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Iron Man 2

I suppose it was faintly perverse of me to go and see Iron Man 2 since I had not stirred from the house to see the first outing. But everyone was speaking so highly of Robert Downey Jr.’s performance. Well, how could I refuse.

The good news is that there are two genuinely outstanding performances. The first belongs to Robert Downey Jr., the other to Mickey Rourke who makes a wonderfully monosyllabic Russian villain (with the parrot to keep him company). If the film had been built around them, it would have been wonderful. Unfortunately, comic-based films come with a weight of expectation from fans who want elements from the original sources included. They line up geekishly and complain if this does or does not happen. This inevitably leads to a dilution of the film in hand. What could have been a tightly focused dance of violent confrontation between two driven men, becomes a fundamentally unbalanced narrative with multiple redundancies built in (presumably to enable a sequel).

So let’s get the bad news out of the way. The banter between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts drove me nuts. If that’s supposed to represent a comic element, it failed miserably. Stark is hugely enjoyable on his own as he preens so orgiastically, holding the screen and playing beautifully off minor characters like Shandling’s Senator. Don Cheadle is virtually invisible and cannot by any standards command a buddy or sidekick status. It’s a mechanical performance (as befits a film about things prosthetic and robotic) and genuinely dull. But the real dud is Sam Rockwell. What were they thinking? This is supposedly the CEO of one of America’s top armament manufacturers yet, literally, the man is an accident waiting to happen. It’s totally inconceivable that such a man could ever be the leader of a major company. The only explanation is that, while Stark is morbidly drinking himself into the ground in anticipation of his death, the Hammer character is supposed to become the comic relief. Well, is that ever a lead balloon. He has no apparent technical expertise. There’s no sign of any leadership ability. Worse, there’s no real sign of even basic self-defensive foresight. He spirits our Russian villain out of jail and gives him the unsupervised free run of his workshops to build killer drones. I know this has to happen for the plot to work, but this abandonment of intelligence is fundamentally disappointing.

Scarlett Johansson is also a dea ex machina (a goddess who doesn’t get into a metal suit) whose fight is shot in a way designed to conceal the fact she probably couldn’t punch her way out of a wet paper bag. Of all the more recent female supposed martial arts experts, she is the least convincing. Worse, she can break through Vanko’s hack to release Cheadle’s Iron Buddy, but can do nothing online to prevent the rest of Vanko’s drones from continuing to fight. Now is that ever a convenient plot hole!

Which brings me to the big fight at the end. The length of time flying around to thin out the drones is boring. It would have been far more satisfying to have, say, ten opponents and for the one-and-a-half heroes to face the challenge of getting them all lined up for Stark’s one-shot coup de grâce. And what has happened to the laws of physics? Long ago, there was an infomercial on British TV designed to persuade divers and their passengers to use seat belts. It showed someone putting an egg inside a box and then shaking it. Every time, the egg was broken. How can the suits take such punishment and not reduce the men inside to an omelette laced with the occasional feather and beak?

All of which might suggest I was not entertained yet, improbably, I was. The first part of the film is wonderful as we watch Stark fend off the Government’s attempts to nationalise his offensive/defensive capabilities while waiting for Vanko to complete the development of his father’s designs. Everything works really well until Stark gives up. All the central section of the film is treading water as Vanko quietly improves on Hammer’s technology and, following Nick Fury’s prompting, Stark does his superscience thing and invents a new element using what appears to be a hastily thrown together version of the particle accelerator at CERN. I was then re-engaged by the fight once everyone was back on the ground. The mandatory ending with Fury pointing to the possible sequel with the Avengers was adequate. Overall, the performances of Downey and Rourke kept the film going with just enough humour to make me stay in my seat when the going got tough.

This was better than the average comic book film which isn’t saying much, but it represents half a very good film. For my reviews of allied Marvel Comic films, see:
The Avengers
Captain America
Iron Man 3
Thor

 

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