Here is yet another discrepancy from the order of last year’s countdown—and this one probably the boldest. Last year, I was content to follow a simple, preconceived rule: the Marvel One-Shots would populate the last five rungs of the ladder, regardless of whether or not any or all of them may have, on the merits, a good case to be better than one of the television seasons or feature length films. Upon review of last year’s countdown, however, I realized that this was not a good policy. A movie, however short, should not be penalized merely by length or the way in which it is distributed. Would I slight Chris Marker’s La Jetée or Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon because they were short? Absolutely not.
I also re-watched the entire MCU last summer with my wife, just before we moved from Houston, Texas to western Virginia. That experience taught me one thing: despite what anyone else says, I take real umbrage with Iron Man 2.
As I said in my near-identical review of this last year, I have only ever dedicated reviews to movies that I love so far in this blog. To do a review, however short, on a movie that I don’t like is unprecedented. But, that’s the sacrifice one must make if one is to rank the MCU from bottom to top. But, the point of this countdown is to get people to read my blog, not just know that it exists. So, I’ll try to keep it short and to the point.
This is by far the weakest of the MCU feature films. Its biggest strength is that it is longer than 14 minutes long. Otherwise, “The Consultant” alone may have prevented it from the dishonor of last place in Marvel Cinematic Universe . One advantage that the One-Shots have is that if the movie is only between four and fourteen minutes, there is less time for things to get screwed up. Time, unfortunately, was not on the side of Iron Man 2.
About half an hour of that time was spent doing exactly what the MCU has been most criticized for: sacrificing important story elements for Easter Eggs designed to market future projects. It’s the most shaming form of product placement. Not only are they advertising products mid-film, but they are advertising their own products. This product placement crippled what might have been the most compelling story arc in the MCU.
We follow Tony Stark as he grapples not only with the demons he’s created (his only two nemeses to this point have utilized technologies he invented), but also with failing health as the very thing which is keeping him alive—the arc reactor in his chest—is also the very thing that is killing him. Along the way, certain Easter Eggs are thrown in (innocently enough) to give the audience a jolt of excitement: mentions of an “incident” in New Mexico and our first look at Captain America’s shield. Even the introduction of Black Widow was perfectly fine. But, for some reason, the studio didn’t think those innocent and legitimately fun tidbits were enough, so they chose to interrupt the ever-important middle part of the story arc to plug the Avengers Initiative, S.H.I.E.L.D., and Nick Fury with all their glory.
And, while that story arc could have been compelling—and was compelling, for about twenty minutes—it was poorly managed on the script side of things as it gave us a far less enjoyable version of Tony Stark himself. Being faced with these demons is important, but Tony had always been a master of his domain, even in those scenes in the cave in the first Iron Man movie. Seeing him be more of a victim took that important comedic element away from a performance that, two years before, was in the running for an Academy Award nomination.
And, lastly, in my gripes about this mostly weak film, I’ll bring up the bad guy. The biggest weakness of the first movie was that the bad guy, at the end of the day, didn’t live up to all the cool stuff leading up to him. Jeff Bridges is a great actor, but not necessarily a compelling super-villainous robot. You’d think that the writing staff would have learned from the one mistake they made in the first movie, but they didn’t. Instead, they made Whiplash, an even worse adversary for Stark, one with less power, and a far less interesting story.
So, in the end, I’ve got to give Iron Man 2 the lowest score of all the feature-length films. On the bright side though, I still put it ahead of two of the short films, and I have my reason. I choose to give Iron Man 2 the benefit of the doubt over these because, besides all its weaknesses, it still has an attempt at a compelling story. And, at times, that story really pays off. That at least, is something that Thor: The Dark World failed to accomplish.