mon 17/06/2024

Iron Man 2 | reviews, news & interviews

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2

Superhero sequel is bigger but not better

Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) feels the power

In a stone-faced analysis of the political and historiographical connotations of action hero films, the Guardian’s Film Blog found Iron Man 2 to be “a throwback to a Cold War sensibility,” as well as “the first post-Bush superhero movie.” However, a reader known as Corrective suggested that, au contraire, “perhaps it’s just something dumb to look at while you munch your popcorn.”

As I munched my popcorn, I saw Iron Man 2 becoming dumb and dumber before my eyes. It presents the grim symptoms of Sequel Bloat, where a successful first outing of a potential franchise is hosed down with even more money and special effects, and in the process blots out everything we liked about the original.

The first Iron Man movie from 2008 was a smart mixture of satire and tongue-in-cheek super-heroism, though it wouldn’t have worked without Robert Downey Jr bringing sardonic wit to the lead role of billionaire arms manufacturer and playboy Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. True, he had veered towards the ranks of the righteous by the end of the flick, but in part two (helmed once again by Jon Favreau) he has morphed into nothing less than the prime defender of the USA and a global force for good, albeit from a free marketeer’s perspective. “I have successfully privatised world peace!” he boasts, surrounded by fawning admirers and lissome dancing girls. Meanwhile, newspaper placards declare that  “Iron Man Stabilises East-West Relations”.

The decision to strip Stark of his dark side means that the irony has leaked out of Iron Man, cruelly depriving him of one of his key weapons. But of course the notion of the hero being a kind of nuclear-powered, heavily weaponised Goldman Sachs hurtling round the planet blowing things up purely to maximise profits is miles beyond the pale of contemporary Hollywood values. If you wanted to venture into that territory you’d have to do it with puppets, like Team America: World Police.

scarlett_smallThere are a few jokes at the expense of the USA’s military-industrial establishment. Slimy Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) wants to prise the secrets of Stark’s revolutionary Iron Man suit from him, supposedly in the national interest but in fact to divvy up the spoils with Washington’s tame arms manufacturer Justin Hammer (a pleasingly corrupt and incompetent Sam Rockwell). Hammer’s perpetual but futile struggle for commercial supremacy over the bombastic Stark is one of the movie’s running gags, and leads to him teaming up with the film’s villain Ivan Vanko (a monstrous Mickey Rourke, wearing steel teeth), who has developed his own version of a superhero suit. Vanko isn’t interested in any kind of partnership with Hammer, of course, and his robotic rampage sets up the flick’s flashy, effects-intensive but strangely soporific climactic battle.

The film is big, brash and confusing, but its central flaw is easily identified. It has settled for spectacle and CGI over the crisp characterisation and crackling script of its predecessor, and planting Stark squarely in the good guys' half destroys the Jekyll and Hyde tension of the original. The ongoing saga of how the atomic battery implanted in his chest is slowly killing him makes drying paint seem quite interesting.

Exasperatingly, Favreau has assembled a cast which could have done justice to a better-written piece. Samuel L Jackson is given only a sawn-off walk-on as some kind of high-echelon spook, while Scarlett Johansson's undercover agent (pictured above) is sensationally curvaceous but, script-wise, brain dead. Gwyneth Paltrow reprises her role as Stark's Moneypenny, Pepper Potts, but all that fad dieting and yoga seems to have left the poor girl's head quite empty of anything else. But there is an upside. Not only does AC/DC's mighty "Highway to Hell" play over the closing credits, butthe film has spawned a very fine AC/DC compilation album.

Watch Iron Man 2 trailer

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