Following Iron Man, Iron Man 2 continues the story of Tony Stark as Iron Man, and sets in motion Thor, as well.
According to the IGN review:
You should be happy to know Iron Man 2 more or less wins its battle with “sequelitis,” managing to successfully squeeze a hodgepodge of storylines and characters into one two-hour adventure while still keeping the narrative focus sharply on Tony Stark (played once again with unbridled aplomb by Robert Downey, Jr.). Iron Man 2 doesn’t always successfully balance all of these moving parts, but considering how wildly it could have gone off the rails (think Schumacher’s Batman sequels), it’s a significant and highly entertaining accomplishment on the part of Marvel Studios and director Jon Favreau.
Contrary to what AC/DC says the band of choice in the Iron Man films hell is a bad place to be, especially if you’re Tony Stark. In many ways, Iron Man 2 is an argument for a superhero maintaining his/her secret identity. Tony is definitely paying the piper for his glib declaration at the end of the first movie that he is Iron Man. Now, six months later, the U.S. government wants his tech, as does Stark’s rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell, playing him as Tony’s villainous doppelganger), who has succeeded Tony as the U.S. military’s top weapons manufacturer. Tony is more arrogant than ever, and his ego — to swipe a line from Top Gun — is writing checks that his body can’t cash.
Tony brazenly shows up both Hammer and a U.S. Senator (Garry Shandling) during a televised hearing. The government doesn’t like the idea of a private citizen possessing such potentially destructive technology and wants in on how to make it. What if their enemies developed such tech? Tony dismisses their fears, saying that any such advances are at least 20 years away. But what he doesn’t know is that at that moment an old enemy of his family’s is hard at work in Russia on his own version of Stark Industries’ Arc technology.
That enemy is Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the son of a Russian scientist who was once a colleague of Tony’s dad, Howard Stark (played by Mad Men‘s John Slattery as a sort of cross between Howard Hughes and Walt Disney). Ivan, who is never referred to as Whiplash during the film, blames the Starks for the suffering his family endured during the Cold War and now wants Tony to pay for it. Ivan is also a scientist albeit one who has spent nearly two decades in a gulag and is now badass enough that he can kill professionally trained goons with his bare hands who has developed his own makeshift variation of the Iron Man tech. Vanko is essentially a cross between the comics’ Crimson Dynamo and Whiplash, but this composite character approach succeeds in creating a villain who is visually arresting and also legitimately complements Tony’s story arc. Vanko’s schemes eventually fold into those of Justin Hammer, and he’s soon brought stateside to aid the evil industrialist.
Meanwhile, Tony is dealing privately with a very distressing personal matter, one which colors all his dealings with both his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and pal Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle, succeeding and surpassing predecessor Terrence Howard). Both of them have had it with Tony’s capricious and often careless ways, which grow even worse when fueled by alcohol. Rhodey’s friendship with Tony is in particularly bad shape, as Rhodey also serves as the U.S. military’s liaison to its private weapons contractor, Hammer. Tony, the country’s greatest hero, has become erratic, egotistical, and is sometimes inebriated. He’s just too much of a wild card now and isn’t conducting himself as America’s protector should. Tony may have one last ally left in S.H.I.E.L.D. director Col. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who is actively recruiting him to join his Avenger initiative. And did we mention that Tony also has a new assistant, sexy redhead Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), who as we all know is far more than she seems. OK, she’s Black Widow, but I won’t get into more detail than that!
As you can tell from that lengthy plot summary, there is a lot going on in Iron Man 2, perhaps too much so at times, but damn if you’re not going to have a sustained nerdgasm for two hours while watching this movie. With each passing reference to or obvious set-up for The Avengers, and there are several of them beyond just the inclusion of Black Widow and Nick Fury, you can feel the butterflies stirring in your belly: “Oh, my God. It’s really happening! We’re really going to see Iron Man, Captain America and Thor all sharing the screen a couple of summers from now.” Those unfamiliar with the Avengers will likely find Iron Man 2 overstuffed; indeed, the film’s midsection is a bit flabby, a very talky stretch where I’m sure more than one fanboy will grow impatient waiting for something to blow up. There is one particular scene Tony’s birthday party, that’s all we’ll say where you’ll either be on-board with how Favreau, screenwriter Justin Theroux and his cast handle it, or you’ll find it too long, arbitrary or contrived. It’s a major turning point for two main characters, but it did drag on a wee bit.
The filmmakers’ loose style of making the Iron Man films may be too evident at times, especially during the aforementioned sequence. Steven Soderbergh may be able to wing it in the Ocean’s films, but that’s a dangerous method for a movie like Iron Man 2to adopt. I understand wanting to maintain a similar breezy tone to the relatively happy-go-lucky original film, but in a story such as this — with so many subplots and spin-off seeds to be sewn — the filmmakers could have been a bit more vigilant and disciplined in their execution. As the saying goes, sometimes too much of anything isn’t always a good thing. It can slow narrative momentum down or simply amount to clutter.
Overall, though, the filmmakers thankfully get more right than not, and a paying fan will certainly get their money’s worth. Despite having so many plot masters to serve, Favreau (who also gives himself more screen time as Tony’s pugilistic driver, Happy Hogan) and Theroux keep the spotlight on Tony. This is definitely his story; everyone else is reacting to something that he or his company did. The sequel also smartly gives Tony life-or-death stakes; this is a man in mortal peril, whether it is at the hands of his enemies, the government, or his own demons. Tony’s backstory about his dad Howard is also very intriguing, and lays some interesting groundwork for future Marvel movies. ‘Nuff said there.
The actors portraying the main characters Tony, Pepper, Vanko, and Hammer are all top-notch. As with Christopher Nolan’s Batman films or J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, this movie is blessed with an ensemble of fine actors to help you stay emotionally invested in the film amidst all the myriad characters and plotlines. Downey once again delivers a scenery-chewing turn as that lovable rascal Tony, managing to avoid the misstep Johnny Depp made when he tried to capture lightning in a bottle twice in thePirates sequels (where he seemed like he was imitating his own performance from the first film rather than being in character). Paltrow gets more things of substance to do this time around, which hints at an interesting future for Pepper in the next installment. Rockwell is just as much of a scene-stealer as Downey; it’s like watching the “Good Kirk, Bad Kirk” scenes whenever Tony and Hammer are on-screen together. But Rockwell’s scenes with Rourke are equally effective, with Rockwell bringing the flash while the equally eccentric Rourke quietly simmers, the gears turning behind his eyes as Vanko observes his charlatan benefactor.
But Vanko, as much as Rourke wisely underplays it, is a borderline ridiculous character: He’s a Russian scientific genius-turned-brawling badass who can get rammed in the crotch by a sports car at 50+ mph and not need a pelvic cast and crutches in the next scene. He’s thisclose to being Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV, but Rourke’s just so damn odd and creepy here that you suspend your disbelief. If there’s anyone besides Lundgren who could take a Mercedes to the nads and keep on going it’s Mickey freakin’ Rourke.
As for the smaller roles, Johansson suits up late in the game as Black Widow (although, like Whiplash, she’s never referred to by her comic book handle) but quickly establishes herself as a physical force to be reckoned with. There’s not much more to her than that, but it whets the appetite for what future films might do with the character. Sam Jackson is playing, well, Sam Jackson here, but he commands respect from Stark and exerts a physical authority that characters outside of the villains lack. It’ll be interesting to see what Marvel does with Fury in future films, especiallyAvengers. Fury’s line to Tony that he’s “the realest person you’ll ever meet” is of particular interest, given that S.H.I.E.L.D. is aware of just how many fantastical beings and forces exist in the (Marvel) universe. But Fury and Black Widow really are stars on loan from another film here, and it’ll be interesting to see how general filmgoers with no understanding of The Avengers or the studio’s future plans make of their inclusion.
One area where Iron Man 2 is a clear improvement over its predecessor is in the action department. Unlike the first film, Iron Man 2 builds to and pays off with one hell of an action-packed, eye candy-filled conclusion. It’s nice that there wasn’t any doomsday device or “save the world” evil plan for Tony to prevent; but this doesn’t mean the resolution isn’t as personally important to the hero as saving the world might be. The Monaco sequence oft-shown in the promos and trailers is a highpoint early on, but it’s followed by a long stretch of screen time where plot mechanics outweigh the action. This is when more than a few fanboys might check their watches. But when the S gets R again in the homestretch i.e., when War Machine finally arrives the action begins to increase, culminating with that uber-cool showdown seen in the trailer where Tony and Rhodey make a stand against an array of drones.
That is just one of the many moments throughout that suggest Iron Man 2 is really a Western in disguise: a blowhard gunslinger spouts off that he’s the biggest and baddest there is in these parts, and then some desperadoes ride into town to take him up on that challenge… or to avenge themselves for what he did in his past. Politically, the film seems to be a Second Amendment statement. What is Iron Man’s dilemma here but the government trying to come into his home and take his guns away from him? Between the story’s Western bent and its underlying right of center political sensibilities, Iron Man 2 is an especially American tale.
Despite its shortcomings, Iron Man 2 is one helluva good time. It may not have the most polished delivery in terms of story, but for the most part it attains its many narrative goals. It has fun action set-pieces, an intriguing central dilemma for its main protagonist, and a pair of compelling villains. The original film had a novelty to it that simply can’t be replicated, but as far as comic book movie sequels go Iron Man 2 is a cut above most and one gloriously fun set-up for The Avengers. 2012 the end of the world aside can’t come fast enough.