Jon Favreau's Iron Man 2
Here's the link to the published version of the review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
Iron Man 2 (2010)
The long-awaited sequel to 2008's mega-blockbuster has finally arrived, and with it, everyone's favorite narcissist-turned-humanitarian Tony Stark. The debate has already begun as to whether or not "Iron Man 2" lives up to its predecessor, or perhaps even surpasses it. Admittedly, I was not a huge fan of the first film, though I did enjoy it overall, so I would have to say that I fall into the second group.
The sequel picks up not long after the first film ends. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is enjoying his new-found fame as a superhero. Using his powerful Iron Man suit, he has brought about a new world peace that is threatened when a Russian scientist, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), decides to take his revenge on Tony for something Tony's father did to his father in the past.
Complicating things is the government's demand that Tony turn over his Iron Man suits to them. Tony continually refuses to do so, claiming that they are not really weapons and that they are his own property. On top of that, there’s also Tony’s business rival, a weapons expert named Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who wants to make his own version of the Iron Man suit. After Ivan fails to kill Tony using similar technology, Justin decides that a partnership with Ivan would be best in order for both of them to get what they want.
Going back to the original film for a minute, there were a couple of overarching problems that the film had that stopped it from being a great film. First off, the beginning section where Tony is captured by terrorists failed to really build up any suspense and merely left the audience to wait for him to escape. Its other main problem was its villain, played by Jeff Bridges, who, while a magnificent actor, never comes off as threatening in the least.
The sequel tries to fix these problems. First, it cuts out a lot of the exposition, and since the origin side of the story is already done, this film is allowed to get to the main story much faster. It still uses up a little too much time with Tony gallivanting around, but it at least starts one of the subplots during this section where we discover that the very device that is keeping Tony alive is actually slowly killing him.
For this film, to make sure they got the villain right, they brought in two incredible actors. Mickey Rourke, who sadly only gets to grunt his dialogue, plays the menacing Ivan Vanko, while Sam Rockwell, who's not exactly menacing, is a kind of secondary villain. Both of them have what the other wants, and both think they can use the other to get it. Ultimately, they have a similar goal: to knock Tony Stark down a peg. Well, in Ivan's case, it's a little more than that.
What had made the original worth seeing overall was the great performance from Robert Downey Jr., who fits the role perfectly because he is able to play a narcissist so convincingly. Even after he reveals himself to be Iron Man and brings about world peace, his other side still comes through loud and clear. Gwyneth Paltrow also returns as Pepper Potts. Her chemistry with Downey Jr. was something else that made the original worth seeing, and it is continued on into the sequel.
Aside from the performances, the sequel seemed to have a lot more humor to it, which was a pleasant surprise. I found myself laughing a lot more than I had during the first film. While this was a surprise, the film's ending goes down a very similar road that the original had, making it mostly predictable. What had been kind of dull about the original's climactic battle scene was that it was simply two machines pounding on each other. The sequel tries to outdo it by having several machines trying to kill the hero, which doesn't really solve the problem, but at least they try to mix it up a bit by involving other characters like Rhodes (Don Cheadle), a good friend of Tony's, as well as a couple of agents who work for SHIELD, a top secret organization.
Speaking of SHIELD, Samuel L. Jackson returns as Nick Fury, who, if you remember from the original, showed up at the very end to discuss the "Avenger Initiative." The film drops a few hints that it's leading to something: The appearance of Nick Fury, a mysterious shield in Tony's laboratory that you may have noticed in the first film, and an ending that is left somewhat open. Apparently, Iron Man is supposed to be in the new "Avengers" movie, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if there was another "Iron Man" film.
Many people will probably not find this one up to par with the fun of the original, but personally, I ended up having more fun with this movie, so while I gave the original a mild recommendation, I can give this one a slightly stronger one. It has some good performances as well as enough story and action to satisfy the fans. If the filmmakers fix the problems of the first and third acts and improve upon this film like they did the first, then the third could be quite something. 3/4 stars.
I ultimately like "Iron Man 2" (***1/2 outta 5 stars)better than the debut film for reasons unbeknownst? (Don Cheadle and Sam Rockwell?) The original film "Iron Man" was a better drafted effort overall IMO. (****1/2 outta 5 stars)
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