by Rob DiCristino
Film culture is a funny thing. Like any artistic community, there are trends and fads that come and go. Norms are dictated by group consensus, and dissenters are often forced to take shelter in smaller sub-groups and offshoots. Before long, we end up resentfully gatekeeping entry to a community that was supposed to be formed out of collective love. We get cynical and defensive. And, since art is evaluated both in the context of its creation and the context of its examination (in other words, the subjective point of view of the examiner), our opinions often harden and congeal without significant re-examination. When the occasional re-examination does occur, we get the familiar “That Movie We All Hated in 2002 is Actually Good” thinkpiece. This is not one of those pieces. There’s little point in arguing over whether or not 2010’s Iron Man 2 is Actually Good. The issues you had with it then haven’t changed. However, a fair re-examination reveals the beginnings of an emotional journey that culminates with Avengers: Endgame nearly a decade later.
But this revelation did not fundamentally change who Tony Stark was. That would be way too easy. Instead, the opening of Iron Man 2 finds Stark learning all the wrong lessons from his increased notoriety. Spectacularly introduced by Iron Man and his team of dancers, the Stark Expo is (to quote Pepper Potts) a garish publicity stunt which, when coupled with Stark’s defiant testimony to Congress (“I have successfully privatized world peace!”), proves that the would-be hero is still a boy in search of affirmation. Worse yet, we discover that his irresponsible behavior (driving his own race car, getting drunk in his armor) is part of an existential concession toward the inevitable: the radiation from the reactor in his chest is slowly poisoning him to death. It’s a powerful metaphor: This version of Iron Man — a half measure that’s still as selfish, egotistical, and narrow-minded as Stark himself — is literally killing him. Too sick to do any real good (and too proud to tell his friends about his condition), he appoints Pepper as his successor and resolves to go out as aimless and uninspired as he began.