When did we begin demanding so much from our comic book movies? I think one of the major complaints when books are adapted for the big screen is that they aren’t always faithful to the source material. But because so many comic books — especially the ones they’ve been turning into movies lately — are so unrealistic, when they are faithfully adapted we see them as over the top. Even The Dark Knight, which is probably the best comic book ever made, couldn’t help from doing this when Batman started using that weird dolphin-vision sonar weapon toward the end.
The Dark Knight is actually a good movie to compare Iron Man to. Sonar vision aside, The Dark Knight is probably the grittiest, most realistic (think real-world) portrayal of a superhero we’ve seen on film. Iron Man doesn’t live up to that level of realism, although it’s still a very, very good movie. So which one do we want? Would we rather have realistic, believable characters who could fit into the real world, or would we rather they were faithful to the comic books, over the top though they may be? Are the two mutually exclusive? Do we even need to choose between the two? Given the success of both The Dark Knight and Iron Man, probably not.
Still, after seeing clips of Tony Stark and his crazy briefcase armor and Minority Report computers, I tried to temper my expectations for the second film. Because the first one was so good, I didn’t think there was really any way Iron Man 2 could match it. And you know what? It didn’t. But it came really, really close. I don’t know if it was because the movie is really trying to advance the Avengers part of the Iron Man story, but such a large cast and so many big characters could really have screwed this thing up (Don’t believe me? Go watch Spiderman 3).
But the cast really worked in the movie’s favor, and looking back on it, almost gave us two movies at once. Sure, there are plenty of bad guys for Iron Man to fight, but at the same time Tony Stark is forced to confront the fact that his egotism may preclude him from joining Nick Fury’s team, although most would argue that the point is ultimately lost on him. But you don’t really realize how much movie you’ve just watched until the whole thing is over.
And again, Robert Downey Jr. steals the show. Seriously, can you imagine anyone else in this role? I have a feeling that if Tony Stark were a real person, we’d all be amazed by his iron men, but we’d all call him an asshole behind his back. Mostly because he was rich and slept with all of our girlfriends. But we’d still hang out with him, you know…if he ever wanted to hang. Anyway, the only real weak spot in the movie was Scarlett Johansson, and that’s only when compared to everyone else. I don’t know, there was just something a little boxy about her that I don’t usually see in her other films. But wait. What was that? She’s Scarlett Johansson? You make an interesting point. All is forgiven.
Many of you probably know that Nick Fury makes another appearance in the film. Actually, Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of the S.H.I.E.L.D. director is a perfect example of how a realistic depiction of the man can help overcome the character’s sometimes-unbelievable superhero trappings. When he popped up at the end of the first movie and said, “I’d like to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative,” I saw visions of Mace Windu all over again (the horror). With more than ten seconds to work with, he was able to flesh the character out a little bit. I was surprised at how much he sounded like Jules Winfield, and I can guarantee that if Iron Man had been given an R rating, we would have heard an f-bomb or ten.
There are a few things keeping Iron Man 2 from being as good as the first film. For one, I think the filmmakers were a little too eager to introduce War Machine into the mix, and the entire thing ends up feelings a bit shoehorned. Although I will say that I much prefer Don Cheadle to Terrance Howard. Also, for a movie in which Mickey Rourke is clearly the bad guy, I thought he really got short shrift there in the end. In all fairness, there was a lot there to make up for it, including Sam Rockwell — who in a bold move for an actor has foregone making bad films — and Scarlett Johannson in a catsuit.
While almost everyone will probably come out of this movie thinking that the first one was better, I think most of those people are going to be very happy with what director Jon Favreau has given us, and with Thor and Captain America on the horizon, we’ll only look forward to Iron Man 3 (not to mention The Avengers) with more and more anticipation. Oh, yeah. Whatever you do, stay after the credits.