The problem with a successful debut is the sophomore slump. When someone has a killer opening, everyone is watching what they will do next, just ask Jordan Peele or Alex Garland. Most people won’t even be satisfied if the sequel is as good as the original; it has to be even better. All that pressure was on Marvel and the filmmakers to deliver gold again with Iron Man 2. It’s wasn’t enough anymore to just show him Manning the Iron, the character had to grow and change.
The filmmakers supposedly set their sights on the Iron Man arc where Tony falls to alcoholism, the Demon In A Bottle storyline, but they changed his affliction to dying of blood poisoning from the glowy lights in his chest. From that, they made a tale of self destruction with Tony preparing to die as he sheds his company, a suit of armor, and most of his friends. The problem with changing the cause of the conflict is when Tony’s suffering no longer self inflicted, overcoming it no longer shows character growth and maturity, just an extension of the ingenuity we’ve already seen. Also, the root of the problem goes back to the beginning of him becoming Iron Man, so instead of seeing him confront a new conflict, we are treading familiar ground. But if self destruction wasn’t enough, the filmmakers decided to layer in a little “sins of the father” with the character of Ivan Vanko, the son of a russian scientist that believed he was wronged by Tony’s dad. Vanko is polarizing and people’s general opinion of this movie tends to align with what they think of him as a villain. The character is defined entirely by Mickey Rourke’s performance and the choices he personally brought to the movie. From the heavy accent and bird fixation, to the wardrobe and hair choices that make Vanko look like a drunk MMA fighter that fell through a Forever 21, everything about this character is unexpected. That may not be what Marvel wanted, but unfortunately when you hire Mickey Rourke, you get Mickey Rourke. Perhaps the need to bring in two separate conflicts for our boy should have been a red flag that neither was strong enough to stand on its own. When it comes to compelling storytelling, quantity over quality does not work
Don’t let the criticism give you the wrong impression, this was still a very fun movie. The action was great, the performances were all stellar, including Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard as Rhodey, (and the meta joke made when we first see his face and he says “Look, it's me, I’m here, deal with it. Let’s move on”). Downey is still fun as ever, delivering his mile-a-minute stream of quips and jokes. Samuel L. Jackson gets to be commanding as Nick Fury and when they use the opportunity to show us more of SHIELD and introduce the Black Widow, it’s all gravy.
Maybe the filmmakers bit off a little more than they could chew. They wanted to explore Stark’s self destruction, but make the cause of it not his fault. They wanted to make Stark confront his father’s wrongdoings, but back off by showing Howard Stark wasn’t wrong in the first place. They wanted us to think Tony is going to die, but there is never any moment in which we think they might actually let him die. This movie seems to have grand intentions but they just didn’t hit those notes hard enough for us to hear the melody. Iron Man 2 is full of half measures; not willing to take big chances for fear of burning Marvel Studios’ golden boy. When they shortened the dramatic depths of Stark’s fall they also shortened his rise, and that’s a real shame because with the right handling this series could have hit as hard as the Dark Knight trilogy. This is not a bad movie, it’s just not as good as Iron Man. 3/5
Coming up next: Thor (2011)