The Marvel Cinematic Universe got a little bigger this past weekend with the massive release of Iron Man 2 (and by the way, I didn’t coin the MCU phrase – that belongs to Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige. But I like it.) It’s raked in oodles and oodles of money around the world in just a few days. And it’s a pretty good film. But is it great?
If you’ve read Biff Bam Pop in the past, you’ve probably figured out that I’m a Marvel Zombie, tried and true. I’ll let my fine friend JP handle the DC Universe, which he loves with as much passion as I revere the Marvel U. Watching characters like Iron Man and Hulk and my beloved Spidey come to life on the big screen over the past decade has warmed my heart to no end. However, there is a difference though with the films that are produced by Marvel Studios (Iron Man and it’s sequel; The Incredible Hulk) and the ones that are put out by other studios (Spider-Man by Sony, X-Men by Fox). The connections between the Marvel produced films, the shared world and characters, are what zombies like myself love about Marvel comics, and its the promise of what’s to come that left me the most pleased with Iron Man 2. For those of us chomping at the bit for The Avengers, due in 2012, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury helps point us towards things to come. There’s lots of Easter eggs to look for throughout the movie. And make sure you stay past the end credits.
Playing Tony Stark is so effortless for Robert Downey Jr you’d be hard pressed to think that he’s acting half the time. Of all the superhero’s that have come before and since, I don’t think an actor has been better cast in his particular roll than Downey as the narcissist with a heart of gold. Even with a stellar supporting cast including a spunky Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Popps, a scene stealing Sam Rockwell as Stark rival Justin Hammer, and a surprisingly solid Scarlet Johansson as The Black Widow, like the first film, Iron Man 2 really is all about Downey. He and Don Cheadle, who steps in for Terrence Howard as James “Rhodey” Rhodes (aka War Machine) have a nice chemistry together, though a little more time on their friendship would have been welcome.
Director Jon Favreau and producer Kevin Feige have both talked about how they used films like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn and The Empire Strikes Back as templates for Iron Man 2. Makes sense, as those are both highlights of their given series, each one dealing with revenge in different manners. But while Iron Man 2 does give you a vengeful character, the villainous Whiplash (played with gold teeth and Russian accent by Mickey Rourke), the movie lacks the gravitas of the films it hopes to emulate. That doesn’t make for a bad movie, mind you – just one whose ending is never in doubt, and that doesn’t pack any sort of emotional punch. And that’s where I think the greatest fault in Iron Man 2 lies. While there are moments where Tony Stark is forced to deal with his mortality and his own brashness and bad decisions, there was never any chance that he would not make it to the end of the movie.
At the end of the day, I thought Iron Man 2 was very good, though it did leave me wishing that it had carried a bit more weight with it. As we’ve seen with comic book films like X2: X-Men United, Spider-Man 2, and The Dark Knight, having emotionally resonant moments can work in genre pics; in fact, they’re what help raise them above the typical popcorn blockbuster films. At that’s what I think is most lacking with Iron Man 2.