In 2008, Iron Man brought back a sense of wonder and excitement to the superhero genre. It also rocketed Marvel Comics on the fast track to assemble all their heroes for a future Avengers movie. If that Iron Man film was any sign it looked like Marvel was going explode.
The Dark Knight debuted later that year and showed the superhero movies weren’t just for little kiddies. Unlike the Dark Knight, Iron Man embraced what makes a comic book movie, well, a comic book movie. It had great one-liners, told the origin story with style and panache and had a charismatic leading man. For everything that was great about The Dark Knight, that film made the superhero genre more realistic, shadowy and brought the world of Batman into reality. Making a superhero more real doesn’t always make it more fun or a better movie. The Dark Knight was a better movie but for different reasons. There is still room for fun, popcorn, fantasy style superhero films and Iron Man proved that.
Flashforward to 2010, Marvel rushes Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. into a sequel to setup the Marvel universe even more. The problem it is extremely difficult to get lightning to strike twice in two years.
The movie takes place not long after the events in Iron Man where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) has revealed to the world that he is Iron Man. He is petitioned by the US government to turn over the Iron Man armor technology or it will be be taken by force. On top of all this you have Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) who also wants the Iron Man technology to better his financial portfolio with the government. Meanwhile the arc reactor in Tony’s chest is poisoning him and he needs to find a new power source or die.
Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) comes into Tony’s life after his father dies. He has a past connected to Tony’s father and plans to knock Tony down to size.
Iron Man 2 as sequels go is your standard sequel and was written like it was sent down an assembly line at a automobile plant. There are many other side-plots weaving in and out of the film that after a while you just can’t get them straight. There is a lot of things going on but really no substance.
The movie itself reminded me a lot of a cross between Rocky 3 and Robocop 2. You take the elements of Rocky’s arrogance in the third film and a villain from who knocks him down to size is here. Then from Robocop 2, you have an evil genius with government connections wanting to create another Robocop. Take these two elements and mix in some one-liners and a healthy dose of sexual tension and wah-lah you have Iron Man 2.
Robert Downey Jr is once again brilliant in the role but the darker take on his self-destruction in the film just doesn’t let Downey address it the way it should. His birthday party is a complete embarrassment to comic book fans and film fans alike. It could be the stupidest scene in the superhero genre. Okay, not quite but it is pretty awful. It just turns Tony from hero into a big loser. In the comics, they addressed this issue by having Tony admit he was an alcoholic and have Rhodey become War Machine to help Tony out while he flew into a bender and then eventually recovered. Funny to say that the comics actually took the more mature approach.
Rourke is the second best thing about the film as his Ivan Vanko is very menacing and calculating but he is just never given a chance to really be a villain. That goes to Sam Rockwell who is probably more the film’s villain than Rourke. The sad thing is he is most routine of the film even if he is channeling a sinister Dana Carvey.
Paltrow, Cheadle and Johansson are all just 2D cardboard cutouts of characters you think would be interesting. As great of actors as they are, they are wasted here. Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury is colorful and I am sure with future Marvel movies he will really shine.
Iron Man 2 is a typical sequel hatched from a rushed production schedule and it shows it. Here’s hoping that there is an Iron Man 3 after the Avengers push where Favreau and company can go back to the drawing board and bring us something fresh. It is what it is.
Iron Man: 4.5 out of 5
Iron Man 2: 3 out of 5
So Says the Soothsayer