Funny story: iTunes does not allow you to take screencaps of legally purchased movies, so even if you spend an absurd $25 on the HD version (it gives me the dvd extras, who cares if I watch this shit on a laptop?), if you try to take a screencap for, say, a review, you will be rewarded for your efforts, your money, and your adherence to the law, with this:
That, my friends, is a picture of Tony Stark, looking super-smug right before he delivers this delightful nod to the audience:
“It’s good to be back!”
And indeed, it’s good to have you back, Tony. The presence of Tony Stark just gives this the automatic feel of a Marvel movie; so much so that I can see why they keep delivering him dumptrucks full of money to keep showing up for these things. He legitimizes this shit more than any other actor in their repertoire (runner up to Chris Evans and Chris Pratt), and you only need to see it done badly to appreciate just how good Robert Downey Jr is at making this universe believable and -more importantly- fun.
I think that may be my main takeaway from The Incredible Hulk; with precious few exceptions, that movie is no fun. Iron Man 2 meanwhile, which focuses on the total collapse of Tony’s health and also his entire world, is a blast in comparison.
The set-up is pretty simple, and they even have Jarvis deliver it with the succinct quote,
“Unfortunately, the device which is keeping you alive is also killing you.”
What’s this? A ticking clock? Tony Stark being slowly poisoned by the palladium core which powers his Iron Man suit? Ruh-roh! Immediate stakes. Add to this we have the U.S. government trying to gain possession of the Iron Man technology, and a villain in the form of Ivan Venko who has duplicated the technology himself using blueprints stolen by his father who used to work with Tony’s father, blah, blah, blah. Not important. Well, it is important, and it plays into the sub-theme of legacy that underlies this movie, and Tony Stark’s character arc as a whole. (Fear of his legacy, after all, is what will drive him to create Ultron, and the creation of Ultron is what leads him to side against Captain America in fighting for the same oversight that he flatly scorns in this movie. Fascinating stuff, which we will get to in due course in the re-watch.)
Iron Man 2 is where they really kick the whole shared universe thing into high gear, and it’s received a fair amount of flak for that. Whereas the previous two movies had only a couple cameos and easter eggs, they go full-on Avengers set-up here, and that’s a gas pedal they will not let up on right up to the present day. It also works, I swear it does, because it’s hung on the scaffolding of this quality film. It’s also not over the top: we get the introduction of Black Widow, who has legitimate things to do, Special Agent Fan Favorite (pictured below) drops mention of ‘something in New Mexico’ and Nick Fury and Tony briefly discuss The Avengers Initiative.
There’s a few other things details that they use retroactively to build the universe; Senator Sterns being revealed as Hydra in Winter Soldier, for example, but for the most part this is a movie that cares about telling the story it came to tell, and not much else. So relax, internet, and stop treating this film like the Amazing Spider-man 2, or Batman V Superman: Dawn of Whatever. Or whatever.
So, I’ve started to notice a pattern here (and it will be interesting to see how long this pattern continues), with each of the three movies so far featuring three main fight sequences each; Iron Man has the Cave Escape sequence, the Gulmira fight and finally the throw down at the end; Incredible Hulk has the first Brazil Hulk appearance, the Culver University fiasco and the final throw-down at the end; and finally in Iron Man 2 we have the Grand Prix fight with the suitcase suit,
the battle against Rhodey in the middle,
and the final throwdown at the end.
So far it’s worked, even in the Incredible Hulk, but it’s something I noticed on the re-watch that I hadn’t before.
What also works, and probably shouldn’t, is the incredible series of coincidences that leads to the first fight between Ivan Venko (Whiplash) and Tony Stark.
The set-up is simple: Venko has built his own arc reactor and appears to have a hate-on for Tony Stark. We see him get a fake passport and a ticket to the Grand Prix in Monaco. Huh, that’s weird. But then two scenes later, there we are in Monaco with Tony and Pepper, which, yeah, his company sponsors a car in the race, but Stark Industries doubtlessly sponsors a million things in a million events and he can’t show up to all of them. But to this he does and it’s a good thing too, because otherwise Ivan Venko just wasted a lot of money for nothing. Then, things go even more his way when Tony decides to drive his own car in the race, which I doubt is even legal, but it sure is a stroke of luck without which we do not have an action set piece to close out the first act.
The thing is, I think this movie gets away with it, again on the strength of it’s characters and the charisma of the actors playing them. Unlike, say, the Incredible Hulk. Man, did I ever dislike that movie; I’m still not over it.
On the whole, I give the second Iron Man a total 0f 5 Palladium cores out of a possible 7. It doesn’t feel as tight as the first film, but as a bridge to the Avengers it does well-enough, and it holds up on it’s own based on the continued strength of it’s central cast (now with Don Cheadle as a much-improved Rhodey). There’s a nice contrast in the villains as well, with Justin Hammer’s privilege and corporate evil juxtaposed against Venko’s predilection for murderous revenge. And speaking of villains, next up we get Loki!