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Iron Man 2: Letdown

This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.

I fell in love with the first Iron Man movie because of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Watching Downey transform from cocky playboy to desperate prisoner to obsessed inventor... I just don't know how to describe it, he took my breath away. I guess I hadn't been paying enough attention to him previously. I had no idea he could do anything like that.

Iron Man 2, lacking the element of surprise, was going to have a harder time impressing me. And not to be a killjoy on the first Big! Summer! Movie!... but it didn't. I mean, it wasn't BAD. I have seen enough bad movies for this blog to know a bad movie, and this was not bad. But it didn't sing.

Here's the plot overview, sans spoliers as best I can: Tony Stark has been Iron Man for a while, and everything is swell with the "world peace" thing. Except now the U.S. Government wants the suit, Stark's former competitor in the arms trade wants to humiliate him, and there's a problem with the power cell in Stark's chest that he can't fix. Oh, and there's a brilliant Russian physicist who wants to kill him. Beyond that, it's pretty much held together with tape and "ooh shiny."

Parts of this film were excellent. Particularly appreciated were the Senate hearing where the military and Stark's rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) team up in trying to strong-arm the suit away from Stark, the first appearance of Russian physicist Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), and particularly the part of that scene where Stark dons the suit. Not the suit itself, but the emotions on Downey's face as he's suiting up. Damn, that guy is good.

Then there were about another 30 minutes total of really good stuff, and the rest was, um, quite competent. Many people in comments internet-wide seem to disagree and think it RULEZ, so your mileage may vary. I wouldn't say stay away. But I wouldn't fault you for waiting for the DVD either, and that was a little disappointing given how much the first one rocked me. I noticed plot holes. I noticed a slow dragging feeling in the middle of the film. I noticed how Nick Fury's eye patch looked like a big mess. I also found myself acutely aware that Sam Rockwell needed half as many lines. Shut UP already, dude.

So you can see it and decide how you feel about its entertainment value, but let's do the Heroine Content inventory, shall we?

I wasn't expecting too much more from Gymeth Paltrow as Pepper Potts than I got in the first movie, which is good, because she's even more annoying and useless here. I don't even care if a reasonable person in the same situation would be screaming, I am so tired of hearing that woman scream that I cannot tolerate it any longer. (Also, what the heck is the deal near the end where she's giving the police instructions on how to properly evacuate civilians? Being CEO makes her queen of logistics in emergency situations?) Now that I have read some of Matt Fraction's Iron Man, I am even more annoyed by this useless Pepper.

Oh, and it's good to see that slut-shaming is alive and well! Thanks, Pepper and Tony, for reminding us that when a man who sleeps around a LOT sleeps with a woman, he's an adorable cad and she's just a ho. In case we didn't get the memo from the first film.

I was expecting a little more from Scarlett Johansson as Natalie / Natasha / Black Widow. Her 5.7 seconds of action were great, sure, though I'm not sure what the deal is with "I'm about to go into battle, so I must let my long hair down." Unfortunately, she spends the vast majority of the movie as eye candy. (Yes, I realize she needs to be close to Stark, and that she is a supporting character in a movie called Iron Man. I was just hoping that her actual awesomeness would not be confined to the latter quarter of the film.) My movie-going companion, who is far more familiar with her character in various comics, thought Johansson did well overall. He saw her as "cold" and calculating whereas to me she just seemed vacant.

Don Cheadle as Lt. Col. James Rhodes a.k.a. War Machine and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury are both delightful. Two black men with speaking roles in one action movie, neither one of them are thugs or criminals, and neither one of them dies. Refreshing!

All in all, though, there's nothing stellar here for HC aficionados. If Pepper didn't suck and/or if Black Widow got to do more, perhaps I would have been more impressed, because both characters offer some good raw material - and supporting characters can be a key element of a strong Heroine Content contender. But all I can muster up is 2 stars.

8 Comments

I really enjoyed the first film; this one less so. Mainly because of Pepper Potts, who I liked in the first film. I think they really did her a disservice in making her so utterly incompetent, any one who ran Stark's life like she did in the first film would be more than capable of being CEO without having to give up after 2 seconds of pressure.

Kimberley said at May 11, 2010 2:23 PM:

Hi! :) Just stumbled across this review on your blog. Have to say I found it really interesting; I wasn't expecting a feminist analysis on IM2 to be out there on the 'Net but I sure am glad I found one.

I just couldn't take Scarlett seriously as a badass. She's so petite and slim and I didn't find her taking down all those guys believable at all. The scene in which she manhandles Rockwell's character is just laughable; she tried to come off as all tough and aggressive but I wasn't buying it. Would it have killed them to cast an actress who actually had an athletic and more muscular build, with a more intimidating presence? As such, I agree with this review; overall her role was more there to provide eye candy. I'm thinking of scenes in which she's ogled by Tony, strips to her underwear in Happy's car and lets her flowing, long red locks tumble down pre-battle mode when it would have made far more sense to tie it back. Ah, the good old male gaze *sarcasm*

Regarding Pepper, I found the dialogue between her and Tony to be really overdone and way too shrill this time around. RDJ and Gwyneth have great chemistry, but I preferred the subtle and flirty exchange in the first film. Having said that, however, in a way I think they were trying to build on the escalating tension between Tony and Pepper since the events IM1 and their almost-rooftop kiss, so there's that. I have to admit I smiled a little when they finally got together. I don't think she quit because she couldn't handle being a CEO. I think she couldn't handle being CEO for the alcoholic, quasi-suicidal Tony Stark. There aren't many CEO's who are in danger of getting killed or blown up because of their job! I think I sympathised with her a little, lol.

I agree with you about Don Cheadle and SLJ. I just love that they went with the Ultimate version of Nick Fury. That's a big step forward. I did think however that Terrence Howard had overall better buddy chemistry with RDJ. I think he's a bit of an ass in person and Cheadle is in general a better actor but I missed the easy familiarity between Rhodey and Tony in the first film.

I'm sorry the length of this comment, argh! But I kind of wanted to let this all out as a huge Iron Man fan, and this blog seemed a perfect place to do it :)

Skye said at May 11, 2010 3:14 PM:

@ Fence, I think I'm the only person who didn't like Pepper from the first film. :(

@ Kimberly, please do not apologize for lengthy comments! We love them. "Intimidating presence" is exactly what I thought Johansson failed to bring to the role, thanks for summing it up so neatly.

- J - said at May 11, 2010 6:01 PM:

Skye, I seem to apparently be in the minority about this, but I thought Samuel L Jackson was irritating and way over the top in his role, so points lost there for me. That being said, I completely agree with you about Cheadle, I think he's a way better actor than Howard and brought a lot to that role.

Unfortunately, I think some of that spark came at the expense of Pepper, who got even weaker this time around. The movie dug her in a hole early on with the ridiculous scene where she spends about a minute and a half straight screaming and is unable to throw a briefcase 4 feet. It then tried pretty hard to build her back up, but then threw it all away by having her quit her job at the end.

I too would've like to see Johansson do more, although her action sequence (ridiculous hair aside) was pretty awesome. Even more concerning than the lack of heroine content was that they pretty much wasted one of the best characters in the Iron Man pantheon by giving her no character development at all.

Skye said at May 11, 2010 10:31 PM:

@ J, I can definitely see your point about SLJ. I found myself at times thinking "wow, those are some bad lines they've written for him" but I also didn't know how much of my reaction was because my Nick Fury reference is the non-Ultimates version who is pretty dour. I continue to be delighted by the casting choice but agree that there was some over the top -ish ness here.

I'm kind of starting to wonder why I gave it 2 stars...

Kimberley says: "Would it have killed them to cast an actress who actually had an athletic and more muscular build, with a more intimidating presence?"

At times you think it would, Kimberley. But not only with IM2. Unfortunately, it's the rare, but meritorious, action film that stars an athletic, imposing actress.

And there is no shortage of such actresses in Hollywood, either--trust me.

Patrick said at May 28, 2010 2:07 PM:

There were many things I wasn't too impressed with in this film. Scarlett Johanson being one of them. I think her character makes for a great comparison to Hit Girl – look at how Hit Girl takes on all the bad guys in the final action scene of "Kick Ass", and then look at how Black Widow kills people with her crotch. One of them is sexualized, and I don't give any hints...

I'm also a little disappointed that Pepper Potts carries a torch for Tony Stark whilst seeing daily how Tony is treating women, and that she wants to step down from her executive position after so short a time and after Tony – Tony Stark! – held both it and the Iron Man thing for much longer. And, I mean, she basically did what she usually did, right?

Anonymous said at March 17, 2011 4:16 AM:

I came across this comment on double standards elsewhere, and thought that this was an appropriate place to point it out: If Scarlett's character were a man, and beat 30 women unconscious (instead of a woman beating up men), this movie would have been rated R.

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