This one is PG-13 for alcoholism, along with mild swearing and superhero violence. That's a very different movie. Okay, it's...like, alcoholism painted with a very wide brush. We're not talking about nuanced portrayals of alcoholism. We're talking about a kid's superhero blasting bottles with his repulsor blasts while blotto. That can get both dark and hamfisted at the same time. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
The great thing about revisiting these movies just back-to-back is that you have time to remove yourself from expectations. I think that many of us can decide which MCU movies are bottom-of-the-barrel. While I don't love Ant-Man, I can't say that it is universally panned. But Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2 tend to be at the bottom of a lot of people's lists. (I love Iron Man 3 as do many others, so when you start ripping that one apart, that's on you.) Because of the fact that it wasn't that great the first time I saw it, I don't watch it very often. The good news for me, then, is that it kind of was like a new movie. I remembered a few parts, but overall, I had no idea what was going to happen. As such, with my low expectations and little anticipation, I got to enjoy what was a fairly fun Iron Man movie. It was better than I remembered it.
Iron Man 2 serves as evidence for why filmmakers need to take some time between films. Iron Man 1 was a slow burn. It was announced years before it was actually made. There were rewrites and design meetings and all kinds of stuff that make it a pretty fantastic movie. But Iron Man 2 has signs of being rushed. The story is not all there. It is also serving to establish the greater MCU, which is almost unfair to the movie itself. It's appropriate that this is a comic book movie because actual comic books do the same thing. When a major event has just finished, comic book companies tend to release something called a "One-Shot". This is usually a preview book to hype up other properties. The book itself is throw away. Rather, these books are simply meant to sell other books. Iron Man 2 is a little bit of that. The first Iron Man teased the Avengers. The Incredible Hulk had a reference to Super Soldier serum / a cameo by RDJ. This one goes deep into mythology. We get Black Widow as a pretty intense character in this story. Rhodey becomes War Machine. Nick Fury is not a cameo, but an actual character. Really, this movie takes the time to establish S.H.I.E.L.D. as a much bigger deal, which becomes kind of a thing in all of Phase One. The problem with a lot of origin story movies that happen to be a trope with superhero films in general is that they service the hero, but make a villain fairly secondary. Even though Iron Man 2 isn't technically an origin film, it treats itself as if it is one. On some level this works. I really like that Tony becomes far more complex in this movie and treats him like a superhero that is still cooking, despite the fact that he thinks otherwise. But the addition of all of these MCU elements makes both Whiplash and Justin Hammer kind of lame characters. We're still in the era where there needed to be a million villains for a sequel to be justified. I don't know if Marvel does that as much anymore. I know that Homecoming had a million villains, but it really was only Vulture.
The thing is, Whiplash should work. Whiplash is fundamentally tied to Stark in this movie. Favreau does a little bit of grafting to make that happen, but I get that it should work. (I know that the script was written by Justin Theroux. His script works way better than it should, but this is one of the weaker spots.) I like that Whiplash's attack makes him look at his own past. It's funny how often Howard Stark comes into play in the MCU. Considering that he's not that big of a character in the comics, Howard Stark is constantly referenced in these movies. (I'm also a big fan of John Slattery, so that can happen all day.) Tony's got this screwed up hole in his heart (pun intended), and having this braggart deal with his history is smart work. It's weird how the most successful element of the Iron Man movies is not the fact that his suit is awesome. That we get in the other films and those moments are cool, but I really prefer Tony the desperate engineer. It's a little bit of super-rich Macguyver, I suppose. When the story is about Tony repulsor blasting everything, the story falls a little flat. But when Tony has to get his hands dirty and inventing something, that's when I like it. I know. It shouldn't count. When Tony can just build a magic device to get him out of a situation, that's a bit of a cop out. It's so bad that I point out that the dad / villain stuff should work better and the magic-get-out-of-jail-free stuff works too well. I should be inverting that. But there's something cool that hearkens back to The Martian. I know that The Martian uses science while Iron Man just makes up elements, but it still seems kind of cool. Punching all day makes a movie boring (Justice League).
I really wanted the alcoholism to be handled better, guys. One of the most seminal works of Iron Man is "Demon in a Bottle." The idea that it was teased in the first movie meant that people wanted it paid off. But this movie was made less than two years later. The most potential that this series had was dealing with Tony's drinking problem. That drinking problem, luckily, has evolved into Tony's problems with self-control / controlling others so thank God Kevin Feige was on the ball with that one. But the alcoholism is a fundamental part of Tony Stark. Dan Harmon mentioned that he liked alcoholism as a kryptonite better than actual kryptonite because that's something real. Real people actually succumb to that. The strongest of people inflict their weaknesses upon themselves. Having Tony at an 11 in terms of alcoholism is a little bit of a cheat. I do like that it came out of having to deal with his own mortality, but also...c'mon. You have Robert Downey, Jr., a guy who wrestled publicly with alcoholism dancing around in an Iron Man suit? I know it's a bit scary, but there was none of that nuance. He went from being cocky awesome hero to big jerk in the course of half-an-hour. There's no little buildup. He just becomes that. Also, the Rhodey fight doesn't really feel earned. I will say, however, that Rhodey's betrayal doesn't paint Rhodey in the best light either. I give them points. He's right to take the suit. It's wrong what he does with it.
The casting in this movie is perfect all around. (I still miss Terrence Howard, but I really like Don Cheadle.) That's what kind of bums me out when these actors didn't really get the roles that they deserve. I love Sam Rockwell and I think that Sam Rockwell fits the Justin Hammer type perfectly. The guy who wants to be Tony Stark so badly is a great character. It's just that we don't get any time with the guy. Part of it is that we get it. We get it so quickly that an origin story for Justin Hammer is unnecessary. But Sam Rockwell is better than the guy who is just serving the needs of the plot. I want him to start off goofy and then get really scary. He doesn't do that. He's the fool with his money. Similarly, we get Mickey Rourke. Outside of just being a really scary dude in real life, Mickey Rourke has got some acting chops on him. He does a great job as Whiplash. He's scary as crap, but he also doesn't get the amount of screen time that this villain deserves. He actually seems to disappear for a large portion of this movie and I don't know why. (Okay, I do know why. There's some Tony Stark stuff that needs addressing.) But Whiplash gets the same amount of screen time that a first movie's villain gets and that's not fair. He's not developed as much as he needs to be. He's not cryptic. We know why he's doing what he's doing and he kind of just fails. And he's beaten in my least favorite way possible: grudge match. Scarlet Johansson doesn't quite get the screen time she needs in this one and the portrayal isn't there yet, but she gets future movies to fix it. It's so odd knowing what her character becomes that it is kind of fulfilling seeing where it came from. All great casting, not necessarily the best execution. The person who does get a pretty good story is Pepper. I love Pepper in this movie. I don't necessarily see the end making sense. She really shouldn't forgive him after all the crap she goes through, but I do like that Pepper's story is expanded in a way that gives her some authority over the events of the story. That's nifty.
I know I took the wind out of this movie's sails, but I did actually enjoy it a bit. But there are some real weak spots that I can't help but address. The weird thing is that I wouldn't mind watching this one again. I might have to rework my list to push this one up the chain a bit. Honestly, Thor 1 might be my least favorite so far. We'll see.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.