Directed by Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow
Summer blockbuster season has officially kicked off with one of the most anticipated releases of the year – Iron Man 2. The first Iron Man was a surprise hit of 2008, it resurrected Robert Downey Jr.’s career and even made AC/DC cool again. Taking a different tact to The Dark Knight, it kept the tone light and went down a storm with critics and fans alike. Two years later, we have the sequel.
The story picks up six months after events of the first film; Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is trying adjust after revealing his secret identity to the world. Waiting in the wings, however, is Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) intent on avenging his family after an apparent double-cross with Stark Industries. He has help along the way in the form of Stark’s main competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).
Even though Iron Man 2 is ultimately entertaining, it does fall short of the original. The main problem is not with the cast or action scenes; there is just no natural progression to the characters. Plus the screenplay cannot control its multiple story lines.
The first forty minutes are breezy, funny and often outstanding; Downey Jr. coasts along with his elegant charm and brilliantly delivered one-liners. He and Gwyneth Paltrow display the same great chemistry they showed first time around.
Then we have the film’s best action sequence at a Monte Carlo race track with Iron Man pitted against Vanko, aka Whiplash, and his cybernetic binds. Despite being previously unknown as an action director, Jon Favreau has certainly improved. Scenes are clearly shot and he demonstrates real skill in blending live action and CGI. The frantic final battle sequence involving War Machine and an entire Iron Man army is really impressive. Fan boys will be salivating in their seats.
Costume design by Mary Zophres is top notch. There are plenty of eye candy designer threads, especially for Stark, Hammer and Pepper Potts. The Iron Man suit itself is improved, slimmer with a lot fancier weaponry. Coupled with the aforementioned War Machine, this is comic book pornography.
Some new cast additions are appreciated. Sam Rockwell (once considered for the lead role) shows why he is consistently one of the most watchable actors around. He oozes slimy appeal implementing Hammer’s devious plans; he actually wants to be Tony Stark. It provides a real dynamic between the two, particularly during the courtroom scene which is admittedly stolen by Garry Shandling.
Mickey Rourke is terrific as Vanko. However he is short changed on story – his journey should have been the most compelling in the film. Scarlett Johansson has never been sexier as Natalie Rushman, aka Black Widow, although her character mainly just dispatches bad guys while dressed in a catsuit. On second thoughts, maybe that was the point?
Replacing Terrance Howard, Don Cheadle does commendable work as Lt. Col. ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes, but there is little chemistry between him and Stark. This is frustrating because their relationship was the backbone of the original.
There eventually comes a point when the plot focus shifts to Tony Stark, yet this is not as fluid as it should be. Also the film is hurt by long stretches of uninteresting expositional dialogue. Although salvaged by that climactic battle sequence, you might wish they had spent longer getting the words right first.
Less fun than Iron Man and it has serious pacing issues. Nevertheless you will be entertained by Downey Jr.’s easy charisma and some fantastic bursts of action. A satisfactory start to the summer blockbuster season.
© 2010 – 2012, Ben McCarthy.