Marvel and the Iron Man Conondrum

Posted on 11 May 2010 by Quaid

I really wanted to see the first midnight screening of Iron Man 2. Instead, I held off so I could go see the movie with the rest of the ChopShop crew.

In waiting that 20 hours or so, though, something happened. The Iron Man buzz began to ooze into my life. Everywhere I turned, online and in newspapers and on TV, someone somewhere had something to say about Iron Man 2…and a lot of it was negative.

I was starting to get disheartened when the final blow came. A friend of mine who’d seen the movie started letting little plot details slip. Things that screamed Spider-Man 3. And just like that, my anticipation of the film was killed.

Imagine my surprise, then, to walk out of the theater that night with a pretty decent smile plastered on my face. Iron Man 2 was a fun movie. It was deeply flawed and nowhere near as engaging as the first film, but it was a blast. And it had both Tony Stark and Iron Man doing their respective schtick with gusto.

I’ll avoid making this an all-out review of the film. I’ll just quickly say that things like (SPOILERS!) the Iron Man drunk fight and Roger Sterling’s appearance as Tony’s father via 16mm film (ala the Superman films) bugged me, but not nearly as much as I thought they would. Because it’s big, goofy fun, and the “the suit is killing you” storyline made a lot of these things make more sense than they should have. I mean, there’s nothing positive I can say about the DaVinci Code puzzle-solving map scene, but it was a brief moment in the movie that gave us a great site gag. So let’s let it go (END SPOILERS…for now).

No, all those details can be overlooked. I think whether or not you like Iron Man 2 comes down to whether or not you’re willing to roll with Marvel’s way of doing things. If you’re into it, you’re happy. If you’re not, then this might feel like Spider-Man 3 all over again.

Where DC is committed to creating stand-alone universes for its superheroes (and Batman seems to be the only one really working these days), Marvel is all about creating a cogent and consistent comic-book world on film. Until the release of Iron Man 2, I don’t think I really had a good appreciation for how far Marvel was going to go with this concept.

I mean, it’s one thing to create multiple standalone franchises that co-mingle slightly. That’s what I thought was going to happen. And until the Avengers movie, I assumed these properties would remain mostly separate.

Iron Man 2 shows that Marvel looks at these movies as individual comic book entries in one long series. Instead of this being a stand-alone film about Tony Stark fighting a villain, it’s an excuse for Marvel to throw around large doses of Nick Fury, set up future villains and relationships, introduce key future characters and hint at the other franchises rolling down the pipeline.

What this means is that the main thrust of the story…Tony Stark fighting Whiplash, a man who feels wronged by the Starks and will stop at nothing to destroy their empire, kind of gets relegated to a side plot. Instead we focus on Tony’s sickness, the creation of War Machine, Nick Fury’s attempts to bring Tony under the Avengers’ umbrella and the introduction of Justin Hammer and Black Widow.

This is what people mean when they say the movie has too much going on. They’re right, but not in the way they were right about Spider-Man 3. That film was excess for the sake of it–a self-serving “everything but the kitchen sink” movie that hoped it could throw in more villains and bad plot points until SOMETHING resonated with the audience.

Iron Man 2 complicates its structure in the hope that audiences will understand that this movie really isn’t supposed to be a stand-alone. It’s one entry into a vast and expansive comic series, and you’re meant to be left chomping at the bit to see what happens next week…not just to these characters or regarding this plot line, but to the whole universe in which this is contained.

And I just kind of threw my hands up in the air and went with it. Because it’s something that’s never been done, and I’m all about Hollywood trying something new. The first Iron Man movie served to set up this character, and it did its job perfectly. This second movie really exists for the sole purpose of drawing the character into a larger world. It does that perfectly, as well.

If you aren’t into that, then I’d suggest you stick with DC. Because I have a feeling it’s going to get more complicated before it gets simpler. You see, The Avengers isn’t going to be the standalone crossover movie I thought it was going to be. No, it will be a true sequel set up by all the material in the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America franchises. And I’m sure there will be some give and take IF those other franchises continue afterward.

I, for one, am in for the ride. If there was ever a time to let ones self be a geek, let go of all cynicism and just go with the ride, I think this is the time.

Plus Scarlett Johansson is super hot. So it’s got that going for it.

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