walkingshadow: tony stark gets his drink on (where's the kid with the chemicals)
walkingshadow ([personal profile] walkingshadow) wrote2010-05-23 01:55 pm
Entry tags:

all four have been brought back to life in their respective universes

Saw Iron Man 2 with [personal profile] silentfire two weeks ago, have been ranting ever since.

In the interests of full disclosure: I LOVED the first movie. I saw it multiple times in theaters; I Wikipediaed the shit out of the comics history*; I read what I swear was all the meta and every relevant fic available on the internet; I shipped Tony/Rhodey, Tony/Steve, Tony/Pepper, Tony/Jarvis, Tony/self-loathing, etc.; and I was grateful every day that fandom was there to challenge and reconcile the skeevy international politics and any gaping plot holes. There were explosions! There was a shout-out to the Iron Man theme song! It had Robert Downey, Jr. interacting with the cutest anthropomorphized robot since Wall·E! It had THE GREATEST ENDING EVER.

So I WANTED to be excited about the sequel, but based on the trailers and vague rumblings on the internet (and let's face it, the more you have invested in a franchise, the more likely it is to let you down), I had a sinking feeling about it. I THOUGHT I was going in with low expectations, but what I was really going in with was the expectation that it would suck; and, hey! It did! I thought it was a rambling, incoherent mess! It introduced a slew of plot elements that had nothing to do with each other, didn't actually develop any of them, and then handwaved them all to explodey resolutions and kissing on rooftops.

Plot Elements in Iron Man 2 (A Partial List):
  • The corporate rivalry with Justin Hammer
  • Vanko's revenge narrative on behalf of his father
  • Tony's palladium poisoning and subsequent self-destructive spiral
  • Discovering and synthesizing A NEW ELEMENT
  • Tony resigning from Stark Enterprises and handing control over to Pepper
  • Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D., and recruitment to the Avengers Initiative
  • The Stark Expo
  • Tony's Daaaaaddy Issues
  • Tony and Pepper: will they/won't they???
  • The Senate hearings
  • Rhodey's conflict of interests

The first Iron Man had, in comparison, a laser-like focus, in which the narrative consisted of one over-arching plot that everything else supported. Tony himself had this very clear character arc that went something like "entitled douchebag → TRAUMA → rude awakening → TRAUMA → PTSD → disillusionment → existential aaaangst → [technoporn interlude] → "there's the next mission, and nothing else" → betrayal! → triumph and redemption → THE END??" Not quite the epic journey, but immensely satisfying, with room to grow on. Except instead of growing on it, Iron Man 2 turned the clock right back to "entitled douchebag", and then cranked it up to ELEVEN.

If they'd jettisoned a couple of things, and then foregrounded a couple of other things and let all the other elements be support, it might have been awesome. E.g.:

Tony's Daddy Issues + Vanko's Revenge. Fathers and sons! CLASSIC. Unbeknownst to practically everyone (but, most importantly, Tony!!), Howard Stark had a PARTNER that he screwed over and essentially erased from history! There could have been awesome Cold War flashbacks to Vanko, Sr. and Stark, Sr.! They could have taken Tony's resentment toward and hero worship of his father and developed the parallels to Vanko's devotion to his own father and his anger toward Stark, Sr. AND Jr. on his father's behalf. Instead, Tony just exposits his ~manpain, and then ten minutes later he gets a super-secret blast-from-the-past deus-ex-machina message from his dad that says, basically, "for plot purposes it is important that for the first forty years of your life you think I never loved you or expected you to amount to anything, but LOL j/k I totally did! Good luck!" Uh, okay! Way to be a dick, Dad. I guess this makes it all better?

It would have been so cool to see Howard working on the element too, this thing that he could conceive of but knew he would never be able to create in his lifetime, a vision that he needed his son to realize. Tony even says in the beginning at the Expo that legacy is the most important thing, but they only spend ten minutes on it, telling us about it instead of showing it to us, and it's buried in all the other bullshit that's going on all over the place.

Additional Themes Raised in Iron Man 2 With Little or No Self-Awareness, Exploration, or Resolution (A Partial List):
  • Hubris
  • Sacrifice
  • Mortality
  • Loyalty
  • The State vs. the Individual

For what it's worth, I loved Rourke as Vanko. I loved his pet bird, his glasses, and his amused contempt for Hammer, especially that scene where Hammer comes in and throws a tantrum and takes away his SHOES, and Vanko is like, uh, I spent FIFTEEN YEARS IN A RUSSIAN PRISON, I think I will survive this deprivation. But I thought his montage scene over the opening credits was a failure, because they jumped into it with so little context, and then it was basically the lite version of That Scene Where Tony Builds the Suit out of Scraps While Prisoner in a Cave in the Middle of the Desert (Now Less Filling!). At a later point, with more backstory, it could have been really powerful and resonant instead of a weak imitation.

Justin Hammer. Sam Rockwell was brilliant and hilarious as Hammer (his orange hands!), but I hated Hammer as a character. It would have been so much more interesting to have made him into an actual rival for Tony to strive against, some ambitious, capable, COMPARABLE competition outfitting a frighteningly powerful mercenary army, someone that he (and the audience) actually had to worry about and work hard to defeat, instead of a vapid foil for his infinitely superior intelligence and ability. I mean, I understand that at the end of the day Hammer was just the figurehead bankrolling Vanko, who was the real competition, but Tony was busy with SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY and didn't even know he was a threat until it was time to fight him.

Palladium Poisoning + Avengers Initiative + Technoporn + Virginia Potts, CEO. Listen, I am a SUCKER for the self-destructive spiral. One of the absolute BEST moments in the movie was Tony staring at himself in the mirror and muttering, "got any other bad ideas?" before embarking on an epically bad idea. That shit is my bread and butter. So have him push away all his friends, give control of the company to Pepper, and hit rock bottom, AWESOME; but then maybe have him spend more than five minutes clawing his way out again? I mean, I am willing to suspend a lot of disbelief when it comes to comics, summer action movies, and summer action movies based on comics. A LOT. But COME ON. Building a particle accelerator out of spare parts and synthesizing A NEW ELEMENT in an AFTERNOON? I would have preferred just a LITTLE more distance between "impossible" and "that was easy".

And hey, how about giving Tony some HELP, instead of just placing him under house arrest and telling him he can't come out until he's saved his own life? Bring in Reed Richards! Or Hank Pym! Hello, Avengers Initiative? Have Tony decide to join SHIELD because he realizes he doesn't have all the resources or all the answers, and he can't do it alone, but together they can do anything! Oh wait, I guess he can do it alone. So tell me again why he would ever join them? Because Tony's naturally such a JOINER, right? I'm sure I read that on his Wikipedia page.

I loved that Pepper was running Stark Enterprises (along with Natalie!), and one of the things I hated the MOST was Pepper's hysterical resignation of the position at the end of the movie because her BODY couldn't handly the STRESS. Way to perpetuate the "weaker sex" mythology!

Additional Gender Politics Fail in Iron Man 2 (A Partial List):
  • The Iron Man . . . cheerleaders? at the Expo
  • The slut-shaming of Christine Everhard
  • Maria Stark: The Case of the Disappearing Mother
  • Pepper's SHOES WTF (see above re: a generous but ultimately limited suspension of disbelief)

. . . On the other hand, I LOVED the way Pepper came in to the Expo when Shit Was Getting Real and took charge of everything, including calling the POLICE and delegating tasks to the people at the consoles.

Iron Man vs. War Machine + Senate Hearings. Don Cheadle turned in an oddly muted performance as Rhodey, and he was criminally underused. At some point they must have said to themselves, "we got Don Cheadle! SCORE. Let's have him stand here silently while Sam Rockwell's character explains what a pistol is to an Air Force colonel." What a fucking waste. Tony is Rhodey's best friend; Rhodey loves him and believes in him and is WORRIED about him; but Rhodey works for the government and has orders to follow, while Tony is part of, yet apart from, government oversight and the military-industrial complex, especially in the wake of his return from Afghanistan, when he vowed not to make any more weapons, and then . . . proceeded to make an enormously powerful weapon, except that this time he kept it for his own personal use.

I'd hate to break it to him, but I don't see how Tony has privatized world peace in any way, let alone successfully. What he's done is incite escalation, as confirmed by the footage they showed at the hearings. Plus, he's one person! He can literally only be in one place at a time! And yeah, he's pretty powerful and pretty zippy, but I think a nuclear weapon could take him down? Plus there's the fact that he doesn't actually know how to use the suit! I mean, he knows how to use it because he made it, he knows how to fly it and shoot the weapons, but—as illustrated in the final fight scene—he doesn't know military strategy or tactics ("we're standing in the kill box; people go there to die!") and I sure as hell don't think he knows anything about GEOPOLITICS. Can he declare war on foreign nations? Has he signed the Geneva Convention? Whose agenda is he following? If it's his own, what are his objectives? What has he even been DOING lately that qualifies him to say "it's working"? This is a guy who we're supposed to believe didn't even know HIS OWN COMPANY was selling weapons to terrorists until those terrorists literally kidnapped him and rubbed his face in the evidence.

Instead of politely asking a charming and arrogant white male multi-billionaire to please turn over his undeniably expensive, objectively cool, one-of-a-kind invention to the state in publically-televised Senate hearings**, they should just CONFISCATE THE FUCKING SUIT. Or make keeping the suit conditional upon working for the military (or perhaps some sort of government-funded quasi-military organization that would pit super-powered individuals against possible super-powered threats, something like, I don't know, SHIELD?). At this point he's a vigilante operating an immensely powerful weapon with impunity and no regard for the rule of law either domestically or internationally; and unlike other heroes who have super-powers, the suit is something he MADE and CHOOSES to use. He might say "the suit and I are one", but it isn't actually TRUE. There has to be a hundred ways they can legally take it away from him, or at least prevent him from using it. Regulate its use! Call it a vehicle that can only be operated in designated areas with extensive training, a license, appropriate air/ground clearance, and never while intoxicated; and then establish stiff penalties for violations of those regulations! Hell, just declare him a threat to national security. Didn't Rhodey say something about rolling up the PCH and taking him by force? Should have done that!

Ugh. So clearly Rhodes was 100% in the right to fly off with the suit after the mortifying-slash-terrifying spectacle at Tony's birthday party, but didn't he leave Tony with his own suit? And all the other versions in the garage? Where are the override codes and failsafes I read about in fic all the fucking time? And why was that fight scene so BAD? What was with the riduculous "Wonder Twin powers, activate!" magical repulsor feedback loop? What is this, the graveyard scene in Goblet of Fire?

In short: just PICK A STORY and TELL IT (where "the story" ≠ "Tony Stark is Iron Man! . . . hijinks ensue!!") and then make a lot of things BLOW UP. There, I fixed it for you!

Additional Personal Reactions to Iron Man 2 (A Partial List):
  • I think I was supposed to be gratified by the the throwaway visual reference to Captain America, but I HATED it. It actually made me angrier than anything else in the movie, except maybe the Iron Man cheerleaders. Recall that the shield also made a cameo in the first Iron Man, in the background in Tony's workshop; it appears to be in the same state there as it is in the second movie, i.e. either broken or incomplete. When I saw it the first time, I didn't know anything about the comics so I couldn't understand what the implications of that were, but now I know that it makes zero sense (assuming basic canon (LOLLL)), since the original is lost along with Captain America, is the only one of its kind, and is made of AN INDESTRUCTIBLE FICTITIOUS METAL ALLOY***; but at least you could fanwank it away by saying it was a replica that Tony was working on in an attempt to recreate the vibranium alloy; and that kind of works, and is even kind of cool. But they destroy even that fragile thread of continuity in the second movie when Coulson doesn't recognize the shield, and frankly, it doesn't seem like TONY recognizes it either. Now we have a problem, because suddenly they have to be living in a universe where a) there was no Captain America, but for some reason there's a version of his shield knocking around (except that canonically Howard Stark was involved with Project Rebirth), or b) there was a Captain America, but he was so highly classified no one (not even a SHIELD agent) knew about him, or c) there was a Captain America, but he's been ~~forgotten by everyone (even SHIELD agents), or—oh, never mind, it turns out I don't have to break my brain fabricating a Watsonian solution, because Jon Favreau just put it in as a lark, ha ha! Fuck continuity anyway, whatever. >:(

  • Howard Stark introducing Stark Expo '74 was BASICALLY Walt Disney presenting the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow a.k.a. EPCOT in 1966, and the globe featured in the final battle looked an awful lot like Spaceship Earth.

    EPCOT... will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise." -Walt Disney, 1966

    Check out the retro video at the Stark Expo main site ("Stark Industries is creating better living for you and your family through technology!"). It all seems unavoidably evocative. Hey, remember that time Disney bought Marvel Entertainment, Inc.?


  • I still really like Agent Coulson!

  • Another one of my favorite moments in the movie was Tony bursting out with "I was going to make you an omelet and tell you!" Oh, TONY.

  • The "I don't like to be handed things" running gag was cute, but new for the sequel.

  • There was no way this movie didn't have a ridiculously high civilian casualty rate.

  • I really like the improvised, Robert Altman-esque overlapping dialog between Tony and Pepper. That scene with the two of them and Happy in the car, when Tony's trying to get his briefcase? GOLDEN.

  • The suit in the briefcase!! SO HOTT. But I really don't recommend Happy handcuff himself to it, since it's clearly the kind of thing would-be thieves would cheerfully slice his hand off for.

  • THOR! But, where IS Thor? Did he just accidentally drop his hammer from a great height? And what does Coulson mean by "we found it"? Was the giant crater and (I'm assuming) accompanying sonic boom NOT a dead giveaway? How long have they been "looking" for "it"? FINE I WILL SEE THE NEXT MOVIE, GOD.



Footnotes:

* Dear comics: OH MY GOD, WHAT? WHY??? D: Yours, &c.

** I would say this is a commentary on all the other times in recent memory the Senate has hauled in rich white men just to scold them and/or make toothless demands of them that will never, ever be enforced (cf. the financial industry, the auto industry, the health insurance industry, the oil industry, etc.), but I think that would again be giving the movie too much credit; and if anything, the message would be a thumbs-up to those industries to keep on doing whatever the hell they want.

*** If you want to giggle uncontrollably until you pull an intercostal muscle, please read the Wikipedia subarticle on VIBRANIUM CANCER. You will be rewarded!

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