Title: Iron Man 2
Year of Release: 2010
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Date Viewed: May 26th, 2010
Tony Stark is back and this time he has a larger number of friends and enemies to trade sarcastic quips with. Robert Downey Jr. reprises the title role and delivers another solid performance in a franchise that is still teetering on the edge of greatness and mediocrity.
The previous film ended on a refreshing note where the entire world learns of Stark's true identity as Iron Man. It's a bold break from tradition where the hero must stay under the radar and keep his identity a secret just long enough to save the world. How does this new burden affect Stark's ego? It doesn't. He's as cocky as ever and not even the U.S. army can intimidate him into sharing his heavy-duty armor creations with them. In his own words, he has successfully privatized national defense
But we soon learn that his behavior is just a mask to disguise his true inner turmoil. The special chemistry element that saved Stark's life is now slowly destroying him. He must find a new element or die trying.
To make matters worse, a menace arrives in the form of Ivan Vanko, (Mickey Rourke) a Russian weapons specialist and bird lover that creates an arc reactor of his own. He targets Stark at a public event and causes fear and destruction, resulting in fueling the Army's determination to acquire the resources.
To make matters even more worse, Vanko aligns himself with Stark's rival industrial hotshot Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell as quite possibly the only man more conceited than Stark) to form a dangerous alliance of corruption and destruction. (Hey, that sounds like a great name for a pro wrestling tag team.)
Fortunately, Stark has some old and new friends onboard for the challenge. Gwyneth Paltrow reprises her role as Pepper Potts and Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Colonel James Rhodes, a role that deserves far more character development than what is given. Rounding out the good guys list is Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Scarlet Johannsson as new assistant and undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natalie. If this sounds like a lot of characters, that's because it is. And the film suffers a bit from that type of overload.
Luckily, we have plenty of action scenes to take our mind off that. In fact, the action is much improved over the previous film; offering elaborate brawls to simple brawls to an all-out weapons fest with jaw-dropping visuals. If the Iron Man films were siblings, Iron Man 2 would be the younger more hyperactive one. Aside from some dragging moments within subplots, the action is mainly consistent and should provide enough fun to keep the comic book fans smiling after they leave the theater.
Along with the action, the casting provides the main strengths to this style-over-substance offering. Downey Jr. doesn't miss a beat with his performance. Johannsson provides some nice eye candy and Rourke is surprisingly intimidating in a role that is normally reserved for clumsy big guys.
On the negative side; despite a lot going on, the film feels incomplete. I realize that they're trying to set up for the inevitable Iron Man 3, but a movie should be able to stand on its own in case an unforeseen event should happen that affects production. Some characters and subplots were nearly forgotten by the conclusion. One particular subplot involving Tony Stark's father as the key to his son's survival seemed a bit too convenient; a rushed plot device used to pretend that the film has more depth than is actually there. And must we be reminded every ten seconds that there is a human inside the Iron Man costume? It's annoying to see those cut-away close-ups of Downey and Cheadle during the most exciting scenes. Part of the fun that comes with a superhero film is watching the human disappear while the superhero takes over. It's denied here.
Speaking as a movie fan and not as a comic book fan, a great Iron Man film has yet to be made. What exists are two good films that know their audience and deliver on what they pay for. I guess that's all you can really ask for. Iron Man 2 is recommended for the fans as a worthy follow-up. For those who still haven't boarded the train, you may want to rent a car instead.