After the success of Jon Favreau’s (Swingers) Iron Man film in 2008, everyone was itching to see the sequel; as he managed to take a character that many people were not only not fussed on seeing, but figured would be extremely hard to adapt to film in a manner that would interest general filmgoers and not just comic book fans, and fun and exciting film, with a lot of comedy and a good deal of spectacle, that everyone could enjoy; and now, two years on, Iron Man 2 has just been released.
It picks up right where the first movie left off; with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes) having announced to the world that he is in fact, the superhero, Iron Man, which unsurprisingly leads to a whole number of journalists questions, and the United States government asking him to turn over the rather impressive, almost invulnerable, flying, weapons suit that enables him to stop wars in a matter of a few minutes.
Needless to say Tony is more than a little reluctant to hand over his technology (which is tied to the miniature ‘arc reactor’ that has been implanted in his chest, and has kept him alive ever since some terrorists’ shrapnel found it way towards his heart), as he is rather proud of the fact that he has “effectively privatized world peace”, and tells a government court (after hacking into their systems, on live TV) that it will be at least five years before anyone else could possibly develop a similarly capable technology, with the ability to rival his.
This however isn’t the case, as over in Russia, a man named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler) manages to develop a similar, ‘arc’ type, energy device, and his own weapon, with which he aims to humiliate and destroy the life and legacy of Mr. Stark; all whilst government agencies are attempting to take the Iron Man suit from Stark, he is combatting his own death (as his own miniature chest ‘arc’ is failing to sustain him), government employees are stopping at nothing to create rival technologies, his company is in disarray, and not only is he being asked to join a super secret network of superheroes (mentioned in a post-credits scene with Samuel L. Jackson starring as Nick Fury, at the end of the first movie), but is being attacked from all sides, and letting his life fall apart as he struggles to cope with his deteriorating condition.
The plot generally plays out like most other comic book sequels; after defining the origin story, and introducing the superhero to the world, in the first movie, he then comes back in the second, thinking he is all but invulnerable, and meets somebody who’s easily capable of matching him in terms of ability, and ends up battling a number of personal issues along the way (in this case, company problems, and facing a slow and agonizing death); but has some major differences in the fact that the world at large knows just who Tony Stark is (so he’s not having to hide his identity), and that this film incorporates more superheroes (albeit usually in smaller parts or simple, and subtle, references), as well as a number of other problems; it’s not only Ivan who could destroy Iron Man, but other officials, such as the government trying to take his suits away, or Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell, Moon), Stark’s newest business rival, and a man that is rushing to develop a newer, and better, suit that would aim to make Iron Man obsolete.
Another way in which this film differs from the average comic book movie, is in that Iron Man, is not always the central character; in films like X-Men it isn’t always as black and white, but with Superman, or Batman, the audience basically spends the majority of the time that Clark Kent, or Bruce Wayne, is on screen, waiting for them to disappear, and for Superman or Batman to arrive, as they are the real stars of the show; here Tony Stark is just as important, if not more so, that the actual Iron Man, as he’s not only much more interesting and fun, but the tremendously, overly cocky, eccentric manner in which he is played by Robert Downey Jr. makes him so endearing and like-able as a character, that it is often more worthwhile seeing him; plus, it’s not only more realistic that he would spend more time out of the suit than actually in it, but it makes sense, and provides for a much more engaging narrative, when the personal struggles of this genius, billionaire, playboy, are able to be seen up close, and not from behind a metal mask.
As always, Robert Downey Jr.’s eccentric nature shines through, and his performance as Tony Stark/Iron Man shows as a real piece of casting perfection, which is complimented exceptionally well by the majority of the supporting cast; which includes Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko (a role he slips into fairly well, and does a decent job of giving a Russian accent, although the role didn’t necessarily need someone with such a high star quality; especially seen as how his vendetta against Stark wasn’t the film’s sole focus, and the fact that it was the best performance he has given), Gwyneth Paltrow (Se7en) as Pepper Potts, Stark’s assistant, closest friend, and love interest (a role that seems tailor made for her, as she literally becomes Miss Pott’s, blending into her character seamlessly, and always seeming convincingly worried about Tony, and generally stressed, but never becoming annoying).
Don Cheadle (Ocean’s 11) makes his appearance as Stark’s best friend and confidante, Lieutenant Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes, but is slightly less endearing than Terrance Howard (whom he replaced in the role, despite the fact that Howard says he enjoyed playing the role in the first film, and that he was originally contracted to appear in the sequel), and slightly less believable as Stark’s friend; as he seems much less enabling than Howard was in the first film, but nevertheless plays an important role, and pulls it off well; effectively making the character his own, and not simply trying to imitate the performance given by Howard in the last movie.
Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) also reprises his role as Nick Fury (which he will be doing in several other Marvel films in the next few years), and is as good as always, but the two other most notable new inclusions to the series include Scarlett Johansson (The Other Boleyn Girl) as the anti-hero Black Widow; a part the she fits into well, buts seems a little unnecessary, as there is already plenty going on without needing to add her in (it appears like she’s mainly in the picture for a bit of eye candy; as evident by the skin-tight black catsuit, and office cleavage); and Sam Rockwell (who was actually considered for the role of Tony Stark in the first film) as Justin Hammer; another exceedingly eccentric physicist who is the perfect villainous counterpart to Stark’s happy-go-lucky businessman-come-scientist, and played exceptionally well.
Overall Iron Man 2 was a thoroughly enjoyable film; it’s true that the actual Iron Man isn’t in all that many scenes, but honestly he isn’t really needed, because there is more than enough going on with the rest of the story to warrant watching the film in its entirety, the plot may be a little generic, but works well for the Iron Man world and is still pretty engaging, and all of the actors fit into their roles extremely well (with Downey giving a performance that is easily on par with his stellar work from the first film), making a film that is totally entertaining through and through.
Many critics have criticized this film for the lack of actual Iron Man scenes, and generic feeling of the plot, but in truth Iron Man 2 is every bit as good as the first film; with the action and effects proving too be just as visually stunning as they were first time around (although seen as how this film had an extra $60 million in the budget they should do), the comedy being just as good, and lasting all the way through, with the well written relationships and outlandish (but strangely believable, in this context) plot working very well, and the setup for the next movie being almost as strong as it was last time; the only problem is that the ending doesn’t quite meet the same standard (but then how could you possibly top “I am Iron Man”?).
As far as comic book movies go, Iron Man 2 is one of the best, and manages to create a fantastically real, hyper-reality, that is always fun to watch, and should continue to be so for several movies (as long as the current standard is adhered to). Anyone who enjoyed the first film is sure to get something out of seeing this one, and should see it as soon as possible. The only thing hampering this film’s performance, is the fact that expectations have been raised so high since the last film proved to be such an unexpected hit, but fans can rejoice in the fact that everyone from Favreau to Downey, Paltrow to Rourke, and Cheadle to Rockwell, have done a fantastic job in creating a comic book film that is more than pure effects laden spectacle, and actually tells a fun and exciting story that is, for once, worth watching.
As an added note, comic fans will be rewarded for watching with several subtle comic book references (have a look for a doozy when Tony attempts to make his own, new, element) that have been included, and a post-credits scene that is guaranteed to make any comic book nerd drool.