I’ve seen Iron Man 2 twice now, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely both times. So much that I thought I’d like a second crack at writing a review.
The second viewing also made me realize that a lot of the con’s that I listed in the initial review post (see below) were things that really didn’t bother me at all. They were nit-picks, and not worthy of a second thought, so I won’t bother giving them one, either.
One itch didn’t go away though, and that the was the problem I had the story’s villain, or maybe the story as a whole.
What makes a good villain? That answer has a lot of facets, but ultimately I think it comes down the fact that he has to be genuinely dangerous. You have to believe that this villain is willing and able to hurt your protagonist. He has to be more than some fake foil that just serves as obstacle for the characters.
This is absolutely the case with the Joker in the Dark Knight, in addition to the all the other factors that make that character so interesting. It’s also the case with Whiplash. The character has both the resources & the inclination to cave in Iron Man’s helmet. I had no trouble believing that, but as a viewer, I also have to believe that there’s a plausible reason why villain X might succeed in defeating the hero. This can be achieved in a myriad of ways, of course. The villain might have the backing of a vast, evil empire, or he might be so insane & so brilliant that even Batman might have met his match.
The villain’s “cover”, so to speak, can nearly always be picked apart with some thought. There’s no way Batman is gonna lose, right? Of course not. But in the thrill of the chase, you’re supposed to be so distracted by the engaging way the story is told that you just turn off that analytical part of your brain. At the same, it’s reassuring to know deep down that you’ll walk out of cinema having supported the winning horse all along, but for the villain to serve his purpose, he has to make you doubt yourself.
And for that to happen, you need to give the villain some scenes to play in. Without spoiling much, I can tell you that Whiplash doesn’t get the same amount of screen time that, say, the Joker got in the Dark Knight. No surprise there, right? But Iron Man 2 suffers from the lack of a proper act 2 in the villain story. The villain must be introduced, he must be revealed to be threat, possibly such a big threat that the hero loses, only to turn the tables on the villain in the third and final act. The rise & the fall of the villain, so to speak.
That’s a very “textbook-y” example though, and not by any means the One True Way to tell a good villain-story (even though the Dark Knight falls pretty squarely into it). The problem with Iron Man 2 though (and Iron Man 1, too, but in a different way), is that the story is obviously not focused on the villain at all. It’s a fun-lovin’ story that enjoys spending time chit-chatting with the characters. It’s a story that’s more effective as set-pieces than as a cohesive whole.
The only character with any kind of arc is Tony Stark, and his arc has little to no correlation with the arc of the villain. And even that character arc is driven by a plot set-piece; not by Tony Stark’s motivation. I wanted to see a bit of redemption in Tony. I wanted to see him grow as a human being. But most of all, I wanted to see him Want something, so that I could Want him to achieve it. Instead, I got the same things I got in Iron Man 1… and nothing more, save some new cool characters & a set-up to the Avengers.
But again, this isn’t a rant about “the big failure of Iron Man 2“. I happen to think that the movie was very successful in nearly every respect. It may not contain a lot of well-developed instances of true Drama (the ones that are there are a bit contrived), but it gave you more Tony Stark, it introduced Nick Fury & Black Widow properly, and it served as the franchise set-up to The Avengers. It never pretended to be anything other than Another Popcorn Flick, and I can’t hold it any other standard without it reflecting more on me than on the film itself.
And for a popcorn flick, Iron Man 2 fucking rocks.
It’s got the quote-worthy one-liners. It’s got the sex-appeal and the slickness it requires; it never once has to resort to camp. It’s got characters that are both easy to relate to and to understand. It even has the required minimum of three big action set-pieces. Man, let me tell you – you can’t fucking dream up a better action movie. It has to be carefully crafted & polished, and while the armor turned out to have a few dents in the otherwise perfect gleam… well, that’s just how it goes.
Nothing is perfect, but a lot of things are more than good enough. Iron Man 2 falls into that second category, but at the high end of the bell-curve.
I for one am well pleased. I hope you’ll feel the same way.