Don’t get me wrong, I liked Iron Man 2. I laughed, I was engaged, I was entertained. I would see it again. I would invest in the DVD. But…was it maybe a little too much? The thing about sequels is that they’re generally everything that was good about the first film plus 1000 (recent exception, The Dark Knight, which stands on its own as a superb film). As much as I liked Iron Man 2, I can’t help but feel like they took the best elements of the film and said, “Give me ten more minutes of that.” Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t.
Let’s take a look at when it worked
Tony and Pepper bickering
One of the surprises of Iron Man and one of the chief joys of Iron Man 2 is Robert Downey, Jr.’s chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow. Amping up their relationship in Iron Man 2 was definitely a good call. Paltrow is immensely likeable as Tony Stark’s assistant Pepper Potts. She plays Pepper with just the right mix of long-suffering nanny and woman desperately in love. Paltrow’s Pepper has a hard shell, but when Tony is in danger she radiates fear, and her arch handling of Tony’s libido recalls Katherine Hepburn handling Spencer Tracy. In fact, the whole RDJ/Paltrow vibe is reminiscent of a 1930’s comedy. Their chemistry is created through razor sharp repartee and constantly nettling one another like an old married couple. When they finally do kiss, you can’t help but cheer a little. When it rolls around, Iron Man 3 would do well to keep the Tony/Pepper relationship as the grounding force of the story. It humanizes Tony and also provides the sharpest comic relief in the movie.
Good casting decisions
Recasting Rhodey/War Machine with Don Cheadle was a good move. Not giving him more screen time wasn’t as good a move, but since Cheadle > Terrence Howard, I’ll settle for the upgrade. The villain casting was spot-on as well. Of course Mickey Rourke was great as Whiplash. He bugs me in real life but he’s a good actor and nailed the part and built on the standard that Jeff Bridges established in the first film. But now I would like to slobber all over Sam Rockwell as Tony’s arch-nemesis Justin Hammer. HE WAS PERFECT. The lesser Tony Stark in every way, his palpable outrage at being ditched by a reporter for Tony made me laugh and afraid at the same time. And Rockwell is a good enough actor to stand toe to toe with RDJ and not get chewed up (unlike say…Scarlett Johansson). Rockwell’s Hammer came off as needy and desperate to beat Tony for once in his life, and RDJ gave Tony the right amount of disdain for Hammer while also suggesting that Tony wasn’t taking Hammer’s willingness to go too far seriously enough. Where RDJ’s Tony was the charismatic surprise of Iron Man, Rockwell’s Justin Hammer was the unexpected joy of Iron Man 2.
Tony tinkering in his lab
Tony Stark doing what Tony Stark does best. The scenes with Tony alone in his lab, fiddling with the Iron Man suit or building what looked like the Hadron Collider in his basement are the next best thing to the Tony/Pepper bickering. Tony’s banter with his computer Jarvis (voiced by Paul Bettany—why didn’t I know that?) or his insults to his robotic assistant contain some of the best one-liners in the movie. This is why RDJ as Tony Stark works so well. He’s so charismatic that he can make a guy sitting alone in a garage messing with computers highly entertaining. And his complete disregard for Captain America’s shield killed me. Captain America is such a boring bland superhero—Tony Stark would totally blow him off. Except…they’ve cast Chris Evans as Captain America. And Chris Evans is witty. I expect the movie versions of Tony and Cap to have a considerably spicier relationship than the comic book characters did.
And when things didn’t go quite so well
Character overload, or, why we didn’t need Scarlett Johansson
I am indifferent on Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation). I think she’s overrated as an actress, but I admire a woman in Hollywood who actually has a figure. She’s just there to me. Not the best, not the worst. Just there. And I understand why she was cast as femme fatale Natasha Romanoff. Scarjo looks hot in that black bodysuit. But…did she really do anything? Roll with me here. In the first movie a character was established a SHIELD agent called Coulson (Clark Gregg of TV’s The New Adventures of Old Christine). Coulson pops up again in Iron Man 2 (and he is rumored to be in The Avengers and Nick Fury). So this franchise already has a SHIELD agent liasing with Tony Stark. Why is Natasha Romanoff, then? I understand her place in the comic book universe, but this is a two hour movie. Sacrifices must be made. I worried about character overload in Iron Man 2 and sure enough, we had one character too many. Eliminating Natasha Romanoff would solve pretty much all of the “too much” issues Iron Man 2 was having. With Agent Coulson already in the story, her role seemed kind of redundant, and while I’m all for badass female characters, there is nothing Natasha did in the story that couldn’t have been done by Coulson or Jarvis, Tony’s ubiquitous computer system. Franchise sequels are a different beast than other movies. What I would normally support without question I will question in a franchise sequel. Because it is so easy to ruin a good thing by simply having too much.
Your fight sequence was 10 minutes too long
That final fight went on FOREVER, didn’t it? Taking out the whole Natasha/Happy fight sequence at Hammer Industries would have taken at least five minutes off, though. So once again, character overload is too much. The pacing and editing of the climactic battle was fine–I’m not knocking Favreau’s direction. I just think it was conceived to be too long. Cut a little from the Iron Man/War Machine/drone fight to tighten it up, and then in contrast the fight with Whiplash stands out more since you haven’t just watched ten years of the drone battle. The issue with fight sequences in sequels like this is that since the CGI modeling–one of the most expensive and laborious steps in an SFX driven movie–is done you can really play with the effects in the sequel. But visual overload and audience fatigue are real. Throw too much at me and I just start tuning it out.
Less of Iron Man standing around in his suit
I get it–Tony Stark/Iron Man exists in the real world. This is not an alternate universe like Gotham City or Metropolis. However, Tony conducting entire conversations while just hanging out in the Iron Man suit is kind of cheesy. For instance, the birthday party scene with Tony in the suit blasting various objects to entertain the crowd–did we need to see him break five vases and a watermelon? How about just the one vase? Then we get the point–Tony is unhinged and abusing the suit. Enter Rhodey, commence fight sequence, save us three minutes of Tony standing around in the suit. There were a few places throughout the movie where a minute or two could be shaved off of the standing around scenes. Not only would that improve the pace of the film a bit, but the Iron Man suit looks much better when in motion versus standing still. Don’t give me time to realize how silly a grown man in a robot suit really is.
And last but not least…