Director: Jon Favreau
Two years ago the summer couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. Iron Man came out of nowhere and defied expectations, a critical darling fully embraced by general audiences and nearly every comic book nerd out there. The second time around? Don’t expect the same results.
Iron Man 2 is, in many ways, underwhelming and a bit of disappointment. Does that mean it’s bad? Of course not. It’s actually quite entertaining and still fun. But wasn’t the first Iron Man a bit more than that? Was it just “dumb” fun? To many people, it wasn’t. This sequel falls into that camp plenty of times. It’s a disjointed mess that ultimately ends up working despite plenty of shortcomings.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is still the same old playboy partying superhero we love. This time, however, he’s Iron Man and the world knows it. Not that he’s not enjoying the fame, drinking up the spotlight. All is well for Mr. Stark – that is until he has to deal with the Russian Ivan Valko (Mickey Rourke) who, with the assistance of Tony Stark-wannabe Justin Hammer (played with the right quantities of slime and scum by Sam Rockwell), plans to avenge his father by taking down the Stark legacy. To top it off, the palladium core in Tony’s chest is killing him, the U.S. Government wants the Iron Man suit and Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes is conflicted as to where his allegiances stand.
In short, it’s too much, suffering slightly from Spider-Man 3 syndrome i.e. overstuffed plot points resulting in a somewhat shallow experience. When it doesn’t rush we’re rewarded with a meandering second act. When it first kicks off you only feel excitement. For the first act everything is running smoothly from the pacing to even the first action beat– the race track sequence sets the bar high. After that, it goes down hill. The film hits a road block to the point where very little happens. The stakes are high but you never truly feel them. Tony is being hit from every direction and yet he never comes off as if he’s actually in danger. Like many hero oriented films, it buckles under the issue of preconceptions.
While the first film was obviously treading familiar territory, it still managed to feel fresh and new. Where else have we seen a hero with a persona like Tony Stark? We haven’t. While he’s still an eccentric that stands out, the film itself doesn’t. What makes this different than most superhero films? Very little. It follows the standard formula. It doesn’t take many chances and goes exactly where you expect it to go. After watching this you don’t feel excited for Iron Man 3, but for both Captain America and Thor. That’s because those are superhero films with characters that’ll feel fresh since it’ll visit places the superhero genre hasn’t been to yet. They’ll be the opposite of this.
Speaking of Thor and Captain America, it must be said that all of the Easter eggs scattered throughout add another layer of enjoyment to the film, feeling natural and never distracting. That said, it’s easy to argue that everything that deals with and hints at The Avengers feels a bit unnecessary. In the grand scheme of Marvel’s future, yes, it’s needed but for the basic story at hand, it isn’t. It’s nothing really, just sidetracking.
Plenty of people will go in wanting to see Iron Man in action doing what he does best (kicking ass) and director Jon Favreau handles the action much better this time around. Every action beat is distinct, fun and, most importantly, actually adds to the story. Learning from the mistake that was the original Iron Man climax, Favreau fixes that. Kind of. While the final battle does feel a tad anti-climatic, at least it actually makes sense. All the action is handled well (another beat possibly could have helped the second act though). Coincidentally, the best fight scene actually features Favreau himself. His “Happy” Hogan surprisingly isn’t a distraction this time around and he has something to do.
Rockwell and Rourke make for an impressive pairing. Rourke is over-the-top in a likable way and Rockwell gives another performance to remind people how great he is. They’re both good and a bit underused, but have enough moments to leave a lasting impression. It must be said though Rourke is wasted during the second act but still manages to make for a menacing villain– except for his opening scene where he yells up at the camera a la Wolverine/Darth Vader. Ridiculous is the best way to describe him (his tactics in the final battle are a bit hilarious). His main weapon for the most part is a computer. It’s a bit similar to how a dam in X2 came off as the biggest threat at the end.
It’s not even necessary to mention that Downey still makes for a fantastic Tony Stark. He’s still quick witted, slimy and yet also completely charming. Him and Gwyneth Paltrow still make for an excellent duo. As for the Rhodey character, while Terrence Howard was underwritten in the first film, at least he made Rhodey actually come off as a believable and long time friend of Tony’s. His replacement, the usually excellent Don Cheadle, is similarly shortchanged and doesn’t seem to fit in as Rhodey. He never comes off as a long time friend like Howard. He’s fine, but it’s disappointing that Howard wasn’t given the chance to return.
While most of this sounds a bit more on the negative side, it’s difficult to deny that Iron Man 2 is another success for Marvel Studios. They’re three-for-three right now (with The Incredible Hulk in between). Unfortunately, this isn’t the surpassing the original sequel that it should’ve been. Instead, it’s merely just another summer movie that doesn’t really standout but merely entertains.
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