single film—a single film!—we’ve got Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Sam Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Chedle, and…wait for it… motherf*cking Garry Shandling.

Seriously. Larry Sanders up in this piece, as a sleazeball U.S. Senator, no less. Does it get any better than that? I submit that it does not. Iron Man 2 does that thing that chick fluff like Love, Actually, et al., does where they get a cast strong enough for not one, but two Oscar-winning Holocaust movies, and sticks them all into a script bad enough that, were it a dude and not a collection of dead trees, it could rescue the President.

Except that Iron Man 2’s script is actually good! In fact, it’s great! With superhero movies, there are two inherent mortal dangers:

1. You drop the ball completely and end up with garbage like Elektra and Catwoman.

2. You do a decent job with the first one but slowly suck the fun out of things for a “deeper” story that mistakes “deep” for “head lodged firmly up the ass.”

Iron Man 2 does nothing of the sort. You know how in most superhero franchises, especially things like Spider Man or Batman, the hero is just off doing his thing fighting purse snatchers or rescuing kittens, until the Big Bad Villain shows up, and then everything stops just for him? Like, there must be whole cities full of drug dealers, tax deadbeats, etc., just waiting for a Joker or a Green Goblin to show up, if only to take the focus off their crime? Yeah, Iron Man 2 does nothing like that. ‘Spergie McCritic might tell you Iron Man 2 is cluttered, that there’s too much going on, but really, that’s total BS. Iron Man 2 is great precisely because there’s more going on than Good Guy in Robot fights Bad Guy in Robot. You want that tripe, I hear Transformers 2: Revenge of Megan Fox’s Chest is out on DVD. Enjoy that and stay home.

While we’re at it, let’s look closer at origin stories. Green Goblin is a Rich Dude who risks life and limb, or, at the least, cancer, to prove his company’s supergoo works by injecting himself. Okay, fine, it made sense within the movie’s logic, which is a step in the right direction, but seriously? In the real world, OzCorp’s CEO would have just contracted with the US military and had all the test subjects who Just Needed College Money they could ever want. And even if the results were disastrous, as they ultimately proved to be, they’d just write it off in the defense budget and stick the taxpayer with the bill.

The Joker’s approach of being nuts without a reason works for him, I don’t really care if there’s a Joker backstory, but how about Liam Neeson in Batman Begins? Sure, Ducard was smart and all of that, but in that “I’m going to kill everyone and here’s why it’s okay, according to my stupid hypothetical arguments that couldn’t pass muster in a high school debate class” way.

On the other hand, Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash is the most realistically conceived villain in recent superhero film history. After the events of Iron Man, Tony Stark becomes this huge rock star, bigger than Obama, bigger than Jesus. Meanwhile, you’re rotting away in some one bedroom flophouse in the Russian version of Section 8, doing hospice duty for your dying, broke father; because Stark’s daddy only put his name on something your Pa helped him create? Hell yes, I’d be ready to become an electric Kratos, too.

(Also, I don’t know if there’s some sort of an analogy here to Tarantino screwing Avary for the Pulp Fiction writing credit, but since all the Internet Apple Cultists are having their day in the sun comparing Stark’s opening speech at the Stark Expo with their Turtleneck Jesus Steve Jobs, screw it, I’m going to have my fun and make dumb associations, too!)

Another great thing about Whiplash is that he’s not a billionaire with a lot of money and a company to front his evil research, he’s not a space alien, he’s not even some escaped mental patient. Whiplash is a mostly logical fellow who’s out to get revenge for his daddy. In some dreadful, horrid stages of American history, that’s enough to make you President! After an initial outburst (who can blame him?), Whiplash makes a deal with a guy who wants to make a fortune off him. There’s no madness, no insanity on display here. Whiplash doesn’t want to conquer the world (at least, it’s not directly alluded to); he just wants his fair share of the royalty checks! Yes, Rourke puts in the required 20 minutes in a robot suit at the end of the movie, but beyond that, he spends most of the movie in the lab, building his army. Tony Stark doesn’t spend 2.5 hours obsessing over one guy, because after the first half hour, up until the last half hour, he thinks the villain is dead! This allows us to have a plot that goes deeper than, well, a comic book. Genius!

Whiplash is just a really smart dude with a legitimate grievance, who struck a deal with a multinational corporation for his own devices, and this is a trend I’d like to see more of: The villain who knows it’s better to have a decent plan and financial backing instead of a gung-ho attitude and/or a mental illness.

Beyond all of this, how about the fact that Iron Man 2 remembers that one of the key ingredients to a good comic film is fun? When a hero is all wrapped up in some sort of self-righteous mode, or worse, self pity, the film suffers greatly. Waaah, a mugger killed my rich parents. Waaah, my uncle died because I was a whiny little twit. Waaah, daddy never loved me and shot me up with gamma rays. In between expanding on Tony’s personal crisis (which, for all his playboy tendencies, he handles in quite the stoic, “man up” fashion), Iron Man 2 at least has the good sense to spend time showing the title character doing things every last one of us would do in his position, up to and including hosting an epic party in the robot suit, smashed to the tit and surrounded by model-quality women.

So ignore the babble and drink up. When the financially necessary Iron Man 3 comes along in two years, we’ll look back on this one as the Empire Strikes Back of the trilogy. And, of course, fear for the outcome of Iron Man 3, which, as Spider Man 3, X3, Superman 3, and Batman Forever have shown us, is absolutely required by the unknowable laws of Space and Time to be a raging pile of dung, just as surely as an apple must fall from the sky.