‘THINKING is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.’
When he wasn’t talking about customers getting any colour they want, as long as it’s black, the great American industrialist Henry Ford was a smart man.
That’s not to say it was a let down – the film had plenty of stand-out moments, compelling characters and great scenes but as much as I enjoyed it, when you put everything together, Iron Man 2 is less than the sum of its parts.
It pains me to say that because the first Iron Man is one of my favourite films and hit all the right notes, starting with Robert Downey Jnr‘s rebirth into the box office big time as Tony Stark. That burning charisma was backed up by top notch special effects, a story with real momentum and vigour and solid support from Gwyneth Paltrow and especially Jeff Bridges.
Downey Jnr is still on top form in IM2 in a role he could have been born to play, but this time Stark’s charm and glamour hides a self-destructive battle against the effects of the chemical that powers the arc reactor in his chest, and Tony’s festering issues with his dad that drive him to drink.
While confronting his personal demons, Stark also faces the US Government wanting to take his suit away from him to stop proliferation, Nick Fury and Shield evaluating him for Avengers membership and infiltrating Scarlett Johansson into Stark Industries, slimy business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell, making the absolute most of what time he had) muscling in on his turf, his friend Rhodey taking the War Machine suit and Mickey Rourke‘s super villain Whiplash out for revenge with his electric whips.
If that sounds like alot, that’s because it is. Director Jon Favreau falls into the Spider Man trap of throwing everything he can onto the screen and ending up with a mess, with added fireworks.
The net result of that is the film – despite running for over two hours – somehow manages to be too long and yet not long enough, meaning weaker moments seem to last for ever and some of what should be the most important scenes and themes breeze by, hardly making a dent.
For instance a key scene is where Tony discovers a new chemical element by following clues left for him by his dad decades ago, an element which will power his arc reactor and save his life too, while making him realise his dad was an ok guy at the same time.
Even if we accept that massive coincidence and the fact I’m not a genius industrialist, I’d have thought making an element was a difficult thing to do, which is why the periodic table is only the size it is after all this time.
Here Tony Stark does it in about three minutes on screen and even says ‘that was easy’. Much too easy considering what it meant for the character and the plot.
Then in the final battle at the end of the film, Tony and Rhodey team up to take on Whiplash – his powers now augmented by his own Iron Man suit, in exactly the same way Jeff Bridges’s Iron Monger was in the first film.
Bear in mind it took the pair of them ages to defeat war drones programmed by Rourke’s character in an admittedly fantastic sequence, only doing so by Iron Man using a cool secret weapon we had no idea existed up to that point but which he can only fire once for some reason.
Here though they see off Whiplash in next to no time after the bad guy chooses to leave his suit helmet off, again for reasons that are never clear.
Finally we see Tony and Pepper Potts kiss at the end of the film which at the end of the first movie would have meant something, given how it skillfully built up her character and their playful love/hate relationship.
Here they hardly seem to spend any time together at all – even Pepper kissing the Iron Man helmet from the trailer does not appear – and yet at the end he suddenly decides he loves her as part of his sudden growing up as a man thing?
Then even when scenes really work, something seems … off.
Like when Scarlett Johansson goes into Black Widow mode and kicks an entire security team’s ass, which is breathtaking to watch and expertly filmed, but over and done with in a flash.
Or when Iron Man and Whiplash first tussle in Monaco during a Grand Prix. Again that is a thrilling and kinetic scene as Rourke walks out among the speeding cars and starts carving them up, before attempting to do the same to Stark, all the while as Happy Hogan and Pepper race against the traffic to get his new suitcase armour to him.
It then goes up a notch as the fight is really on, Iron Man taking Whiplash’s best shots before putting him down thanks to the armour which I was blown away by … when I first saw it two months ago in a trailer on my laptop.
That reveal back then rendered what should have been the film’s Darth Maul, double bladed lightsaber moment old hat on the big screen.
You see, that all just seems sloppy, especially in a world where The Dark Knight has shown just how good superhero films can be.
While IM2 was never meant to match that on any level, had more than its fair share of good scenes and is fun to watch, it struggled to offer a satisfying experience on its own terms or to match the raised expectations generated by the first film.
However all is not lost as Iron Man 3 is certain to be made.
Hopefully that will Jon Favreau the chance to focus on one threat again, maybe the Mandarin, as well as returning to the focus on character the first film so successfully married with crackerjack action.
If that happens, then they can follow another of Henry Ford’s maxims:
‘Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently, as even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement.’
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