[Editor's Note: I originally wrote this post back on March 8, 2010, questioning whether or not Marvel's lead-in film approach to their epic Avengers project was enhancing their movie universe or hurting it.
Now Iron Man 2 is in theaters, and after seeing some of the split reaction, I feel it's a perfect time to present these concerns again. I've updated the opening paragraphs, the rest appears as originally printed.]
Be sure to read our Iron Man 2 review.
By now you fan boys and girls have almost certainly seen Iron Man 2 and are geeking out over it. I'll be the first to admit: There's enough visual splendor and kick-ass action in the film to get Marvel movie lovers (and even average movie lovers) excited.
So why was I ultimately left feeling uneasy after viewing it?
I'll tell you why: Now that we've pretty much gotten a complete look at what the story of Iron Man 2 entails, I immediately found myself asking myself, "Is The Avengers movie hurting the rest of these Marvel Studios movies?"
Before the fanboy mob can retrieve their pitchforks, barrels of tar and sacks of feathers, I'll quickly explain myself:
Looking at the Iron Man 2 full trailer, the story seems pretty clear: After revealing to the world that he's Iron Man at the end of the first film, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is living it up as a superhero celebrity - that is, until the negative side of that lifestyle rears its ugly head. Aside from the constant demands of the public, Tony is facing pressure from the government to turn over the Iron Man "weapon"; threats from angry evil doers like Ivan Vanko / Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) and rival industrialist Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell); even possible pressure from S.H.I.E.L.D. to step up and be a "company man."
If you really watch the trailer, you'll notice that one of the key pieces of dialogue featured in it was Jim Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) telling Tony that his "lone gunslinger act" is unnecessary and that he doesn't have to go it alone. Hmmm, so that's a central theme of this movie - Tony Stark realizing that he can't be the only super hero on the block? Wonder why the filmmakers chose to go in THAT direction?
Now don't get me wrong: IRON MAN 2 looks like a good movie. The film looks to be yet another success for Marvel Studios and it is ABSOLUTELY going to make boat loads of money at the box office (especially the IMAX screenings).
However, whereas Chris Nolan reached greatness with The Dark Knight by approaching it as its own, standalone movie, my current fear is that at the end of the day, Iron Man 2 - along with Thor and Captain America - will be seen as little more than lead-in stories to The Avengers movie. That label already limits (for me) how great this movie can be in terms of story, since I'll always be left wondering what this sequel could've been if not for the need of some contrived plot points that will better help The Avengers movie get off the ground.
While I'll no doubt enjoy Iron Man 2 (as will most of you), this latest trailer has me feeling fairly certain that I'm in for a set piece to set piece three-act ride that will entail a checklist of pre-Avengers bullet points, which fanboys in the audience will be meticulously checking off.
As for Thor and Captain America? I have a feeling that director Kenneth Branagh will craft the former into a truly awesome standalone epic (save for the third act, which will inevitably bring Thor around to his Avengers fate). However, the fact that the Captain America movie already has the title The First Avenger slapped across it, leaves me with a lot of anxiety that it could be the most contrived and shallowly plotted film in this "lead-in" bunch. And I don't want Cap's story to come across that way at all; wouldn't foreign audiences have a great joke to tell if the movie about 'America's superhero' came off as a hokey advertisement for a bigger, better movie?
Queue the snarky review headlines...
I don't know, maybe I'm off the mark with all this... Anyone else feeling this trepidation or am I about to get slapped around in the comment section? Guess we'll find out.
Iron Man 2 (The Avengers prequel) is now in theaters.