Iron Man the Science Guy

I like my made-up nonsense science as much as the next guy. Tony Stark finding the map to a new element hidden in his father’s Disney-esque Expo plans is the kind of pseudo-scientific soap opera I can get on board with; or rather I would, if it were grounded in something discernibly human. As he spends weeks on end rummaging through his father’s old belongings – among them, a Captain America shield prototype, just so you knew what movie to look out for next – Stark finds a confession from his father that has little bearing on either man’s character in the big picture.

Howard’s secret belief in his son adds a nice texture to Tony Stark’s story, despite the lack thereof never having been set up in the first place. Stark’s problem was never self-doubt, so this reveal is a solution to non-existent problem. Additionally, the discovery of this new element simply happens to coincide with the discovery that Howard was slightly less of a terrible father than originally thought. It only adds lip service to a potentially complex tale of Stark simultaneously discovering his father’s secret love alongside his secret crimes – Howard having had Anton Vanko deported plays even worse in 2018, and his involvement in creating the Atom Bomb doesn’t even come up as it did in the first film. Instead, all we truly learn about Howard Stark is that he helped create S.H.I.E.L.D., an organization whose sole purpose for the first five Marvel films is bridging them together.

Tony Stark being an innovator felt central to the first Iron Man as he began using his technology in a new way, after having a change of heart about his place in the world. In Iron Man 2, Stark’s new innovations are either in service of actions scenes that all feel cut short (the briefcase-suit is admittedly neat), or continuing the work of his dad without contending with his hidden nature as a loving father or as a mass murder in any substantial way. While the film may have a confounding structure – it’s bookended by protagonist and antagonist coming into contact and they have no effect on each other in between – the film’s true failing is its lack of discernible stakes, whether political or personal. Iron Man merely ends up fighting “bigger Iron Man” once again, but unlike Obadiah Stane’s Iron Monger in the first tilm, this bastardization of Stark’s technology represents nothing for the actual characters and what they believe. “Bigger Iron Man” just happens to have whips now.

Course Correction 2.0

Where the first Iron Man’s flaws in ideology allowed for a whole foundation to be built, with characters locked in un-answerable debates about global security for the next decade, Iron Man 2’s failings offered no such stepping stone. The Tony Stark of Iron Man (2008) leads directly into the Tony Stark of The Avengers (2012), with this seeming detour offering little by way of character development despite a strong performance by Robert Downey Jr., though it does plant the seeds for ideas that would eventually find themselves executed properly.

The idea of contending with legacy in this vein forms a central part of Stark’s story (and all the Avengers’ stories) in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Stark’s own views on his mortality come to the forefront in both The Avengers and Iron Man 3, and even this film’s half-baked ideas about private versus public security would go on to form the central focus of Captain America: Civil War. Which is by no means to suggest these seeds were planted intentionally, but Marvel’s major strengths, even in this seeming failure, come through tenfold when you look at them in the context of the bigger picture.

Robert Downey Jr. is an ace at delivering dry quips, but he also shoulders this film’s half-formed ideas of contending with legacy and mortality in ways that allow for the Tony Stark of future films to expand on them without feeling disconnected. As much as Stark watching old home movies of his father has no bearing on how the character changes, it’s in watching the way Robert Downey Jr. internalizes these ideas regardless – in silence, as opposed to his usual joking M.O. – that Marvel’s striking of gold with on-screen talent becomes all the more clear.

Iron Man 2 still arguably belongs at the bottom of the Marvel pile. But even a film that falls apart at almost every turn was unable to hinder the machine that, up until this point, hinged on the star power of Robert Downey Jr. More pertinently, it hinged on the the distinct allure of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, a man who – much like this film itself – remains torn between his lucrative image his place in the world of politics.

Pages: Previous page 1 2

Cool Posts From Around the Web: