“It’s Good To Be Back!”
To prepare myself for Avengers: Age of Ultron, I am watching allllll of The Avengers films! I enjoyed the first ‘Iron Man’, apart from, ironically, most of the Iron Man action scenes (click here for my review of it). Robert Downey Jr. was brilliant, pretty much playing himself . In a superhero film, both the man and the ‘superman’ have to be equally enthralling and entertaining; see Spider-Man, Superman, etc. Iron Man was pitiful next to the giant of Tony Stark. The sequel, however, is a different kettle of fish all together. So many things are going on, and so many characters fly by that nothing is given the time it deserves.
We have all the trappings of the usual sequel in Iron Man 2, but they are all helped along by Robert Downey Jr. If not for him, this film would be very below average. But his quips, his wittiness, and his general likeability lift an otherwise struggling film. The ‘self-doubt’ that superheroes usually have in a sequel is transposed into the Tony’s palladium poisoning. The arc reactor is keeping him alive, but killing him slowly at the same time. Tony has the visceral doubt of ‘Should I just die?’ This is seen in his early attempts to put his life in danger. It’s a clever spin on the sequel imperative of ‘Should I be Spider-Man/Batman anymore?’ However, there are far too many plot lines to follow, from the love story between Stark and Pepper Pots, the Ivan Vanko and Hammer alliance, to Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff. I remember reading that ‘The Independent’ wrote that Iron Man 2 was written for the ‘ADD culture.’ There’s too much squeezed in for The Avengers meta-arc. Agent Coulson is useless, Nick Fury is crowbarred into the script and Black Widow is only there for eye candy most of the time.
I am sorry… All I can give you… is my knowledge
There is the promise of a greater story in amongst it all, however. And what is that larger story? We have to examine the court scene at the beginning to decipher the meaning behind Iron Man 2. A simple interpretation is Stark’s contradiction in terms when he says “We’re safe. America is secure…I have successfully privatized world peace.” Peace through fighting? Is that tolerable, or even sensible? The Senate hearing is demanding that Stark release the Iron Man technology for military application. Can we posit Stark as America? This became apparent to me with the videos of North Korean/Iranian attempts to recreate Iron Man technology that are shown during the Senate hearing. It is a homage to the ‘Robocops gone wrong’ scene in Robocop 2. Robocop is all about the dangers of privatisation. In Robocop 2, OCP are effectively trying to privatise the entire city by remaking it in their image. Their small scale model of the OCP city is contrasted against the reality of the drug-ridden criminal city of Detroit.
The danger that the Senate are afraid of is ‘rogue nations’ copying advanced Western technology. Of course, substitute Iron Man technology with nuclear materials, and we have the real world! However, this is a more decisive commentary on the real world: the North Korean/Iranian copies of Iron Man do not work. The real danger that we already know about is the Russian, who’s successfully copied the arc reactor. In reality, we are unsure of whether North Korea/Iran actually have nuclear weapons; but we are 100% sure that the Russians already have nuclear weapons. Regardless of START II and such like, both America and Russia remain the great nuclear powers in the world. Both countries do not want to lose this capability. And thus they are always a danger to each other. What typifies the rogue state more than Russia?
If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in him
Unfortunately, the potential of this plot line is lost. The opening sequence, where we see the ‘origin’ of the main villain Ivan Vanko, is a parallel to the origin of Iron Man; both created the ‘arc reactor’ in deprived, anti-technological conditions. This clearly established that Vanko/Whiplash is the main villain for Iron Man. However, after he loses easily to Iron Man in Monaco, Vanko falls from grace to become a stooge to Justin Hammer. Hammer is a mirror image of Stark: wealthy, cocky, arrogant and head of a weapons company. Either villain individually would be great opposition to Stark. However, these two villains also compete for movie space and dilute their individual impact. Vanko’s story then becomes a rip-off off Stark’s in Iron Man. They both work for a foreigner to build a great weapon, but are actually working on another weapon that will set them free.
And it feels like a lot of the story is superfluous. The Monaco Grand Prix scene (has Stark ever driven an F1 car before? How did Vanko know he was going to drive one?), Stark’s birthday party and the fight between Tony Stark and Colonel Rhodes in their Iron Man suits…it gives the film a bloated feel. Looking back on it, it’s trying to do what Batman v Superman will try to do next year: set too many things up at once. Iron Man, villains, and the Avengers meta-arc are all fighting for space here. It results in a confused and bloated film (and Stark’s father left him the key to a new element in a model city?!?! No matter how many times I watch it, it still doesn’t make any sense!).
VERDICT: 4/10. One of the weaker Marvel Universe films. A film only notable for Downey’s Jr.’s performance as Tony Stark. The lack of a threatening villain (Vanko/Whiplash is easily defeated not once, but twice), too many characters and storylines shoved in to a two hour film…