Sequels have a habit of running into trouble in terms of creativity or attaining the same level of enjoyment among the audience. Did the followup to the wildly successful Iron Man live up to expectations? Find out after the jump.
The ball keeps on rolling in Iron Man 2 as the story progressively moves forward with every element that made the first movie great intact. Aside from a few minor setbacks, the movie is a worthy follow-up to the 2008 hit movie.
Iron Man 2 kicks off with an introduction of the latest villain Ivan Vanko (played by Mickey Rourke). After the death of his father, he decides to seek revenge on Tony Stark because the Stark family has screwed over his father. After the title credits pop up, the action takes place six months after the events of the first film with Tony Stark facing multiple problems of his own ever since he revealed to the world that he is Iron Man. The government is trying to pit Stark into a corner since they want to use his technology in the military. Stark’s rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) is also nipping at his heels because he wants a piece of the action. On top of all that, Tony is facing his own demons with daddy issues. The palladium in his chest that is keeping him alive is also poisoning him, which leads to series of erratic behaviour which is a PR nightmare for his recently promoted CEO of Stark Industries Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Stark’s best friend Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle) is back in the fold. There was a nice subtle joke at the beginning to explain his sudden change in appearance (Terrence Howard was let go from the sequel due to contract issues). A sequel won’t be a sequel without more cast additions, so in comes Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman, Stark’s new paralegal staff member who is actually secretly working for S.H.I.E.L.D. under the supervision of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
Proving that he’s not a one trick pony, writer Justin Theroux created a smart, slick script filled with great one-liners in this movie. His mostly solid script matches the sharp quips with the charisma of the talented cast in the movie. The minor romantic subplot between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts also provided many opportunities for quirky dialogue to go back and forth between Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow. There was definite chemistry there, but the back and forth between those two really made it seem like they were a bantering married couple. The sleek dialogue was also nicely demonstrated in a scene when the characters just arrived in Monaco for the Grand Prix. The encounter between Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer was quite the entertaining scene as the two alpha males take jabs at one another.
Once again Downey proves that he was made to play Iron Man/Tony Stark. He plays the character with ease and he does make a narcissistic character likeable. He even carries the film through the slightly slower parts of the movie. Don Cheadle, as Lt. Col. James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes, brings more intensity to the role. Unlike the original Iron Man film, this Rhodey doesn’t let Tony step all over him and nor does he try to break the rules to side with his buddy. As many would like to put it, he was definitely more ‘badass’. Sam Rockwell nearly steals the show with his stand-out performance as Justin Hammer. He definitely serves as a nice foil to Downey Jr.’s Stark. He brought in levity in certain key comedic moments and plenty of intensity during the more serious scenes. While Scarlett Johansson didn’t really contribute much, she struts through the film in various stages of dress and undress, which is clearly the best thing out there for the male fans.
Director Jon Favreau delivers a film that will keep you hooked and chuckling with consistency. His comedic timing is once again top notch. His use of the quick paced camera style to highlight Stark’s hectic crazy lifestyle was a nice touch to the film. While his behind the camera work was good, his beefed up role in the film was also a nice addition to the movie. As a comedic guy, he certainly helped provide a few additional laughs in the movie.
Unlike the first film, though, this runs out of steam a little towards the end (despite a running time that is only about 2 minutes longer than the original film). The final battle between the good guys – Iron Man and War Machine and Whiplash was a bit disappointing. While it was a nice throwback to an earlier sequence in the movie, it felt somewhat anticlimactic and lacked the excitement and intensity of the other action sequences in the film.
In fact, the highlight action sequence took place 20 minutes into the film during the first Iron Man/Whiplash encounter. Set mid-way through the Monaco Grand Prix, Rourke’s lumbering form steps into the stream of speeding F1s and tears the place apart. As his electrified whips begin to pound against the tarmac, inching closer and closer to a scattered, dazed Tony Stark, you can really feel that sense of urgency and apparent doom. There was so much excitement and tension in that sequence that it set the bar pretty high for the remainder of the film.
Many Hollywood sequels out there are in search of their heart (see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). There is a possibility that this was unintentional but perhaps it was a cheeky attempt by Favreau and Theroux to comment on the state of sequels in the movie industry via this movie’s plot (Stark’s search of a new element to keep his heart going). If the latter happens to be true, this film is perhaps better than what it appears to be right now. This storyline also conveniently helped build towards another subplot about legacy. The appearance of Howard Stark (Jim Slattery) didn’t quite get the tear ducts going, but it did add some depth into the movie to prevent it from turning into a hollow shell.
Iron Man 2 is a bigger, clunkier and louder than the original film. It is also stockholder-friendly studio profit-centre initiative. At times it seems as though the creative outlet of Jon Favreau and Justin Theroux were somewhat limited by the men in suits back at Marvel because they want to use this film to launch the next series of big budget comic book adaptations. While it was nice to see the repeat appearance of Captain America’s shield or the nifty Easter Egg after the credits, it felt like it detracted the movie from a certain main focus. Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash didn’t have quite enough screentime and there wasn’t enough time devoted to his big revenge story. As a result, Whiplash just felt like a one off villain from an episode of a Saturday morning cartoon. That being said, Mickey Rourke’s performance was still good, but he just didn’t have enough material to work with. Despite Marvel’s overarching agenda putting a small dent into the movie, Iron Man 2 is a solid sequel and retains the entertainment factor of the first film.
Iron Man 2 never expects any of us to take the movie too seriously. The endless explosions and mass chaos are bound to affect or kill many innocent civilians. However the film doesn’t try to be grounded into reality and convinces the audience to just simply roll with it and have a good time. It certainly did do that successfully.
Rating: ★★★☆☆ + 1/2