Looking back, the summer of 2008 seems like a very different time to that we're living in today. The first Iron Man movie was released pre-recession, before Obama, at the tale end of eight long years of George W Bush. It came out just before The Dark Knight, a film that in comparison looks so serious, pretentious even in its politically aware themes and grave discussion of our decaying morality. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man makes Christian Bale as Batman look like a real bore. The Iron Man movies are rambunctious, playful fun. Even the sequel's very title, plainly Iron Man 2 with no posturing extrapolation, suggests the frivolity of the franchise.
But here we are, in the new age of asceticism, and frivolity is now frowned upon. After we've said all those "yes we cans" can we sit back and passively enjoy a movie that is pure indulgence? Iron Man 2 is hyper entertaining. The problem, however, is only whether you will allow yourself to be that entertained. Any movie can be shaken up enough to make a thesis fall out, but with Iron Man even the most eager for meanings are made reluctant. It's all boys and their big toys going boom, and then boys and their other toys that wear cat suits and swish their hair seductively. It's as indulgent as a Big Mac with a chocolate milkshake and a McFlurry to follow, and about as satisfying. Sure, it will leave you feeling empty long before dinnertime but it's enjoyable if only you'll just let yourself go.
Iron Man 2 is as sharply scripted as the first, and the rapid-fire dialogue delivered in Robert Downey Jr.'s best nonchalant drawl skillfully balances out all of the banging and booming of the action sequences. And, for the most part, they are terrifically exciting action sequences. Mickey Rourke makes a convincing Russian physicist villain, and his appearance with the electric whips on a Monaco racetrack is dramatic. Don Cheadle looks to be having as great a time pretending to be flying through the air in an Iron Man suit, as he would if it were real. This is a movie so busting full of machismo, that it would be sort of unbearable if it weren't for the macho being cut through with camp. Robert Downey Jr. has a rogue-ish Cary Grant-like charm, a gentlemanly countenance perhaps, that takes the edge off. It's something like a superhero movie written by a jovial version of David Mamet.
It's also a superhero movie for those who don't like superhero movies. This is most clear during a scene in which Tony Stark celebrates his birthday drunk and dressed in the Iron Man suit dancing to Daft Punk and shooting champagne bottles flung into the air by skinny blondes. It is hard to imagine this working so well without Downey Jr.
He brings to the usual 2D superhero personality (the troubled father-son relationship and so on) his own identity, his past personas and his public misdemeanors. Of course, by the time The Dark Knight came around Christian Bale had gathered a strange, sinister reputation but it didn't translate - Downey Jr. is able to make Tony Stark's narcissism not just appealing, but admirable. In the new age of asceticism, indulgence like this holds a special thrill.
Iron Man 2
Directed by Jon Favreau
Starring Robert Downey Jr, Mickey Rourke, Don Cheadle