Review: Iron Man II

by Tom Ingram

Everyone has a favourite superhero that they secretly wished they’d grow up to be one day. Mine was Iron Man. At the time, I didn’t know much about him except that he had a really nifty robot suit which, to a seven-year-old, is all you really need to know. A few years ago, when the Iron Man movie was announced, I was cautiously excited. It was nice to have a movie made of my childhood idol, but I ran the risk of ruining perfectly good memories. I sat nervously in my seat when I finally went to see it, anxious for the movie to start. Five minutes in, I was convinced. Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark is one of the best casting decisions I’ve ever seen. The movie was consistently funny and charming, and of course the action and special effects were nothing to sneeze at. Along with The Dark Knight, it gained superhero movies a kind of grudging respect, since even the most traditional critics had to admit that they were both good movies.

As you might expect, I was eagerly awaiting this sequel. The trailers showing Whiplash (the only Iron Man villain I could name) were exciting, and Downey Jr was just as roguishly loveable as always. I had high expectations for this movie.

Unfortunately, the whole thing seemed to fall flat. Whiplash does appear, but the trailer is pretty much all you see of him. The main villain of the piece is Stark Industries competitor Justin Hammer. He’s a businessman who’s not particularly intelligent, isn’t a physical threat, and doesn’t even have good minions or a secret base. The plot deals with the aftermath of Tony Stark revealing that he’s Iron Man, meaning that it’s about the dull political side of superhero life. The fun, charming Terrence Howard has been replaced by Don Cheadle as James Rhodes. Nearly everything about that was done right in the first movie is undone here.

And as for the action, there are three fight scenes in this whole movie. Two of them were necessary. The first scene, a fight between Iron Man and Whiplash, only lasts a minute or so, the unsuited Russian being easily defeated by Tony Stark. He appears several times throughout the rest of the movie, but he only dons the Whiplash suit one more time, for about half a minute. It’s really too bad, as this was a very well-done character. The action is not half as much fun anymore, because there’s never a credible threat to Iron Man. At the end of the last movie, Tony is very nearly killed, and it’s only by outthinking the better-equipped Stane that he survives. In this movie, he cuts through bad guys like a hot knife through butter, encountering no serious difficulties.

Samuel L. Jackson makes a few more appearances as Nick Fury, but he doesn’t really do anything but talk. His minion Agent Romanoff had a scene in which she viciously killed several innocent security guards, and she’s still supposed to be a good guy. The whole SHIELD/Avengers subplot should have been left out of the movie, because it was bloated and at times boring. A movie whose entire premise is about people in robot power armour should never be boring.

Another plot that should have been left out was the one about Tony’s failing health. It was dull and melodramatic, and the eventual solution was laughable. Tony’s Arc Reactor is giving him palladium poisoning, and in order to solve the problem, he has to single-handedly create a magical secret element. He achieves this by firing a laser through a prism, across the wall of his basement, and into a piece of metal. I’ve never actually seen an element being synthesized, but I’m fairly sure that’s not how it works. If it had been handled better, this could have been a good way to inject some more human drama into the movie. But it wasn’t, and it ended up being padding.

Speaking of human drama, the tension between Tony and Pepper Potts continues here. Remember the scene in the first movie, when Pepper has to replace the Arc Reactor in Tony’s chest? She’s nervous and a little disgusted, and Tony is in a hurry to get it done, and they talk over each other like an elderly married couple. That’s how they talk for the entirety of this sequel. Pepper was a fun, resourceful character in the last movie, but in this one, I couldn’t stand her.

Don Cheadle is an Oscar-nominated actor, but this is still an Iron Man movie. There needs to be a certain amount of lightness to things, and strangely, he just has too much gravitas for the role. Gone is the fun Rhodey who has a certain amount of bromantic chemistry with Tony Stark. Now he’s just a stony-faced Air Force colonel with no sense of humour. Even worse, his character was still written the same way as before, so there are scenes where the character and the actor clash. In the last movie, I honestly believed that Terrence Howard found the War Machine suit really fucking sweet. I can’t imagine Don Cheadle even saying “really fucking sweet”.

Let me reiterate that there is almost no fighting in this movie, and what little is there isn’t much to write home about. It’s all about the politics of Iron Man. You can make a good movie about politics, hearings, and trials, but this isn’t it. This is supposed to be a movie about people in robot armour fighting other people in other robot armour. The financial state of Stark Industries, the opinions of the US government, and the frankly baffling activities of SHIELD should take a back seat to that. Disappointingly, they don’t. Iron Man II does not come close to its predecessor.

The trailers were for Prince of Persia, Shrek, The A-Team, and The Last Airbender. I can’t for the life of me fathom why people keep trying to make video game movies. The result is invariably a crime against mankind, and they’re not usually all that successful financially. I can tell Prince of Persia will be awful just by seeing the trailer. I think everyone stopped caring about Shrek around the time the second movie was released, and I’m relieved that they’re finally ending the series. The A-Team looks like a lot of fun. I’ve never seen the TV show, but this definitely looks like it’s worth a look.

The Last Airbender, based on the cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender, is directed by M. Night Shyamalan. His best-known work is The Sixth Sense, a movie which got him stuck in a rut of making twist endings. The Sixth Sense was good, or at least bearable, but the quality of his movies steadily decreased from there. This looks like something different. Maybe once the gimmicks are removed, Shyamalan can make a good movie again. We’ll see when it comes out.