Iron Man 2 (Jon Favreau, 2010)
Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), a billionaire businessman involved in weapons research and manufacturing, his secretary-slash-CEO Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and her foxy assistant Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) arrive at an upscale Montecarlo bar. In between the hustle and bustle of waiters doing their job, of wealthy types socializing, of journalists rumormongering, Tony and Pepper go about a continuous banter on some things and nothings while Natalie disappears into the vibrant crowd. The couple walks towards the bar where Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Tony's business rival, is animatedly conversing with a journalist, who upon being introduced to Tony by the forcedly courteous Justin, shifts her attention to the newcomer much to Justin's well-hidden chagrin. The rather talkative sequence stretches up to the moment Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian scientist whose personal vendetta with Tony has something to do with stolen patents and intellectual property, appears, apparently to wreak havoc.
Before thinking that the described sequence belongs to one of the Robert Altman-inspired commentaries on the dehumanizing repercussions of big business and the celebrity that results out of it, it must be clarified that the scene belongs to the sequel to the 2008 screen adaptation of one of Marvel Comics' most unwieldy superheroes. Iron Man 2, unlike its predecessor which delivered precisely the pure and unadulterated entertainment it promised, is a conundrum. While it is evidently still a superhero movie, it often indulges in these perfunctory scenes of endless chatter between its characters. These scenes are not indispensable either to plot or spectacle. In fact, apart from the fact that they insubstantially detail the extent of the characters' quirks and personalities (Tony, as an egotistical jerk; Pepper, as a hypertensive worrywart; etc.), these scenes predominantly stall the picture, resulting in what feels like an alienatingly imbalanced and possibly incoherent blockbuster. It is safe to say that the sequel will not be as well-loved as its very successful predecessor.
Jon Favreau, who identifies Altman as one of his creative influences, may have been patterned Iron Man 2 after Popeye (1980), one of Altman's most underrated works, released by Paramount and Disney as a children's film but unassumingly possesses a bit of an irreverent angle, with themes and observations that seem unlikely in Max Fleischer's comic masterpiece. Iron Man 2 is similarly awkward, sold as the much-awaited continuation of the Iron Man saga but is actually more mumblecore, with its characters more often seen blabbering than fighting, than special effects extravaganza. The mumble, unfortunately, is empty, more like an attempt at banal humor or a soundtrack to the noises and explosions than a wellspring of wisdom. While Downey and Paltrow showcase the type of chemistry that would have worked in a screwball comedy, and Rockwell inhabits his character's corporate exploitativeness with remarkable ease, their verbose banters only produce kneejerk pleasures that can easily get tiring.
The action scenes, which are very few and far apart, are mostly flat and unsatisfying, just a cornucopia of expensive eye-candy mixed with middling stunts. Moreover, that most of the action only involves men inside metal armors fighting robots enunciate the inconsequence of the battles, given that sweat, blood, or pain are practically eliminated.
Back to Popeye. At least Altman's film looks and feels like a pariah in its genre, which is probably why it was not received well when it was released or it has been taking decades for it to be taken seriously. Iron Man 2, on the other hand, has the indisputable sheen of a Hollywood merchandise and the lousy aftertaste, especially with all the irrelevant teasers to the future superhero movies in the Marvel Films assembly line, of an overdone genre. It has themes of seeming relevance in the current world scenario, like that of war, the greed that it invites, and a host of other things, is more of an echo of a trend among comic book films to have pertinent messages to escape the stigma of these films being only for kids than anything else.
That said and in all honestly, half of me admires the audacity of Favreau to indulge in atypical talkativeness in a special effects-laden picture that will always sell whether or not it has anything intelligent or logical to say. The other half wishes that Favreau had done more than just blankly emulate Altman.
(Cross-published on Twitch.)