I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it as long as I need to. If a film-maker is going to make his central character an unlikable, obnoxious idiot, then he needs to provide the viewers with some … well, enjoyable to spend time with. Jon Favreau has exactly that problem with Iron Man 2.
The first film was one of the more enjoyable comic-book adaptations. Centered around a clever performance from Robert-Downey Junior and a neat play on the search for WMD in the Middle East, it even survived the charisma vacuum of Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance to entertain while not insulting intelligence. This sequel take the story forward a while, to a time when the central character is holding himself responsible for world peace. His ego is out of control as his quietly deteriorating health. He has a shock in the form of Mickey Rourke’s eastern European nemesis on the horizon, and the scene is set for a Transformers-style cash of the big metal things.
All that works well, and would be fine if there was someone for us to sympathise and engage with, but there isn’t. Pepper Potts (Paltrow) doesn’t have enough to do to really get noticed, and the always amiable Don Cheadle’s character manages to do something on the surface honourable by being deceptive in favour of the US military. That’s never going to fly too well for many of us.
So it doesn’t quite make sense that the film just about works. It’s only disappointing because I enjoyed the first one so much; there’s enough here to allow you not to notice the lack of sympathetic characters just long enough to sweep you up. It’s only when you stop to notice one little character in the background that you realise how good this could have been if the director had the courage to give that one person more scope. That one person is Jon Favreau himself, in the role of bag man to the company director, playing the dead-pan straight man to perfection. There’s more light and shade in his few minutes of air-time than the rest of the movie put together. Had Favreau been uncharacteristically arrogant enough to give himself more to do, than we really could have had something good here. Instead, you just hope for more next time.