The Iron Man movies are fun because of Robert Downey, Jr. He’s a charismatic actor who’s turned Tony Stark into a swishy disco playboy. Downey’s patter is (more or less) retained in this Iron Man 2 novelization, although you get a sense that the author is working from a preliminary script that was later rewritten by script doctors, ad-libbed by actors and edited in the studio. That’s good news for the movie audience, but bad news for the novel reader.
This time around, the villain is a guy named Ivan Vanko. He doesn’t get tagged with his snappy superhero name Whiplash until page 215. Up until that point, the author sticks him with a handful of unimaginative nicknames (Whip Guy (we’re not kidding) being the most popular). The movie, for what it’s worth, never identifies him in any such way. Only comic book readers know Vanko’s Whiplash secret identity. Interestingly (or not), Vanko is more compelling as a sad Soviet sociopath bent on revenge, and less so as a supervillain.
Also in the mix is Natasha Romanoff (the Black Widow), an up-and-coming agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. If we remember correctly, in the comic books she was a super-athletic, high-tech spy from Russia. In this novel she’s Russian, but she’s just a sexy lady with a funny accent. It might have been interesting for Romanoff and Vanko to have one scene together to explore their individual (yet shared) cultural identity. But no such luck. The two never meet. Instead, Romanoff breaks into Vanko’s messy and abandoned workshop, takes one look around, and dismisses him as a tragic doomed hero. “How very Russian,” she concludes.
It’s hard to fault the novel for the movie’s failings. But it’s easy to see where the author stumbles in his adaptation. When Iron Man and Whiplash clash for the first time in Monaco, the writing doesn’t service the events as they happen (that whole football/briefcase thing really didn’t work at all). And later, during the final explosive scene, the pacing seems rushed and the writing is sketchy. All things considered, this is probably not the best book Alexander Irving has ever written. But that’s okay. Iron Man 2 is probably not the best Iron Man movie ever made, either.
[Iron Man 2 / By Alexander Irvine / First Printing: April 2010 / ISBN: 9780446564588]