Review: Iron Man 2
PLOT: Billionaire superhero Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is back, and this time, he has to contend with a billionaire competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who recruits a Russian psychopath/inventor named Ivan Venko (Mickey Rourke) to develop a new line of armored suits designed to make Iron Man both obsolete, and dead.
IRON MAN 2 is nowhere near the film the first IRON MAN was. It's certainly a step above some of the crappy would-be blockbusters we got last year (WOLVERINE & TERMINATOR: SALVATION), but it's a total letdown considering what a fun ride the first film ended up being.
For the most part, I tend to enjoy superhero movies, but only when they tell a good story. I'm not a hardcore comic guy, but I appreciate the modern-day mythology with superheroes, and at their best (BATMAN BEGINS & THE DARK KNIGHT, IRON MAN, X2, KICK-ASS) they can be tough to beat. The problem with IRON MAN 2 is that it doesn't feel like IRON MAN 2 at all, but rather IRON MAN 1.5. So much time is spent on exposition or recreating stuff from the first film (Scenes of Tony working in a lab? Check. Cute assistant robot? Check. Wacky Downey antics? Check...), that little time is spent on upping the ante, which is what a good sequel should do, right?
The villains are cardboard and weak, with Rockwell being funny (he has a nice riff on the TAXI DRIVER gun dealer scene with Rhodey), but not the least bit threatening, and Rourke being one-note to the extreme. Never for one second are you going to feel that IRON MAN is in any danger, and both feel like henchmen lacking a major villain to pull their strings. They only exist to provide the film with a few action scenes, nothing more.
Which leads me to another problem- there's too little action! Seriously folks, there's two action scenes-with one being the admittedly impressive race track action scene near the beginning, and the second being the over-the-top CGI fest that is the last twenty minutes. There's also a nifty, comical action scene involving War Machine about halfway through the film, but that doesn't really count. The last twenty minutes of this film are a beat by beat copy of the last twenty minutes of the first IRON MAN, with Stark once again facing off with a suited nemesis, but this time, he gets some help from War Machine. This means we get two invincible heroes taking on one villain (who's even been single-handedly defeated by Stark earlier in the film). The result: a completely tension-less climax, that's more boring and bombastic than exciting.
However, the action and weak villains are not really the big problem with IRON MAN 2. The big problem is that the film seems merely to be an excuse to set up the imminent AVENGERS film, so basically, all we get is two hours of exposition, interrupted by the occasional action scene. This is all well and good if you're a big Marvel fan (hardcore fans may REALLY like this), but if not prepare to be bored. The first IRON MAN worked whether you were a Marvel fan or not. This is ONLY for the fans.
I don't really get why Marvel is so gung-ho on launching THE AVENGERS, as it all seems a little pre-mature. It would have been nice if they had spent a bit more time developing the individual franchises instead of shoe-horning everything into one (sure to be massive) film. They've really painted themselves into a corner here, and other than a Stark appearance in THE AVENGERS, I really don't see how they'll be able to make an IRON MAN 3.
Luckily, IRON MAN 2 does have a few things going for it.
One: RDJ rocks as Stark, although he's got way less to work with here than in the first film. Remember the way Stark had a certain edge and lethality in the first film? Well, that's gone here, with Stark spending the film fighting drones. Also, the character seems more two-dimensional than he did in the first film, and a potentially intriguing subplot about him possibly dying from blood poisoning is abruptly dropped about halfway through the film,with it being resolved in a fairly haphazard fashion. Still, Downey Jr., is Downey Jr. and the guy can't help but be entertaining. There's a reason he's all of a sudden a mega star, and you can tell that he put his all into the role. He's not a guy to phone in a performance, and without him I think this film would have totally collapsed.
Two- Scarlet Johansson NAILS Black Widow, and other than RDJ is easily the best thing about the film. This is a bit of a surprise, as I honestly thought she was miscast after seeing the preview, but she proved me wrong in a big way. She's so good that if they do a S.H.I.E.L.D film, I'd love to see her take centre stage (especially if they get Jon Favreau to appear as Stark's bodyguard, Happy, as he makes a great foil for her). Don Cheadle is fine as Rhodes/ War Machine, if a tad bland and extraneous to the plot, but fans will get a kick out of seeing War Machine in action. He also has a great introduction once fully armored, and the resulting scene is easily the highlight of the film. As for poor Pepper Potts, Gwyneth Paltrow has little to do than act hysterical, but she's fine, and not as annoying as she could have been given the material. I also though Jon Favreau did another solid job behind the camera, with the film having a lavish, impressive look. I can't wait to see COWBOYS VS. ALIENS, as he's truly a talented director, who obviously did the best he could with a script that feels like it was written by committee.
All in all, IRON MAN 2 is an OK film, but nothing special. Sure, it'll make hundreds of millions of dollars, and I'll bet most people will probably enjoy it enough to think I'm being overly harsh in my review. However, once the initial excitement wears off, and people are able to look back at it critically, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if this is eventually seen as the inferior sequel it really is.