David already wrote his thoughts on Iron Man 2, but I had a divergent opinion on the highly-anticipated sequel.
While it’s not as much fun as the original, Iron Man 2 is a solid second chapter to Marvel’s comic movie mythology.
The sequel strips away the intricate pieces of Tony Stark’s shiny armor for a closer look at the man underneath, a world famous billionaire exhibiting “textbook narcissism” and harboring unresolved issues with women, his ailing body, and his father’s legacy.
As the opening credits roll, we hear Stark’s conference room confession as he tells the world, “I am Iron Man.” The camera pulls back to reveal his tattooed Russian rival, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), hunched over a workbench developing his own power suit. The dimly-lit room and Vanko’s crudely-constructed arc reactor recall the dank cave where Stark pieced together his own, and it’s immediately clear Iron Man has competition: Whiplash.
Cut to the oblivious national hero rocketing into a raucous event and informing his screaming fans he has single-handely made the world a more peaceful place. The United States government doesn’t see it that way. Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) insists Stark relinquish “the Iron Man weapon” to the military for fear it will fall into the wrong hands. This sets up a strained premise where Lt. Col. Rhodes (played this time by Don Cheadle) simply steals a suit from the Stark mansion after a brotherly brawl.
Meanwhile, Stark’s corporate enemy Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) stews and waits for his own moment when Iron Man is vulnerable. A smarmy counterpart to Stark’s confident persona, Hammer is a wanna-be and a braggart, twisted by personal jealousy. The charismatic Rockwell steals the show (literally) at the Stark Expo where Hammer unveils the new iPhone a collection of his own mechanized defense systems.
Together this makes three separate villains — four if you include Hammer’s army — facing Iron Man, along with Stark’s rocky relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), a sultry new assistant (Scarlett Johansson), a spreading case of palladium poisoning, and the expectations of his fickle fans. It’s too much to juggle for Stark and especially Justin Theroux’s script, which drags under the weight of its bloated elements. In addition, Marvel executives have shoehorned a disconnected Avengers setup into the universe that pulls Stark into confusing conversations with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) rather than another much-needed action sequence.
The third act is redemptive, fusing many of the plot threads into an impressive display of high-flying, heart-pounding action. Director Jon Favreau manages the chaos effectively, flitting between Iron Man’s air battle and a simultaneous ground assault with ease. The fights are fluid, the CGI clashes are well-defined, and its combatants have personality, which make for infinitely better set pieces than, say, Transformers. However, the Whiplash confrontation is rushed and unsatisfying, especially after establishing such a complicated rivalry.
Despite it’s flaws, there’s plenty to like about Iron Man 2. Downey is a pleasure to watch, Rourke is intense, Johansson is absolutely stunning, and Rockwell is a blast. Unfortunately, the sequel’s clever contrasting elements and added depth of character will be largely overlooked in complaints about its lack of explosions.
3.5 out of 5.