09 May 2010

First Impressions: Iron Man Dos

The Summer Season is officially upon us! Iron Man 2 (2010) kicked it off spectacularly, giving moviegoers a lot of what they should expect of this ridiculous season. The film is not without its problems but I'll maintain it contains many elements superior to its predecessor and other elements that continues the Iron Man Franchise's elevation over other Comic Adaptations. SPOILERS probably abound so let's get this thing going:

Thematic and Political Divergences from Iron Man (2008):

This sequel was in many ways everything you could expect from a big franchise sequel. The locations were vast and varied (without resorting to China...oh wait that's for the threequel...I'm serious.) The action scenes are more intense (I might argue with myself on this one, nothing in Iron Man 2 is more intense than the initial desert attack that wounds Stark in the first place), more explosions, more characters, more everything. The story is much heavier in its material (drinking, daddy issues, back-breaking competition) and there's a lot more at stake in Stark's world personally and physically.

The first Iron Man should always seem like a staple of its time. It's one of the only superhero films to deal with Real Global Issues. Spider-Man and Batman seem to continually work on fighting petty crime and saving their own neighborhoods, and while Superman probably comes closest to saving the world, Luthor's plans are always fantastic enough to defy plausibility. Really only Iron Man is going out and battling the terrorists and other evil regimes in an effort to attain real world peace. It places Marvel's developing universe (more on that later) in a real-world context which is really cool. After all, Iron Man is the truest American hero. Maybe not (Real quick, can anyone picture Willem Dafoe in Iron Suit Armour? Yeah...). Truly though, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is the epitome of the American Dream and not only that, he goes out to the worst parts of the globe and does something about it.

The first film however features most of that. Iron Man 2 while still featuring a variety of locations (Russia briefly, Monaco...Flushing, NY) lacks the Clash of Civilisations or the anti-terrorism in favour of more domestic villains and situations. It's a deeper look into Stark as a character and actually doesn't have a single scene of Iron Man saving innocents from muggers (you can't really picture him in a dark alley, can you?) or saving villages. In fact, the only saving he does comes near the end, and that's even more convoluted (Ivan Vanko [Mickey Rourke] only wanted collateral damage to tarnish Stark's Legacy and Stark himself, not civilians was his main target).

This film also lacks the majority of Iron Man's major moral issue, the whole idea that Stark's Weapons put innocents in harm's way instead of saving them (with Vanko's rogue tech you could argue this is still an implicit theme). The business plan of Stark Enterprises was hardly addressed, in fact it is more difficult this time around to ascertain Stark's motivation other than saving his own life (Another burden he places only on himself, more on that stuff later). I'm glad the film didn't retread too many old routes and it certainly has enough packed in to allow for the exemption of Stark's actual lack of heroism. In fact, that's probably a benefit for the overarching message.

Alcohol, Character and The Superhero Type:

At the end of the first film during a press conference Stark states "I'm just not the hero type. Clearly. With this laundry list of character defects, all the mistakes I've made, largely public." He's very right. The most interesting scene in the film by far is Tony's Birthday. It recreates in part a comic book moment in which Stark gets in the Iron Man Suit completely hammered off his ass, clearly a terrible decision. It's easy to speculate on the reasons for his alcoholism. Stark is a man who has to do everything to the highest degree. He works extremely hard, runs his business hard and parties hard. He has to be the best. It's the pressure that he puts on himself that both leads him to drink to cope with said pressure and to show everyone that he's always the life of the party.

His expectations of himself are astounding. It's easy to see him get lost in himself while simultaneously believing himself better than that. The best small moment is after he fights Rhodey (Don Cheadle) and screams at all his guests who have quickly gone from having a good time (c'mon - how often do you get to get drunk with Iron Man?) to realising that this is not a good thing that is happening (the whole scene including the music selections has a very weird tone which I actually believe is pretty appropriate, it's somewhere between "this is cool action and goofy" and "this is seriously wrong, not in a funny way"). There's this moment where you can tell he's helpless. His ego is too huge to change and even though he knows he's fucked up at this point he refuses to back down. It's the man who truly has everything or nothing. It's a character burdened by every kind of pressure - global superhero, playboy billionaire and eccentric genius all in one. Iron Man 2 dares us to question how this man would party hard and asks us what kind of integrity our superheroes should be made from.

Rhodes tells him he doesn't deserve to wear the suit. Stark's a fool and a waste of talent. What gives him the authority to be our protector? That's what Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Senator Stern (Larry Sanders) and Vanko agree on. For a moment it's not only his rogues, as Rhodes agrees as well. Stark always wants to be everything though (as he says in the first film regarding his missile, "Why not both?") and sees no problem being both the superhero and general jackass that he is. Rhodes is military, he's disciplined, loyal and upstanding. He's the kind of classic character that should be entrusted with world security. While Stark in the big picture has outstanding moral fiber (that is like...he doesn't kill people I guess), his personal life is a mess. The question raised of the character and honour integral to wearing the colours is interesting.

It was Always You, Rusty:

I need to point this out right now. Is not the Tony and Howard Stark relationship virtually identical to Jonas and Rusty Venture? I mean, come on, the genius neglectful father, the son looking up him but never proving himself, death under mysterious circumstances and possible conspiracy - it goes on and on. Both Jonas Venture and Howard Stark had their hands in advanced technology while simultaneously fulfilling 1960s and 70s swinger stereotypes (props to getting John Slattery by the way). Whereas both their deaths and how much they meant to their respective universes is still murkey, Howard Stark at least has directly acknowledged that he is still trying to help is son and though cold when alive, did love little Tony.

Once again, I have run out of room but still have more ramblings. Stay tuned for Part Dos of Iron Man Dos when I'll talk about some of the non-Downey actors as well as this film's place in the emerging Age of Marvel Universe films. This universe actually has a name in Marvel Continuity - Earth-199999. Tight.

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