Iron Man 2 reviewed

It’s been two years since Iron Man, based on the Marvel Comics character, was released. A blast of fresh air among comic-to-film adaptations, Iron Man was marvellous fun, proving superheroes didn’t need to wallow in angst and self-pity. Iron Man’s alter ego Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) wasn’t pretending to be an irresponsible billionaire playboy. He genuinely was one.

Also enjoyable about the first Iron Man was that for all the mouth-watering, futuristic technology it presented – essential for turning powerless Tony Stark into a superhero – the film remained gratifyingly grounded in reality. Well, mostly. The central issue in the film was one that we’re all familiar with: in politically unstable nations, advanced weaponry ends up in the hands of terrorists due to greed on the part of unethical arms manufacturers and dealers. Audiences happily rallied behind Iron Man because he was a man of action, single-handedly sorting out the world’s conflicts while governments sat on their hands, just talking.

Iron Man 2 takes place six months after the events of the first film, with Tony Stark having successfully “privatised world peace.” As a result, with this issue resolved, Iron Man 2 is forced to stick to typical, tired comic book subject matter to drive its storyline. So this time around Tony Stark learns the dangers of revealing his secret identity, has to examine the complicated relationship between himself and his father *yawn*, and he discovers there is no shame in accepting the help of others when it comes to saving the world. Iron Man doesn’t need to do it all alone, especially when he is falling apart physically, and mentally, as a result of poisoning from the arc reactor in his chest.

Iron Man 2 deserves a solid three out of five stars, but frankly the novelty, coolness factor and cocky charm of the first film has worn off a bit, leaving patches of the new film dull and talky. In terms of what does work in the film, standout moments include the Monaco Grand Prix sequence, with Stark using a portable Iron Man suit, and the debut of heavily armoured War Machine (Don Cheadle replacing Terrance Howard as Lt. Colonel James Rhodes), the US military’s own Iron Man. The entire final battle is also vastly superior to the cheesy monologuing climax of the first movie.

In terms of characters and performances, there remains satisfying chemistry between Tony Stark and his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). This said, their best scene from the trailer – “You complete me” – is absent from the theatrical cut of the film, and there could have been more screen time devoted to their flirting, which rides on the back of some very amusing verbal exchanges.

Iron Man 2 has a very bloated cast, with the result being limited screen time for a lot of the new characters. Scarlett Johansson, as Stark’s secretive new assistant, doesn’t have too much to do but she does have a fantastic combat style that is thrilling to watch, and credible for a woman to pull off against much bigger male opponents. Cheadle is fine as the new Rhodey although Terrance Howard’s innate cockiness in the first film seemed better suited to the character. Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke certainly looks impressive as Whiplash, a tattooed and grimy Ivan Vanko, although his two big battles are disappointingly abrupt despite their extended build-ups.

There are a number of nice touches in Iron Man 2. For comic lovers, Captain America’s shield makes a cameo appearance and a brief post-credits sequence provides a tantalising hint of Thor’s presence in the world. And although Tony Stark doesn’t give into full-blown alcoholism there’s a scene highly reminiscent of the famous “Demon in a Bottle” comic storyline that many Iron Man fans have been waiting to see depicted onscreen.

For more casual viewers, it’s interesting to see Tony Stark’s father, Howard portrayed as an industrialist Walt Disney – and he’s played by Mad Men’s John Slattery. There’s also an enjoyable Steve Jobs-Bill Gates style rivalry between Stark and competing weapons developer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), with Hammer trying too hard to be a showman like Stark, but coming off as highly obnoxious. Curiously, there are at least three pointless, and very unfunny, scenes of Hammer harassing Ivan Vanko about his pet cockatoo.

What direction the Iron Man film franchise will take now remains to be seen. Although the movie stands as a solo Iron Man tale, by its conclusion, it feels like more of a set-up for an Avengers adaptation. Then again, this isn’t perhaps a bad move because as the first Iron Man sequel proves, there actually isn’t much more that can be done with the character of Tony Stark without things becoming samey. After all, no matter how tasty and easily digestible a meal is, people will quickly lose interest when they’ve been served it several times in a row.


Craig said…
Catching this one on Friday, so looking forward to its comic book geekery! :)
Pfangirl said…
I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the film next week, Craig. I totally agreed with your review of Date Night!
Tim said…
Your review's spot on - though my biggest annoyance from the film is the way Stark's "cure" breaks all pretense at scientific reality and rational thought. A friend compared that bit to National Treasure (not a compliment).
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Terrance said…
I think it was a good move to focus on the emergence of the Avengers in the film simply because as you put it there's not much room for development of the Iron Man character without rehashing old ground.

That said, I loved the way they focussed a bit more on Stark's character flaws and struggle to be both Tony Stark and Iron Man.
Pfangirl said…
Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Tim, I really disliked the "new element" segment as well. It was just too far fetched that the perfect solution to Tony's problem has been waiting for him in that obscure format. I mean it pushed the limits even of puzzle adventure games where solutions can have very tenuous links.

Terrance, I must say I was happy that they brought in Tony Stark's self-destructive behaviour for the second film. It really gave some much needed depth to the character.

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