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.
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:
— Corey P. (@InkSlinger9) June 12, 2013
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.
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.
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.
A 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.