You've probably heard by now that Iron Man 2 is nearly as much fun as Iron Man was (read my review here for more on that), and that a huge reason to enjoy the movie is Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as Tony Stark, the wittiest superhero and the one you'd most like to grab a beer with. While director Jon Favreau has spent the last two films getting America to fall for a superhero they'd never even heard of before, he's also created a lot of problems with Tony Stark's character that are only going to get worse as the franchise goes forward. If you think it's totally awesome that Tony spends half this movie ignoring everyone, or that Whiplash can't hold a candle to Iron Man's strength, you don't have your eye on the future.
Presuming that there will be an Iron Man 3, and presuming that Tony Stark will play a huge role in 2012's Avengers film, I see five problems with Tony Stark's character that need to be fixed immediately if either of these films are going to succeed. It's nothing to do with the fundamentals of the character-- I'm not suggesting he move out of his Malibu pad or ditch all the gadgets-- but with the way the two Iron Man films have developed him, and where I see the films taking him in the future. Read below for the five things I think have to change about Tony Stark and the people around him before he takes off on his next adventure.
The villains are never as good as Iron Man
Jeff Bridges wasn't up to the task in the first film, and even the combined force of Sam Rockwell's wit and Mickey Rourke's crazy wasn't enough to take the spotlight away from Tony Stark in the sequel. Fact of the matter is, Robert Downey Jr.'s charm combined with Iron Man's gadgetry makes for a lead character who's basically untouchable, and who could demolish a whole rogue's gallery of villains with a flick of a switch on his armor and a pithy insult. Only making the problem worse is that Favreau is so enamored with the character that he can't help but diminishing everyone around him. Next time try pulling a Chris Nolan and create a villain who outdoes the hero in every respect-- maybe it'll wipe that smirk off Tony Stark's face. Speaking of which...
Tony's character hasn't grown in two films
Halfway through Iron Man playboy Tony Stark became a crusading superhero, as he realized that he had the duty to use the suit as more than just his own plaything. He rescued children in remote Afghan villages and staved off an international arms race, proving himself to be more than just the loutish son of a brilliant inventor. But in Iron Man 2, we find him right where he started last time, drinking too much, taking outlandish risks, and assuming the love of everyone he meets whether he deserves it or not. Nearly three quarters of the film go by before he realizes that's a bad thing, and still the only thing that spurs Iron Man into action in the new film is a rivalry over business contracts, not any noble cause. At the end of two films Tony Stark is still as shallow and vain as ever, without nearly the kind of good intentions or sense of sacrifice that other superheroes at least consider. This Tony Stark is fun and all, but unless we see the character grow even an inch of depth, he's going to become like that guy who was fun at frat parties, but who you eventually outgrew.
The filmmakers don't really seem to want him to be with Pepper
The one person in Tony's life who demands he do any growing up is the ever-reliable Pepper Potts, who is promoted to Stark Industries CEO in Iron Man 2 but still spends much of her time making sure Tony doesn't ruin everything. Their flirtation is far more rushed and limited than it was in the first film, and when they finally reach a climactic clinch in the end, it feels more like a script demand than anything the characters really wanted. But the other reason it feels so weird is that, well, the filmmakers seem to like Tony better when he's not listening to Pepper. All his best lines, his funniest moments, his flashiest gizmos come at Pepper's disapproval, and while we don't want him to just be sleeping with an unending line of skanks, Tony is the ultimate playboy for a reason: he's good at it. There are ways to make us root for Tony and Pepper to find true love together, but rushing into it at the end of the new movie wasn't the way to do it. Their relationship is going to require a little development and a whole lot more fun in the next installment.
Metal guys fighting metal guys just aren't that interesting
In both Iron Man movies the filmmakers have operated under the assumption that the person who hopes to defeat Iron Man will have to do so in a giant metal suit, whether it's Obadiah Stane in his Iron Man knockoff or Rhodey stepping into the War Machine armor to get Tony off his drunken binge. But the moment they all pull down their faceplates and get down to the action, the same problem arises: metal machines clanking against each other aren't nearly as fun to watch as actual humans doing battle. It's the same problem that plagues the Transformers films, which is why Sam Witwicky is always somewhere on the fringe when Optimus Prime throws down. At the end of Iron Man 2, at the same time Iron Man and War Machine are teaming up to fight robots, Scarlett Johnansson's Black Widow, an actual human, is dispatching bad guys left and right in a hallway; you won't believe that her fight is the more interesting one, but it's true. Favreau and Downey Jr. have worked together to make Tony Stark's personality come out when he's wearing the suit, but they still haven't managed to make the fight sequences feel like they matter.
Tony has no reason to want to join The Avengers
This might only be a problem for the upcoming Avengers movie, but given how hard Iron Man 2 leans on Tony's association with the rest of the Marvel universe, I worry that Iron Man 3 might have even more of it. Throughout the new film Nick Fury and his secret spy are evaluating how fit Tony Stark would be to join their elite superhero team, and at the end, he fails. And why wouldn't he? His ego is huge, he doesn't play well with others, and, as we've mentioned, when he's inside his super suit no one else can come near him. As depicted in the films Tony Stark really has everything he could want-- why would he want to deal with cranky Nick Fury and all those other do-gooder superheroes? At the end of Iron Man 2 it seems that's exactly what Tony wants, though, and Iron Man 3 or The Avengers-- whichever comes first, I guess-- will have to cover a lot of ground to figure out why he joins the team after all.