REVIEW: Iron Man 2

Two years after Iron Man got his big screen debut he’s back in a sequel that was all but inevitable. Luckily enough, this is one of those sequels that we actually wanted to see. And after seeing it once, I think I’ll be seeing it a few more times in the future.

As with the first Iron Man, the real attraction here is Robert Downey Jr’s delightfully amusing portrayal of eccentric billionaire/genius Tony Stark. RDJ fits into the role beautifully, probably more easily than he fit into the Iron Man armor itself. The witty sarcasm and playboy inventor personality shine through just as prominently here as they did in the original, but are at times overshadowed by a mid-life crisis of sorts. After storing a miniature arc reactor in his chest for a while, some rather dangerous side effects begin to show themselves, which drive Tony into an escalated state of alcoholism, as if his current abuses weren’t quite enough. His somewhat narcissistic personality is also somewhat enhanced from the first movie, which could be good or bad depending on what you thought of it at the time. When you get right down to it, it’s the same old Tony. Even though he might behave in a bit more of an exaggerated manner than he did before, you realize that these kinds of antics were in fact always present in his character, though they were initially lingering just barely below the surface.

Right from the start, Iron Man 2 does a pretty good job of getting you excited about what’s to come. From the opening scene of Iron Man leaping from a cargo plane through a bombardment of fireworks to the tune of AC/DC’s “Shoot to Thrill” you get the impression that the people behind this movie were just as pumped to make it as we were to watch it. The first hour or so of the movie is probably the best. From the aforementioned awesome introduction sequence through a delightfully amusing government meeting which attempts to acquire the rights to build the Iron Man suit. The movie really shines in these scenes, showcasing Tony Stark’s self-glorifying and flippant personality to the fullest. They even manage to lampshade the fact that the character of Lt. Colonel Rhodes is portrayed by Don Cheadle instead of Terrance Howard who played the role in the first movie. These more light-hearted segments formed what I considered to be the best parts of the movie.

Sadly, it is once the real meat of the plot is set into motion that the movie starts to lose steam. The film’s advertised antagonist of Ivan Vanko (a combination of Iron Man enemies the Crimson Dynamo and Whiplash) doesn’t really do a whole lot to serve as a compelling villain. Mickey Rourke does a decent enough job as the half-criminal half-physicist Russian villain, it’s just that his motivation of “kill Iron Man because his dad was mean to my dad” doesn’t really draw you in all that much. Beyond that, both times that Vanko actually confronts Iron Man, he gets beaten in the space of about two minutes. Now granted, the first one of these fight sequences is actually pretty entertaining thanks to the haphazard rescue attempt by Tony’s staff of Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts, but it’s over so quickly that we’re not allowed to consider Vanko’s character as much of a threat to Iron Man in a combat encounter.

So, to compensate for this somewhat lackluster villain, we’re given another one. Rival weapons connoisseur Justin Hammer serves as a contemporary for Tony Stark and is depicted as one of the biggest advocates for Iron Man-style weaponry to be developed in bulk for the US Military. Hammer’s character is meant to be a foil of sorts, showing what a Tony Stark character would be like if he didn’t have the same moral fiber that Stark developed over the course of the first movie. Their personalities are meant to be comparable, with Hammer attempting to present the same sarcastic witticism as the protagonist. However while Tony Stark comes off as likably quirky, I found Hammer’s character to be an annoying jackass, almost (but not quite) venturing across the line that divides clear antagonist from frustratingly obnoxious actor. Though admittedly, Hammer does deliver more than a few funny lines of dialogue that make up for it all.

With the bad guys introduced, the rest of the movie essentially boils down to the pride-induced attempts of Vanko and Hammer to dethrone Iron Man and the angst-fest that is Tony Stark’s life. The somewhat awkward chemistry that existed between Tony and his assistant Pepper Potts (as portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow) appears to have diminished somewhat, instead presenting their relationship (or lack thereof) more akin to squabbling siblings as opposed to the restrained love interest dynamic they displayed in the first film. On top of his difficulties with Pepper, Tony also trades blows (literally) with his best friend Lt. Cololonel Rhodes, which is displayed in a hyper-destructive fight scene involving two of the Iron Man suits. This is a fun sequence because it not only shows the extent to which Tony has lost control, but also offers us the first look at Rhodes as War Machine, which was lovingly hinted at in the first movie.

Attempts to get Stark back in the game are led by S.H.I.E.L.D., the organization that was named in the first film. At the forefront of this attempt is S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, who is played by Samuel L. Jackson. Now, if you’re like me then pretty much any appearance by Sammy is enough to instantly boost a movie’s fun factor, and that remains true here. Even though Jackson looks to be teetering on the edge of boredom in some scenes, his dry but forceful character does his job well, and seeing as how the Marvel Ultimate version of Nick Fury is in turn based off of Mr. Jackson it’s a good bit of fanservice.

This is cool, but if they throw in John Travolta as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s HR Director
then I’d say the joke’s gone far enough.

Aiding Fury (sort of) is the secret-agent persona of Black Widow, or Natalia Romanova, or Natalie Rushman, or Natalia Romanoff; seriously, this woman has so many names and so many identities that her entire character starts to feel a lot like the plot of Pirates of the Caribbean 3. First she’s a member of Stark Industries, then she’s an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., then she’s a ju-jitsu artist in black spandex, then she’s a Stark Industries employee again, and for all I know by this point she could even be a Cylon. Now, I realize that the lack of clear direction for her character was probably meant to shroud her in mystery like the femme fatales of old; but all it really does is needlessly complicate the plot. You get the strong feeling that she’s there only to serve as fanservice and to provide an unnecessary point of sexual tension for Tony Stark, as if he needed any more. And besides that, Scarlett Johansson doesn’t really play the character with a lot of feeling: she just looks kind of awkward throughout the whole thing, looking like she has even less of an idea of what she’s doing than we do.

Fortunately, despite the plot losing a lot of steam and direction we’re ultimately provided with what most of us were looking for when we walked into the theater: some kick-ass explosions. Most of the final battle sequence (as with all the other battle sequences) is done in CG, but what do you expect? He’s in a flying robot suit, after all, and if we could make those in the real world I’d be out renting one for a weekend instead of watching movies. Luckily, the special effects were handled by Industrial Light and Magic, meaning that you know they’re going to be of high quality. The high-speed aerial battle that tears through urban sprawl and the back-to-back, buddy-cop style battle with Iron Man and War Machine against a small army of Hammer Drones are both satisfying to watch, as most things that involve robots, miniguns, and exploding vehicles are. Unfortunately this segment is actually more enjoyable than the “climactic” final battle with Ivan Vanko, who has now donned a giant suit of armor to accompany his lightsaber-inspired whips. It really makes you wonder as a friend of mine pointed out: do you think Iron Man will ever get to fight somebody that isn’t just a bigger version of his own suit? Maybe we’ll find out when Iron Man 3 rolls around.

When you get right down to it, Iron Man 2 is not a great film. It’s not even as good as the first Iron Man movie. But it is a lot of fun. If you liked the first Iron Man movie, then you’ll certainly enjoy this one. If you didn’t like the first movie, then go back and watch it again until you get your head on straight and you start liking it. Then once you’ve done that, go on out and watch this one, it’s probably the first summer blockbuster of this year and it provides you with more than enough entertainment to make it worth it. Plus, if you’re at all familiar with the Marvel universe there’s more than a few good bits of fanservice that should get you excited about the upcoming Avengers movie, as if knowing that it’ll be directed by Joss Whedon wasn’t enough to get you excited in the first place. In short: Iron Man 2 is a good time, and it’s worth going to see it in the theater… so long as you don’t try to buy any food there.

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