My past few, In Defense movies, have been films which received poor reviews over all. It seems reasonable to defend those films, after all they are mostly maligned and in need of help. Iron Man 2, on the other hand received mostly good reviews. It has a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes and brought in over 300 million dollars at the box office. So why am I defending it? The simple answer is that Iron Man 2 has become the whipping boy of the Marvel Studios movies. It is the red-headed step child. The movie that people speak about with a certain level of disdain in their voices. It is very strange to me that people have such negative thoughts about this movie. In my opinion, Iron Man 2 is a perfectly serviceable sequel. In some ways it even improves upon the original film.
So what seems to be the problem? I know that I have mentioned this before, but I feel that there is a certain level of backlash due to the remarkable success of the first Iron Man, a movie which is almost universally loved by fans. The expectations for the first film were fairly low. The idea of bringing out a B/C list hero with little in the way of recognizability to the general world, was a bit of a risk for Marvel and Paramount. The movie over-performed on every level, bringing in almost 100 million dollars on its opening weekend. With all of this in mind, Iron Man 2 was doomed to be a bit of a failure right out of the box.
As I have mentioned before, people like to see others who are successful taken down a peg or two. Combine this with the insane idea that Hollywood has implanted in the minds of the American public, that each successive film has to be bigger and better, it becomes obvious why Iron Man 2 has such an oddly bad reputation. Is it truly necessary for all sequels to be bigger and better than their predecessor? I don’t think so. I believe that it is more important that a sequel be on par with the film that came before it. In many ways Iron Man 2 is on approximately the same level as the first film.
I probably need to break it down a little bit. The task of the first film was an origin story, which is a considerably easier sale than the second film. A lot of people complain about the characterization of Tony Stark and how his behavior is grating. For those who do not read the comics, that is the true Tony Stark. He is by far one of the most obnoxious heroes in all of comics. Tony makes it so hard to like him, that I was actually glad to see the film push the boundaries of his personality a bit.
The action sequences were perfectly acceptable. At no time did I find myself bored with them. Nor did I find anything awkward about them. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the action was upped from the original film. Iron Monger in the first movie was slow and clunky in his movements. This was due in large part to the fact that Obadiah Stane, was simply not on the level of engineering that Stark was. Ivan Vanko is considerably more advanced than Tony, telling him how to get more power out of the chest piece by doubling the cycle. The Whiplash suit is powerful and fast and when combined with the Hammer Drones, we are treated to battles akin to some of the best dog fights ever filmed.
Then there is the fact that Don Cheadle is a huge improvement over Terrance Howard as Tony’s best friends, Jim Rhodes. Howard’s version of Rhodey was annoying in the first film. Every time I think of that movie I have an image of Howard running down to Stark’s lab toward the end yelling, “Tony! Tony!” over and over again in the most irritating, nasal whine ever. Rhodes is a tough military man, he is War Machine and Cheadle is able to pull off a considerably better and more likable version of this character.
There were some missteps. I was not a huge fan of the Black Widow story line. I thought it would be better had they maintained Natasha’s Russian background and brought her into the film as a spy tracking Vanko. Instead she was introduced as a preexisting member of S.H.I.E.L.D. but I am willing to accept it. The character as a whole was still fairly cool, so I don’t really plan on complaining.
The key thing to remember is that this movie, unlike the first is not an origin story. This is the continued tale of a shockingly narcissistic man. As a continuation and a prelude to this summer’s upcoming Avengers, it functions well. As an audience, we get more of a feeling for what Tony will be like when he is forced to work with others. We are also provided with moments in which three members of the team are in a room together at the same time. I truly believe that if the naysayers were to watch all of the Marvel films in order, close together, and then see The Avengers, that they would have a new appreciation for what the Iron Man 2 team was doing.