Iron Man 2: A Cinematic Snafu

A Brief History
Last week, my friend and fellow blogger/twitterer/film geek Aubrey Hansen made it known that, having enjoyed the first Iron Man film, she was preparing to watch the second. That’s right: the deservedly infamous Iron Man 2.

I like to think that I’m a good friend; at least, I try to be. So in the interest of saving two hours of her life, I immediately fired a warning tweet across her bow. It went something like this: “Noooooooooooooooooooo!” 

Alas, she watched it anyway (apparently unimpressed with my Skywalker-style caution). Not only that, she actually gave it thumbs up. A minor debate erupted in our corner of the Twitterverse, with several other friends jumping in just for the heck of it. One thing led to another, and then Aubrey wrote a post about it (read here).

This is my response.

iron-man-2-50452aff47687

The Point of Debate
But first a note: this is all in good fun. I’m not out to “get” Aubrey, and I don’t think she’s out to “get” me, and this isn’t an issue which is somehow threatening our friendship (well, maybe). We might butt heads, but we’re grinning while we do it. I wrote this response for the very simple reason that I enjoy a good debate – even a not-so-serious one.

So. Let’s get on with it.

I have several problems with Iron Man 2 – the schizophrenic screenwriting, the lack of a moral core – but my biggest problem lies with Ivan Venko (aka “Whiplash”), the villain unExtraordinaire of Tony’s second outing. My challenge to Aubrey ran thusly:

After reading Aubrey’s response, I sense she and I are at least in the same book, if not on the same page. She admits that Mr. Venko’s backstory is not only hokey, but virtually non-existent; that the revenge motif is embarrassingly weak. On this we agree. We only differ in that Aubrey is willing to forgive and overlook, and I am not.

Expectations
To be clear: I am not a snoot who thinks every movie has to be The Godfather in order to be enjoyed and appreciated. I like junk food as much as the next guy. I won’t make a diet of such films, but I can have fun with something like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and not feel guilty in the slightest.

However.

When I sit down to watch a film like Iron Man 2, I’m not just looking for some fun. I’m looking for a good story. I’m looking for a good cast of characters. Presumption on my part? I think not. Marvel has long since established itself as a solid storyteller, despite the occasional misstep. Whenever I approach a Marvel movie, I do so with the expectation of biting into something more substantial than cotton fluff. Cotton fluff is all that Iron Man 2 can justly claim to be. And “Whiplash” is one of the biggest reasons why.

doop1A Missed Opportunity
It didn’t have to be that way. With a solid backstory, and more screen time, “Whiplash” could have been a very good very bad bad guy. As it is – how shall I put this? – he sucks. Without a solid backstory, his motivations are vague, and vague motivations are never very compelling. Does he put on a good show? Perhaps. But all the eye-candy begins to lose its appeal when you remember we still don’t know much about why this guy is so intent on raising hell. And without the why, it’s hard to care about the what.

Face it, Marvel. You really dropped the ball with “Whiplash”. Even the actor who played him (Mickey Rourke) agrees with me there.

It may be responded that Iron Man 2 is about Tony Stark, not his nemesis; an unhelpful assertion, to say the least. It gets us nowhere. Without a proper foil for our hero – a villain whose villainy is sufficiently villainous to pose a real threat – all the “emotion and drama of Tony’s journey” means diddly-squat. Zero, zip, zilch. Why should I bloody care that he’s mastered another miscreant when said miscreant was never very scary to begin with? Am I really to believe there’s something “super” about that?

Pardon me while I step over this speed bump and call it long jumping.

Style, Imperfections, and What Should Have Been Done
Now, to answer directly a few of the points Aubrey raised.

I. “Yeah, I’m blatantly ignoring a weak story in favor of the flashy visuals. Maybe I’m cheap, but don’t tell me you don’t do the same thing.”

I try not to, actually. But again, this is largely a matter of expectations. When I watch Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I expect it to be a style-over-substance affair, and I am not disappointed when it is just that. But as I have said, I expect more than style from a Marvel film. I expect substance. Iron Man 2 does not deliver in that regard, which is why I find it so terribly disappointing.

II. “Can you honestly say that all of your favorite movies are perfect? That the story is completely flawless? That there are absolutely no holes, no weak spots, and no concessions?”

No sane person would ever make such a claim. The Perfect Movie does not exist. Saving Private Ryan is my all-time favorite, and I will be the first to tell you that it has flaws. The issue here is not whether a film has flaws, but rather how big those flaws are. And Iron Man 2 has some whoppers – Ivan Venko being one of them.

III. “But frankly we’re not talking about what ‘should have been done’ here.”

Yes we are. We are talking about exactly that. Seventy-five percent of film criticism involves the consideration of what “should have been done”. Can Iron Man 2 be rewritten? No. The damage is done. But it can be criticized. Harshly.

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17 thoughts on “Iron Man 2: A Cinematic Snafu”

        1. A whole post? I can do it in a comment –

          I agree with Aubrey in that you can appreciate the character and the story even though it may be shallow and flawed in places, and I agree with Corey that if the villain had a better backstory and had been developed more, the plot would have been stronger and the character more intriguing.

          So – if I’m feeling critical, I can tear this movie to shreds and call it pathetic, but if I’m feeling generous, I can use my own imagination for the villain’s backstory and call it worthwhile.

          The fence is rather comfortable. ;)

          1. You do know that people who don’t choose sides are disliked by both parties, right? ;) I jest, I jest…

            So what you’re really saying is that you agree with me when you’re feeling curmudgeonly, and you agree with Aubrey when you’re feeling generous. Amiright?

          2. I’d count being disliked by an Aubrey and a Corey almost an honour. ;)

            And yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. :D

  1. Very well written. I don’t have an opinion, however, as I have not seen it. (And am probably not planning to… from some advice from a certain blog that I am commenting on…) ;D

    I hope you both are edified by discussing this.

        1. Did you not say we might butt heads? I, however, am to ladylike to do something so base as butting heads. I prefer to distract you with a smile and stab you with a knife. ;)

  2. *claps politely* Very well done, sir. I had been looking forward to your reply, and your post was well-written and enjoyable to read, as always.

    Although I must say I feel mortally pressured to return fire–the way you wrote this made it sound like you expected the debate to continue. :D Perhaps I shall write a post on enjoying flawed movies… I have a few thoughts to say on that.

    Ultimately, though, it comes down to a matter of personal opinion, as is usually the case with movies. As you said, we largely agree that Ivan is a poorly done villain. What we disagree on is whether or not that ruins the movie. For me, it doesn’t, and no amount of discussing what “should have been done” will change that. I am all for discussing what “should have been done” for our own instruction, but ultimately I still enjoy the movie for my own possibly illogical reasons. And I’m afraid, sir, that even your excellent debate skills cannot take that from me. ;)

    1. :) No worries, I’m not expecting the debate to continue. I just thought it would be cool for the two of us to flesh out our opinions. We have, and I’m cool with that, so we can move on to other things.

      You should write that post on enjoying flawed movies; I think I’d largely agree with you. Every movie is flawed to some extent, so it often depends on what you’re willing to put up with. If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll never be able to enjoy any movie. If, on the other extreme, you have no taste, you’ll soon find yourself wallowing in slop and being unable to distinguish between good and bad filmmaking. I like to strike a balance between the two, and I suspect you do, too. :)

      1. Ahh! So what else do we disagree on that we can write blog posts about? *grins* ;)

        Perhaps I shall, then. And yes, as a matter of principle I would agree with you. In that, if someone were to ask me what the balance was, that would be my intelligent answer. However, when one is actually watching movies there are other factors that play into it… :)

  3. Now, now children. :)

    I suppose I’ll have to actually watch the movie before I agree with either of you. Though I suspect I’ll be like bushmaid. I do love fences. :)

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