172) Iron Man 2 (2010) Dir: Jon Favreau Date Released: May 2010 Date Seen: May 16, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5
Within the realm of established expectations, sequels to comic book adaptations are typically better than their forebears. There usually isn't as much hand-wringing as there was in the preceding entry as there's less fear of failing as a franchise. In these sequels, by and large, a greater emphasis is put on emphasizing character over plot, emotions over schematic origin story plots. This is part of what Iron Man 2 is better than Iron Man but it's hardly a holistic explanation of what improved from one film to the next. Screenwriter Justin Theroux really let out his gut with his script for Iron Man 2 and embraced the fact that he's working on a superhero movie directed by Jon Favreau. The improvised banter, the meandering plot, the frustrated vision of Tony Stark as a clueless fratboy with a huge checkbook and a tendency to only want to change his bad habits after-the-fact: all of this recalls protagonists of more canonical Favreau films like Swingers and Made, which are basically the same movie anyway. All of these elements were frantically thrown together in Iron Man in a vain attempt to prove that Favreau's knack for light comedies about egocentric loser man-children could survive the daunting framework of a tentpole franchise. In Iron Man 2, Favreau and Theroux proves that it can.
This isn't to say that Favreau's eccentricities preclude or overshadow his weaknesses as a filmmaker. I love the fact that characters appear and then disappear for whole swathes of the film and then re-appear again later and the stellar patter Thereoux gives to the film's equally excellent cast, especially villains Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke. But yes, Favreau still hasn't learned how to shoot an action scene. He's still mostly relying almost entirely on the energy he infuses in these ugly smash-em-up sequences. To their credit, their crudely photographed choreography does a sense of spontaneous play about it. Which is fine and actually kind of riveting--the final scenes around Corona Park are a frenzied blast. But they just don't look very good, do they? These scenes sorely want finesse and in that way, they're the perfect representative of Iron Man 2: bigger, cockier and, yeah, less focussed than what you get in Iron Man. This is bad how?
I feel that Iron Man 2's seeming lack of focus proves that, in some ways, Theroux is further proving that he gets who his Tony Stark is more than he did in Iron Man. His Stark is someone that has the world on his shoulders and has to micro-manage and multi-task his way through everything he does with a smile on his face. And he does it because that smile comes naturally: he likes being the ringmaster of a giant 10-ring circus* and not knowing what will come next. His fear of dying unrecognized, of failing his father's legacy, of letting Pepper down, of losing his friends, etc. all percolate around the periphery of Iron Man 2's plot because that's where they belong. He wouldn't be a very convincing distracted genius scientist/narcissist otherwise, would he?
This is akin to the way Iron Man spends so much time showing us the myriad tests Stark enacts when he builds the Iron Man suit. These scenes are also drawn-out but they're supposed to be. Stark's private trials are a never-ending source of inside humor for Stark, jokes that no one but he will get because no one else is there with him building the suit. That navel-gazing sensibility proves that Theroux basically got who Stark the scientist was, always fixating on things no one else can see and looking like a paranoid ass when he boasts about it later. But Iron Man 2 is the next best expression of that understanding, a character study that only looks as harried as its protagonist is supposed to. The sooner people stop whining about how Iron Man 2 sets up the next of Marvel's tentpole films and start looking at it as the superior action comedy that it is, the better.
*Only nerds will get this joke....