Hey, remember that big superhero movie we covered, like, a year ago?
Jon Favreau’s sequel to his 2008 smash hit gets a bit of a bad rap. Sure, it makes some questionable decisions– many apparently the result of a rushed schedule and studio meddling to “build the universe”– but it doesn’t deserve its fanboy scorn as the black sheep of Marvel’s Phase One films. It’s quite entertaining and even improves on some of its predeccsor’s shortcomings.
One of those improvements is action. While the novelty is indeed gone, there are places that Iron Man 2 delivers where Iron Man didn’t. Let’s see if we can’t whip up a few examples.
1) Iron Man vs Whiplash
- Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, our returning hero. In the time since the first film he has “privatized peace” by effectively serving as a deterrent to tyrants, terrorists and other geopolitical bad actors. (This sounds unlikely.) Meanwhile, he’s been secretly dying of radiation poisoning from the miniature arc reactor that saved his life, and has been acting increasingly reckless as a result. Played by the one and only Robert Downey Jr.
- Armed with: Here, the Iron Man Mark V armor, a new variant of the suit which can be folded up into a briefcase– likely a reference to the comics equivalent which Tony often carried around, disassembled, in a briefcase. It’s also distinguished by silver coloring rather than gold, and a thinner, more stripped-down appearance. Presumably the armor sacrifices some features for its portability– we never see Tony fly in it, for instance– but that’s not explored.
- Ivan Vanko, the film’s main villain and a twisted, Russian version of Tony. Vanko is an incredibly muscled, taciturn and brilliant scientist whose recently deceased father was a former colleague of Tony’s dad, and feels he was cheated out of his share of the Stark fortune. Working off stolen blueprints, Vanko builds his own arc reactor, and tracks Tony down for revenge. The character is a combination of the comic villains Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo, though he isn’t called by either name in the movie. Played by Mickey Rourke, enjoying his career revival.
- Armed with: Unlike Tony, Vanko didn’t have the resources to make a fully-functioning titanium suit, so his arc reactor merely supports a thin exoskeleton and powers two highly charged whips he holds in each hand. The whips have incredible destructive capability, able to slice through just about anything and even deflect Iron Man’s repulsor beams.
The Setup: Part of Tony’s thrill-seeking behavior has led him to participate in an F1 race in Monaco. (One would think driving a fast car would be a little underwhelming after you’ve worn a suit of advanced armor that not only goes faster but also FLIES and blows up bad guys, but okay.) It’s here that Vanko has decided to make his very public, and likely suicidal, attack on Stark.
The villain has infiltrated the proceedings dressed as a mechanic, but as Tony’s car comes around the corner where he’s chosen the confrontation to be, Vanko opts for the direct route, and marches right onto the track. In a neat little detail, as he activates the arc reactor, the machinery it powers heats up enough to burn through his jumpsuit.
Vanko whips one approaching car in half, and does the same thing to Tony’s shortly after, causing a magnificent wreck that leaves him mostly unscathed. Still, he’s at a distinct disadvantage.
The Fight: Once he frees himself from the car, Stark has to rely on pretty much just his wits to survive against a superior opponent. He disappears from Vanko’s sight when he can, he lures Vanko into sparking an explosion in some loose gasoline, he flings some car wreckage at him, and he employs some surprising agility when those whips get too close.
Fortunately for him, Tony’s bodyguard Happy Hogan shows up and rams an SUV into Crazy Ivan, pinning him against a wall. Before Tony can get in to escape, Vanko comes to and attacks the vehicle, preventing the trio (Pepper’s along too, of course) from getting away. Fortunately for Happy and Pepper, Tony is able to find enough time to get the briefcase and don the Mark V armor, which unfolds automatically over his body and evens the odds.
The fight seems like it’s going to take a turn for the better here, but oddly, it doesn’t. Iron Man does kick the car to safety, but every blast he fires at Vanko, the villain parries with well-timed swings of his whips. Immediately after that, Ivan is able to wrap Tony up in his whips and fling him around a bit. The pulsing electricity from the weapon damages Stark’s armor somewhat, making him falter and his viewscreen flicker.
Down but not out, Iron Man decides to use the whips’ now-stationary (because they’re holding him down) position to his advantage, and seizes one by the hand.
Pulling himself forward one step at a time, Stark gets to Ivan pretty quickly, and subdues him with a few punches. When he falls, the hero leans in and plucks the bootleg arc reactor right off his chest, neutralizing him for good.
Iron Man and the other good guys are all more or less okay, but Ivan gets the last laugh as police drag him off, telling Tony “you lose!” repeatedly. Because while the villain had indeed wanted to follow through with killing Stark here, he already accomplished his baseline goal: proving very publicly that Iron Man is not invincible, and the technology to make him can be replicated.
Not a bad opening bit of action, though it’s unfortunate the movie takes so long to get to it. Despite being over quickly it includes some variety: Tony in the car, Tony struggling outside of it without his armor, the comedically tense bits as Happy distracts Vanko, and then finally Tony’s frantic struggle even after he gets the suit on. Once Iron Man finally gets to lay a hand on his foe, it’s pretty much over, but then of course it would be: Vanko’s apparatus provides him no real defense. In a way this is what the confrontation between Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus should have been like, logically.
Also, note that in contrast to the first film’s first big action sequence, Tony Stark experiences not an empowering moment as he frees himself from captivity, but an upsetting & humbling one as he gets knocked from his arrogant perch. Origin movies build the hero up, sequels gotta bring him down.
Recommended Links: Mood music.
Coming Attractions: Think you’ve had some regrettable fights when you need to rein in your drunken buddy?