On Monday I walked the floor of the Navy League 'Sea, Air, Space' expo, taking in the 'latest and greatest' in the world of defense technology.
Three days later I found myself among the fan-boy legions queueing up to see the 12:01AM screening of Iron Man 2 at Georgetown's riverfront multiplex.
Having seen both the real and fictional side of defense contracting this week, I can tell you that Boeing, Raytheon and Lockheed are getting pretty close to Tony Stark (once again played by the perfectly-cast Robert Downey, Jr.).
In fact, the entire film centers around Tony's public persona and the industrial complex behind his massive ego. In 2008's Iron Man, Tony Stark was a live-fast and die-hard Hugh Hefner for the 21st Century. This time around our hero feels more like the bastard step-child of Steve Jobs and Walt Disney. As Stark wrestles with his own mortality, his concerns have seemingly shifted from defending the world from tyranny born in the hills of Afghanistan to establishing a legacy and rescuing himself from his own outlandish excesses.
Just as our hero finds himself abandoned by those that love him - Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, doing a poor job of replacing Terrence Howard) and his loyal bodyguard Happy Hogan (Director Jon Favreau giving himself way more screen time than the first time around)-- Tony Stark is embraced by his new Marvel family led by perennial bad-ass Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson, taking her first stab at an action role.
If this is all starting to sound like too much emotional development and not enough cool toys - you're right!
What made the first Iron Man special is precisely what the exhibitors at 'Sea, Air, Space' were trying to achieve - 'the WOW factor.' Sadly, I had more gasps of excitement in a convention hall in Maryland than I did watching the Iron Man sequel. Neither Mickey Rourke's exoskeletal electric-whips nor Tony's next-generation luggage (watch the trailer, you'll see what I mean) were particularly impressive in and of themselves.
The demands placed on this film are extraordinary - the fate of the still fledgling Marvel Studios (in partnership with Paramount Pictures) very much depends on Iron Man 2's box office returns. As such, the references to the Marvel universe are constant and desperately lacking in subtlety - Iron Man 2 helps establish the groundwork for the upcoming feature film versions of Captain America, The Avengers and (for the patient, wink wink) Thor. As we approached the film's climax I couldn't help but wish that more attention had been paid to the action on this screen instead of what may appear years down the line.
Iron Man 2 earns three (of five) stars in my book - down two from the original back in 2008.