The second Iron Man doesn't lack in plot - but it does in action
Iron Man 2
Cert: 12A, 124 mins
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow
Here are some of the complaints you rarely hear about a comic-book action film: it relies too much on its witty script. It devotes too much time to character development. There aren’t enough action set pieces. And: there aren’t enough action set pieces (it can’t be understated how often you do not hear this).
Yet, oddly, those are the reasons Iron Man 2 falls down. It what must be a first for a comic book adaptation, it puts words ahead of the action. In fact, arrive late and leave early, and this could be the most expensive knockabout comedy ever made.
Which is ironic, really, as director Jon Favreau‘s first instalment was praised for exactly those reasons. A comic-book caper that had a genuinely magnetic and mischief-making lead in Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark, the inventor of the Iron Man suit that made him into an unwitting superhero, but never really acted like one. Where action set pieces were expertly balanced with a knowing and wit that never took itself too seriously.
Those are all evident here, but you can’t help feel it’s been taken too far. The set-up sees Stark trying to fend off both the US government – who aren’t satisfied for him and his suit alone to defend America against possible threats, and want to make it in a less natty shade – and new adversary Whiplash, played by the resurgent Mickey Rourke. The latter’s father stays alive just long enough to tell his son he invented the Iron Man suit, but not long enough to make a trip to the patent office. So, it’s up to Mickey to knock one up himself, seemingly using nothing but Amstrads and a bloody good furnace back in his resident Russia, and he ends up with electric whips that act like a light sabre that can do a lasso.
The first half hour or so is brilliant, and the first clash with Whiplash – who confronts Stark at Monaco, shaving a fair bit of weight from his racing car in the process – seems to set the rest of the film up perfectly.
Sadly, the rest never really comes. The middle of Iron Man 2 sags badly, with Rourke off to work for rival weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer, who wants to eradicate Iron Man and Stark by creating an update on it (ah, the Steve Jobs approach to being a comic-book super-villian), Downey Jr‘s assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) becoming CEO of Starks‘s company, and Downey Jr himself trying to work out a new power source for his suit/heart – as the one he’s currently using is killing him.
You can’t help watch and think: and? And? Granted, Downey Jr is a bit sick, but there’s nothing really driving the film forward at this point, no real peril to be overcome, nothing to get to in the nick of time. The sharp lines keep coming, but Favreau has slightly lost the plot.
Take, for example, the scene where Downey Jr gets drunk and does a little dance in his Iron Man suit, shooting watermelons and bottle of Champagne that willing blondes gigglingly toss into the air. Or where he sits in the middle of a giant doughnut. On top of a doughnut shop. Eating doughnuts. I’m guessing some of this could be cut. At one point, we learn Stark can piss in his suit (it’ll be filtered through it and end up as water, apparently). How does he do the washing in it, I hear you ask? Or make scrambled eggs? Or watch Come Dine With Me? Sadly, we don’t know. They must have to keep something for the third.
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There’s no better example of a film that’s needlessly overlong than the addition of Scarlett Johansson, who’s hired by Stark as a legal assistant, but turns out to be Black Widow, a member of the secret SHIELD organisation. Fan-boys will no doubt point to her inclusion in interlinking Marvel project The Avengers as reason for this – and this clearly is the reason, as Samuel L Jackson turns up too, playing the SHIELD leader – but then you’re left with a rather annoying thought: half the time, you’re watching an advert for another film. Johnansson and Jackson are essentially live-action versions of an internet pop-up. Oh, thanks for that. That’s what I paid my money for.
It’s even more frustrating when you consider that one storyline that could have been developed further – the burgeoning romance between Stark and Potts – feels like an afterthought by comparison.
To be fair, the film does redeem itself with a wonderful finale, but with little weight behind it, you can’t help feel slightly cheated.
Rumours had been circulating around Iron Man 2 for some time – rumours of re-shoots and studio cuts. Is this what they wanted, you wonder? Or is this what they were trying to avoid?
6 out of 10
Iron Man 2 is out Friday