Iron Man 2 (2010)
Re-watching these films, I’ve come to realise one thing: Phase One is a bit difficult to swallow. After the highs of more recent fare, standards of super hero films are now exceptionally high, and none of us are exempt.
Iron Man 2 is generally acknowledged as a bit of a disappointment, and you can see why. The initial thrill of the first movie has now been replaced with a temper-tantrum throwing, self-sabotaging, perhaps more obnoxious Tony Stark, complete with a below-average villain and jokes that fall flatter than a pancake.
Tony is now living openly as Iron Man, although it seems not much crime-fighting and people-saving is done here (instead, we first catch up with him landing at Stark Expo, his company’s exposition for new technology, in front of cheerleaders) and pretty soon he is found and attacked by Ivan Vanko (Rourke), out on a revenge quest.
Rourke’s Whiplash (he has electrified whips!) is perhaps the world’s lamest villain. With more theatrics than a Shakespeare play, he chucks the whips around seemingly without touching anything, and these terrible tools are quickly discarded for drones which he manipulates himself, another story with the Look How Bad Technology Is plot device.
You might however, forget about him entirely, due to the fact that the film is pre-occupied with a sub-plot involving the slow poisoning of Stark from the arc reactor in his chest, and his inability to cure himself. Resigned to dying, he sets of on a course of destructive behaviour without telling anybody about his predicament, a tedious and slow plot device that proves inconsequential.
The story doesn’t get much better from there. Eventually, Tony discovers that his now deceased father, Howard, has left him a puzzle in the model of the Stark Expo. Already straining the suspense of disbelief, Tony then goes on to discover a new element (?!).
Because of this, the film is imbalanced; we spend long chunks of time with Tony behaving like a teenager, getting drunk at his birthday party and fighting with his best friend Rhodey (Cheadle). For the duration of most of the film, he argues with his love interest Pepper Potts (Paltrow), who, luckily, has much more to do in this movie as new CEO of Stark Industries.
There is some more world-building in this film, including the introduction of Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson). Immediately objectified by Tony, who claims that he “wants one” to Pepper, most of her role is to seduce Stark and break down his walls. At one point, Happy Hogan (Favreau), driving Romanoff to the villain’s location, attempts to watch her get changed in the back of a car, and this serves only to make the viewer uncomfortable, especially in the industry today.
That joke, like so many others in the film, falls completely flat. An extended riff on Justin Hammer (Rockwell) trying to retrieve Vanko’s pet bird from Russia for him goes on for far too long, and at one point, drunk , Stark urinate in his suit – on purpose. We know by now that Marvel’s films are quippy, but they didn’t start that way, and when most of the jokes are at the expense of a female character’s desirability, it starts to become something else.
The movie is a bit of a slog, mostly because we know what’s achievable. But it’s hard to recommend a movie that ends with yet another robot versus robot fight, jokes that make you groan, and casual sexism.