Saturday, May 8, 2010

Movie Review: Iron Man 2

The response from critics towards Iron Man 2 has proven less enthusiastic than we predicted.  Fortunately, this discrepancy reveals far more about the critics than the movie itself.  A quick glance at Rotten Tomatoes, where Iron Man 2 has earned a respectable, albeit underrated, 74%, offers some context for those who did not enjoy the movie.  The primary complaint seems to revolve around plot, which many critics - including several who enjoyed the film overall - maintained was light.

It may surprise you to hear that we agree with this assessment.  Where we disagree is in whether this is actually a flaw.

Iron Man 2 is not, strictly speaking, much of a movie in its own right.  It doesn't portray the epic struggle between a hero and his nemesis.  Sure, there's a supervillain, but he's little more than a minor inconvenience.  Tony Stark has always been his own worst enemy, and the movie allows him to serve as both protagonist and adversary.

The events portrayed feel less like a plot than a series of disconnected incidents.  The film doesn't even focus its point of view on Stark, but rather widens to explore those around him.

In essence, they've made a film about the Marvel Universe's relationship with Tony Stark.  We've heard Iron Man 2 described as a bridge to future Marvel films, and again, there's some truth to this.  Only the term carries associations with duller stories, and we find it hard to imagine seeing this as anything less than fascinating.

No, "bridge" is not the word we use.  To us, Iron Man 2 felt like a feature length trailer for what's coming.  Rather than trying to tell a single story, the filmmakers used Iron Man 2 as an opportunity to explore their universe, pulling in more and more characters and artifacts from their source material.  They've offered a vignette of sequences and character arcs exploring the rich universe these films portray.

In comic terms, they've given us the issues between major story lines, the books offering context and development.  From a production standpoint, nothing occurs in Iron Man 2 that couldn't have been skipped: they could simply have made the movie after this one and made veiled references to technological improvements, character growth, and relationships, and we'd have taken it at face value.  That would have been the easy solution.

But they've done something less expected and more courageous.  They've devoted a film to the depth of the Marvel Universe.  And they certainly retained everything that made the first movie successful: Tony Stark's eccentric personality, the sense of adventurous fun, the comedy, and the awesome action scenes.

The issue is that movie reviewers are trying to compare Iron Man 2 with Superman 2.  But this isn't the issue where Zod conquers Earth: instead, it's akin to stories about Clark trying to balance his job and friendships while dealing with threats from Toyman and Metallo.  Iron Man introduced the shared Marvel Universe to theatrical audiences.  Its sequel allows that Universe to take a starring role.  Meanwhile, Robert Downey Jr. deserves an Oscar for his supporting role.

When we reviewed the first movie, we held it against the best modern superhero movies.  Against the same competition, we give Iron Man 2 the same grade: 4 stars out of five.  This is a worthy successor in this series, and, more importantly, a fantastic harbinger of what's coming.

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