Iron Man 2 and Character Studies

I finally saw Iron Man 2, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It was not at all what I expected.

Series action movies appear to follow a pattern. The first is the background movie, the movie that establishes the hero or heroine's context. Batman Begins, Iron Man, Spiderman, Die Hard, The Matrix, Pirates of the C, Fellowship of the Rings, Star Wars IV, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Terminator, and Bourne Identity all establish how the main character came to be.

These first movies tend to be tighter than any of the others with strong set-ups and pay-offs. In general, not always, they tend to be the best made (though not always the most interesting).

The second movie falls into one of two categories, being either a movie with bigger guns, bigger suits, bigger action where lots and lots of stuff happens. Or a character study.

In general, I prefer character studies. And a surprising number of sequels to movies in the above list fall into that category.  Spiderman 2 is an exploration of how being a superhero affects Peter Parker's life. Empire Strikes Back is a study of Luke's fears and need to grow in the force. Bourne Supremacy is an exploration of Bourne's desire to understand, and forgive, himself. (I'm skipping The Dark Knight because I just don't know what to make of it.)

And Iron-Man 2 is an unexpected study of Tony Stark's personality. There isn't really a character arc in the sense that Tony changes, but he does come to terms with how much people in his life have tried to help him. The scene with his father (on film) is supremely touching, and Robert Downey, Jr.--like always with Stark--does an excellent job keeping the character consistent (no hugs and tears for this guy) while indicating that he has expanded in self-knowledge (there's a kind of House quality about Stark).

I was very surprised! I had expected big guns, big suits, blah, blah, blah.

Now, there are sequels which fall into the bigger guns, bigger suits, etc. category which do work. The Two Towers (non-extended) is quite a tight little film. Terminator 2 (non-extended) more than adequately continues the story (with a soupcon of character study).

However, despite Hollywood's belief that less doesn't equal more, big guns/big suits/lots of stuff happening sequels tend to be duds. Pirates II is one of the few movies in my entire life that I turned off because I was bored out of my skull. It takes a lot to bore me television/movie-wise (I can always do something else while I'm watching!). The first 45 minutes of Pirates II is shaggy dog story world, only more pointless. Stuff happens to happen. It's tedious.

Likewise, the sequel to Raiders is just a bunch of stuff happening for less than believable reasons.

I would love to say that series which use character studies as their second movie have the best shelf-life, but unfortunately, this isn't true. Star Wars plummeted into abysmality after Empire. Spiderman 3 was a terrible disappointment. On the other hand, Terminator 3, while not one of my favorite films, did hold its own, and the Die Hard series was surprisingly rejuvenated with Live Free or Die Harder

All I can say is, I sure hope Avengers doesn't muck up Iron Man's winning streak. (You hear me, Joss Whedon!)


Mike Cherniske said...

I'm dying to hear what you think of Thor!

Kezia said...

I agree with Mike about Thor!

(For the sake of non-influence, I won't state my opinion here.)

Mike Cherniske said...

speaking of avengers, the trailer is now online.

Kate Woodbury said...

So I saw the preview, and it looks awesome, and I did move Thor up my Netflix queue.

However, you both realize, if I see Thor and love it, I'm going to be ticked that I have to wait 6+ months for Avengers!

Yeah, it's a no-win situation.

Mike Cherniske said...

The up side, whether you like Thor or not, is that Captain America hits DVD in two weeks! Yay!

(erased the first post of this comment 'cause of a typo)

Mike Cherniske said...

I realized that I should probably comment on Iron man 2...

I thought it was ok. The movie had a couple problems, but they were fairly minor.

My biggest complaint is that while we get an idea why killing Tony is so important to the villain, that struggle never really becomes personal to tony.

Also, the film juggles alot, mostly successfully. But ultimately the war Machine Subplot probably could have been dropped.

At the time I saw the film, though it doesn't bug me much now, I was really upset by the Tony/Fury scene at the end of the film.

When Nick says that Tony would be a "consultant" I felt like the studio stopped the film, walked out on stage as said:

"Listen folks... we know you're excited for Avengers, we know you like Iron man. But alot can happen in the next few years, Like actors wanting more money than we want to pay. if that happens, we want you to remember this scene. thank you, and enjoy the last 30 seconds of the film."

Upon which the movie resumes with many, many confused comic fans.

But, the movie aged well for me, and I don't have too many issues with it now. (Downing getting hired for Avengers after all didn't hurt any)