Most of the reviews I’ve seen for this summer’s ‘Iron Man 2’ have been fairly tame. No one is telling you not to see it. No one is really bemoaning the movie’s lack of a plot. After finally seeing the film, I realized the reason the reviews are so benign: the movie actually sounds decent when you write it out.
Let me start by saying that ‘Iron Man 2‘ is a bad movie. Yes, bad. It has moments of gripping action, but they are fleeting, stuffed between awkward dialogue and an underdeveloped inner conflict. When, after all is said and done, the primary conflict of a superhero movie is a race for government arms contracts, you’re watching a bad movie. It wasn’t just that, though, because you could hardly say the film had one plot. It was more like each character had their own idea of the plot (not their own story arc, which is a totally legitimate means of character development) and acted only within the confines of their own story. That sounds like character development, but when you see it on screen you know it’s just not.
Take the Justin Hammer plotline – throughout the film Sam Rockwell delivers a great performance as the military’s substandard replacement for Stark Industries weapon development. He plays well off Tony Stark’s brash arrogance, setting the stage to deliver a comeuppance to our superhero later in the film. Unfortunately, I never once believed Hammer could pull it off. He was the bumbling fool, not the villain, so Favreau gives us Mickey Rourke as the terrifying face of Ivan Vanko, aka Whiplash.
With Whiplash we have a real enemy, and though the scene on the Monaco raceway was a bunch of CG masturbation, we saw what a great purpose it served (or could have served) when Stark met with Vanko in a holding cell. Vanko’s point was to “make god bleed” so that the sharks would come after the blood. It’s a great idea, but no one comes. It’s just Vanko, tinkering in a workshop, building what turns out to be just another Iron Man knockoff. In fact, Stark doesn’t even know Vanko is alive for most of the movie, and even when he discovers that this ne’er-do-well is, after all, still breathing, he doesn’t seem to care. It’s the second conflict that could have served as the focal point of the movie, but instead fails to deliver any tension.
Then we look to Stark’s inner struggle. The paladium that runs the arc reactor in Tony’s chest is starting to poison his blood, pushing him ever closer to death. Though he says he’s searched far and wide for a suitable replacement, we never see him actually looking, which begs the question, does Iron Man really care? The first movie was all about Stark’s revelation, and now we have someone so self-absorbed that he can’t even see that his death also means the death of the American military. Without the Iron Man threat, the country is once again vulnerable to attack, attacks that villains like Vanko are surely ready to execute. Again, it’s a story that could have been handled so well, but when you have to mix in all the aforementioned elements while also trying to keep this storyline interesting, it just doesn’t work.
At the end of it all, I think ‘Iron Man 2’ is a lot like the first ‘X-Men.’ It’s a movie that strives to set up the future of the franchise and ultimately can’t stand on its own. Without the prequel, I’d almost wonder if this summer’s Stark movie had been directed by Ang Lee.