I remember seeing Iron Man 2 when it released and being vaguely disappointed with it. I have been looking forward to watching it again and seeing how I feel about it the second time round. I definitely wasn’t disappointed this time around. Yes it is still ridiculous and mindless in places and the plot and some of the characters are somewhat arbitrary. But it is slick and stylish and fun and if you dial up your credulousness a notch or two before pressing play you’ll probably have a good time, I know I did.
Mild Spoilers: I talk about the plot without going into much detail.
The plot is pretty simple: Random Russian dude (Mickey Rourke) gets all upset after his father dies because Stark is rich and he is poor (or something, it doesn’t really matter.) He then builds a working arc reactor in his basement using hammer and anvil so he can get revenge. If he can build arc reactors with a sledgehammer then I don’t think it is really Stark’s fault that he isn’t already a billionaire. In fact at one point in the film Stark asks him why he didn’t make a fortune selling it on the black market. In an impressive feat of circular logic the response seems to be because he wants to use it for revenge. I can’t decide if having Mickey Rourke play the Russian is stupidity or genius. It doesn’t sound like it would work at all but it is nowhere near as stupid as it sounds.
Just like Captain America in the second act of The First Avenger, at the beginning of this film Iron Man is relegated to propaganda duties complete with music and dancing girls. A victim of his own success, he’s just too effective at his own job and has run out of bad guys to fight. Or so he thinks.
New plot device: not only does Tony have shrapnel in his heart that he needs the arc generator in his chest to keep from killing him but the use of the arc reactor is slowly poisoning him to death. Of course, using the Iron Man suit accelerates the process by placing enormous load on the reactor. Tony is on a quest to find a different element to power the arc reactor so he doesn’t die.
Double of course, Tony never even considers not using the suit so much or switching to a more conventional power source for his chest device when not in the suit (it was originally powered by a simple car battery after all) either of which would remove or reduce the source of the poison while he works on a solution. Or he could use an external power source for the suit as War Machine obviously does since Rhodey doesn’t have an arc reactor in his chest. Perhaps it isn’t explained very well or perhaps I wasn’t paying much attention or perhaps the writers decided that it just doesn’t matter. Either way it doesn’t seem like a particularly tricky problem for someone like Tony Stark to solve in the short term at least.
Tony has become even more obnoxious since revealing his alter ego and has developed a God complex believing that he alone is responsible for all the peace in the world. It doesn’t help that he is at least partially justified in his belief. However, when he is faced with his mortality in spite of his awesome power, he does start to re-evaluate his position. Tony starts giving away his stuff (including his company) and taking increasing risks with his personal safety for thrills. Then for some reason his mood takes a sudden sharp downturn and he enters a spiral of depression and alcoholism resulting in alienating all of his friends and allies and essentially being put under house arrest by SHIELD while he sorts his shit out.
After discovering and resolving some unresolved daddy issues in a handy little montage, Tony realises that since he can’t fix his problem with any known elements he’ll have to use an unknown one. For some reason this requires an elaborate plot device involving his dead father discovering the element decades earlier and leaving clues to it in arcane form. It also opens up the rather sickening possibility that the missing element was in fact his father’s love which Tony had hitherto considered absent. Thus spiritually rejuvenated, Tony sets out to build a particle accelerator in his basement and does in days what the world’s supply of particle physicists (not to mention Stark himself, his father and their company full of scientists) haven’t managed in decades.
This is of course impossible. But this is Tony Stark we are talking about and really the whole point of Tony Stark is that he does things that other people can’t do and he is cool and sexy whilst he is doing it. And this film definitely provides Tony with a lot of opportunities to look cool and sexy whilst also doing impossible things. And honestly I can’t really fault it for doing that, it really is quite fun to watch and there is awesome music while he does it.
In the meantime, Stark’s competitors decide to team up with the psycho Russian to make weapons to compete with Iron Man and at the same time the US military try to steal or confiscate the Iron Man suits from Stark. Surprisingly, none of these plans turn out well. Of course the Russian just wants to use the opportunity to get back at Stark and will use any means to do it. There really isn’t any additional enlightenment about his beef with family Stark, just some darkly hinted at “what your family did to my family…” type accusations from the Russian and Stark propaganda of course insisting that everything they did was justified.
All this of course leads to the inevitable showdown between Iron Man and Mr Crazy Russian providing the spectacular finale to the film. Tony is joined by his friend Rhodey in a re-purposed Iron Man suit that Rhodey stole and the US military re-named War Machine. Together they take on the army of robots the Russian has created. Patriosm, yay! There isn’t much to complain about here. The effects are pretty great and there is plenty of aerobatics, shooting and explosions. The only niggle is that there are a few points where characters stand around calmly chatting when they should be running or flying or shooting for their lives.
Pepper Potts gets to have a bit more of the screen time in this film and gets to show that she is able to do a lot more than her role as Stark’s assistant would suggest. Despite this though she is still portrayed most often as an object for Stark’s affections and a damsel to be saved by Iron Man. In fact she has more influence over the final battle outcome in the original Iron Man than she does in this second film.
A second strong female character is provided in the form of SHIELD agent Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow. She gets to do all the fun things like infiltrating enemy bases and beating up all the guards and she is very cool while she is doing it too. It does feel a little like she is in this film so that people will know who she is when she reappears in The Avengers since she doesn’t get her own origin movie but it is a pretty cool introduction to the character and her abilities. We have to wait for Avengers though to find out any significant back story.
SHIELD has a bigger role in this film than any so far in the arc with a number of characters being SHIELD agents including Nick Fury, Agent Romanov and Agent Coulson who goes on to be the main SHIELD representative in Thor.
Probably the weakest of the 3 Iron Man movies but still a fun ride with some great effects and exciting action.