The summer movie season kicks off on the day the UK sees its fist significant rainfall in weeks (bloody typical) as Jon Faverau’s hotly anticipated sequel opens in Blighty today, but can Iron Man 2 live up to so many expectations?
This review contains VERY mild plot spoilers. If you wish to remain clean, please come back after watching. They are VERY mild though.
It feels to me like a hell of a lot longer than 2 years since the first Iron Man film came out and really blew everyone away. An actor with a very dodgy history, a director unproven in blockbuster material (Zathura is many things but no blockbuster) and a comic book company producing a film themselves for the first time, Iron Man was in no way a sure fire success but with the combination of said actor’s ridiculous levels of charm, said director’s ability to harness this actor and the material with admirable ease and a general sense of intelligent crowd pleasing fun, it was one of that year’s biggest films and deservedly so. Fast forward 2 years and much has changed as Robert Downey Jr has attained bonafide star status and Marvel Studios look to create a whole series of films interconnecting with each other with the ultimate aim of bringing them together for The Avengers. Iron Man 2 promises more of everything with more Downey, more action and more characters promised by the marketing, but more is not always good, and especially not in Comic Book Movie land.
It’s 6 months after Tony Stark reveals himself to the world as Iron Man and things seem to be going well. Opening up a huge Expo, batting off Senate hearings with ease and “Privitising world peace”, on the surface everything is fine but with the Iron Man suit itself causing Stark to become increasingly ill and with the emergence of a new foe with a grudge, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) who soon forms an alliance with Stark’s major business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) things soon start to spiral out of control.
Well now, this is a good news/bad news situation really folks as while the majority of things Iron Man 2 sets out to do are done so with Â success, this film is unfortunately not without some major faults all of which can be tied down to the single idea of simple indulgence. Yes, this film is indeed more of everything but the MORE MORE MORE approach does once again take the batting average of the film as a whole down somewhat. Now at 2 hours, we would be expecting something of a vast, grand scale, escelating the fairly small scale business conspiracy stuff of the first film and taking on a more significant, world changing bent. This is not the case though instead we get the same kinds of conflicts of the first film but multiplied in screen time and in sheer numbers of characters fighting over them. Again we have a business based rivalry as here we have characters fighting with Tony about weapon tech, both Justin Hammer and also, albeit in a much smaller capacity, Senator Stern (in a funny extended cameo from Gary Shandling). Tony has to fend off not only the robotic technology of Vanko’s Whiplash suit but also robot characters he creates, and also in this film War Machine (Don Cheadle). The romantic subplotting is complicated as the will they/won’t they relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is somewhat confused by the arrival of Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson). I mean, Favreau’s own bit part player Happy Hogan even gets an expanded role, which while enjoyable is completely unneeded. While there is a great amount of fun to be had with every single element mentioned, the whole film does just feel a little… stuffed. Add to that the multiple references to the expanded universe Marvel are creating, and you have a film with a great many things on its mind, and not all of them feel satisfying. I will say though that while I usually hate it when films try to set up future sequels blatantly, I do not mind at all with Iron Man 2, a film which when taken as a distinct part of a series of different films, feels like a part of a larger world which as it is something its source material also does, I can get on board with entirely.
Some early reviews have also pointed to the film’s pacing as a problem and while in a way I agree with this, I also think the problem has been exaggerated far too much by some people. What Iron Man 2 does which I think not a lot of people were expecting is actually really delve into the backstory of Tony Stark himself, while using all the characters around him as setting off points to allow further exploration of the character, something that I think Justin Theroux’s screenplay does far better than certain other elements. It is not perfect by any means, and we could certainly do with chopping of a few scenes in the middle third for sure (Rourke’s quest to be reunited with his bird anyone?), as a whole the film takes the Demon In A Bottle story from the comic and both sanitises it and also makes it feel a bit fresher and less played out than I was expecting, the angle taken with exploring Tony’s relationship with his father an interesting one which also manages to tie a few plot threads together.
The pacing issue is also made more problematic by the sheer fact that the first hour or so of the film is pure entertainment as it has many joys with its simple opening credits set-up, establishment of new characters and also some flat out awesome action sequences, the Grand Prix and the first Iron Man/War Machine set pieces actually being my favourite of the film by a wide margin. All of this is wholly well done both in set-up and execution and before you know it, you are halfway through the film. So when it does slow down to reintroduce Nick Fury and to try and round up all the disparate elements which have built up before, the film does lose traction and it does become a little.. slow. While it may sound like the views of an ADD addled child, the simple fact is that the film needed to have its core set pieces more evenly dispersed through the film and also quite simply needed to have the more inventive stuff at the back end of the film. We have not seen a Grand Prix interrupted by super-powered men, we have also never seen a drunk Iron Man, in a scene I actually found genuinely unsettling, lose his shit and get into a MASSIVE fight with someone he should not be beating up. What we have seen though is men in metal suits beating each other up in a huge whirl of CG and fairly uninspired direction. The final action of the film does have some interesting angles, a B-plot involving Scar-Jo and old J-Fav himself is fun and a direction they take with War Machine adds interest but in the end its the same stuff with have seen before. But with MORE.
Performance wise, the film generally holds up very well. We barely need to mention Downey Jr but he brings his same charm, raw likability but also sense of bruised emotion to the fore and knocks it out of the park. Mickey Rourke is fantastic in a sadly rather underwritten role, mysterious, funny and also very scary but his presence is felt less and less as the film goes on at the expense of the backstory into Tony and the universe around him which is a bittersweet trade off. Sam Rockwell is sublime as the essentially shitter version of Stark himself, all boughtÂ extravaganceÂ and little real class and comes off well against Downey himself, obviously having a lot of fun with the part and kicking ass . Don Cheadle suffers from not having as straight up fun a character as Terrence Howard had in the first film as while he got to laugh and joke with Tony, Cheadle basically has to talk seriously throughout and then unleash a little towards the end, something he will hopefully be allowed to develop further in future film. It must also be said that he has a fantastic fourth wall breaking moment with his first line which works in the story but also as a fulfilling joke to film geeks everywhere. Scarlett Johansson does what she needs to do, able assisting in a variety of ways and also showing that she will do well in future installments where hopefully we can actually get a hint of backstory… Finally Gwyneth Paltrow continues her run of cracking chemistry with Downey and shows that at the heart of this franchise, its the human moments which are actually proving to be the highlights of proceedings.
Iron Man 2 is a very troubled sequel but its also impossible to deny its charms. It presents a hugely enjoyable time on the whole with winning performances, some decent if not mindblowing action and a very promising opening up of the Marvel Universe which future films will hopefully continue. It also has some real problems though in its pacing, its slight air of coasting on the first film’s success and a screenplay which does many things right but also doesn’t quite hit all the marks it obviously strains to acheieve. My final mark for the film has been the hardest one I have ever actually had to think of but I think its fair. On the whole I think the film rests a tad below the first but considering what I think of that effort, that’s not damning with faint praise at all. I was certainly not disapointed but it would be far too much to say that this Â is THE BEST COMIC BOOK MOVIE EVER, because it really isn’t.