Monday, May 2, 2016

Revisiting Marvel: Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 remains one of the oddest films in the Marvel canon. Slapdash, unfocused and at times downright nonsensical, it still elevates itself on the smart layering-in of details and its sheer desire to entertain.

Re-watching it, I found myself impressed with the amount of details piled up by director Jon Favreau, who has proven himself over the years to be masterful when it comes to pungent moments that make his movies feel lived-in.

For example, while Tony Stark's opening appearance at the Stark Expo largely exists to provide exposition, the thought and effort put into the crowd's wild enthusiasm tell the story of how popular the superhero has become. (Love the glowing 'heart' on the cheerleaders, and the toy armor crowd members are wearing.) Really, that's the MO of the whole film; it's a lurching, oddly plotted affair, but one forgives it for its scene-by-scene craftsmanship.

That said ... hoooooboy, that plotting. The film opens with a breezy, monster movie-like creation story for Mickey Rourke, then has his character largely operate behind the scenes. (For most of the second and third act, Tony Stark doesn't even know he's alive.) The conceit that Tony is being poisoned by his arc-reactor heart has the potential to be powerful, but instead gets diluted in the half-dozen other plots the film crams in. And, while I can forgive comic-book movies a lot, the solution to Stark's poisoning it maybe the most ridiculous plot turn every foisted on an audience. (Tony's father discovered a new element, but couldn't manufacture it, so instead hid a guide to it in his plans for the Stark Expo, then vaguely alluded to it on the very end of a series of film-strip outtakes (!!!!). Additionally, SHIELD somehow put this together on its own, then let Tony put the clues together himself instead of just telling him, because they're dicks, or maybe just fans of moving father-son storylines.)

Extra Notes

1) I don't think Favreau gets enough credit as a director of small- to medium-scale action. Rourke's opening attack on Tony at the Grand Prix is fun stuff — love the newly activated suit burning through his shirt —and the comic structure of the Black Widow/Happy assault on Rockwell's facility is great.

2) Rourke triggers the final drone attack at the Expo because Tony will get blamed, which makes zero sense as it's Hammer who's giving the presentation based on Stark Technology that was flat-out stolen from Tony Stark. Wouldn't such an attack just help Stark's case?

3) Garry Shandling was a delightful piece of casting as the smug senator from the hearing.

4) Speaking of casting: Man, is Gwyneth Paltrow effortlessly charming as Pepper Potts.

5) Another fun comic beat: the failure of Rockwell's vaunted 'ex-wife' missile in the middle of the climactic action scene. Don Cheadle's resigned "yeah" at the end is priceless.