Principal Cast : Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Clark Gregg, Leslie Bibb, John Slattery, Garry Shandling, Paul Bettany, Olivia Munn.
Synopsis: Tony Stark resists efforts by US Congress to have his “Iron Man” suit given to the military, while being slowly poisoned by the radiation his chest device gives off. Meanwhile, a vengeful Russian physicist seeks retribution on the Stark family by creating a replica power source to Tony’s, and the agents of SHIELD lurk in the background.
Based on my experience with watching this film, it’s a fairly easy statement to make that perhaps, just perhaps, Hollywood’s figured this while “sequel” thing out. The strike rate of successful, quality sequels seems to be improving on the old law of diminishing returns when it comes to follow-up films. Thanks mainly to studio non-interference (I think) and a preference by film-makers to take comic-book stories seriously, rather than comically (are you reading this Joel Schumacher?), audiences are being given better and better sequel films as the years progress. Films such as The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2 (and 3) and the X-Men Franchise, all of which had critical and commercial acclaim around the world, are indications that the industry is keen to take the genre seriously. Iron Man, a film released in 2008 that had no expectation upon it, astounded both critics and fans alike by being accessible to almost any and all audiences, from young kids to older adults. Thanks mainly to Robert Downey Jr’s winning persona of Tony Stark, as well as co-star Paltrow and the belligerent Jeff Bridges, Iron Man was a massive success that increased momentum towards the inevitable Avengers live-action flick, a movie which is still in development as Marvel get all their ducks in a row.
Inevitably, Iron Man 2 was green-lit and put into production. Director Jon Favreau would return, as would stars Robert Downey Jr and Gwyneth Paltrow, although Terrence Howard was replaced as Lt. Colonel Rhodes by Oscar nominee (and Oceans 11 co-star) Don Cheadle. New character Whiplash and Justin Hammer would be portrayed by Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell respectively, and new femme fatale the Black Widow would find herself an actress in Scarlett Johansson. Iron Man 2 has Tony Stark, who revealed himself to be Iron Man at the end of the original film, fighting Government pressure to hand over the suit to the military, lest it fall into the wrong hands. Stark is also slowly succumbing to the radiation expelled by the power source in his chest (which is keeping him alive), and is fast running out of time to find an alternative. In short, he’s going to die from the very device allowing him to live. Russian physicist Ivan Venko, seeking revenge on the Stark family after his father was betrayed by Tony’s dad back during the Cold War, develops his own version of Starks’ power source, using it to power his own suit of armor. Venko, codenamed Whiplash, attacks Tony while the latter is racing in the Monaco Classic Grand Prix, before he’s captured and held in a French prison. Justin Hammer, a rival of Tony’s, springs Venko from prison and uses his intellect to develop a weaponized system which he can sell to the US military, and render Tony’s Iron Man obsolete. With Tony wallowing in self-pity at his fate to die, Lt Colonel Rhodes takes one of the older Iron Man suits and gives it to the military.Tony must not only find a new (non lethal) power source for his suit, but he must also battle Hammer’s armored drones as they threaten to run out-of-control at an expo and kill hundreds of people.
Iron Man 2 feels like a direct continuation of the original film, a hard thing to accomplish considering there’s a few years between the production of both. Director Favreau has kept his cast more or less intact, save the removal of Terrence Howard, and it allows the audience to re-attach emotionally with the characters more easily. The film feels like slipping into a pair of old comfortable shoes, with the characters and scripting having just as much spark and eloquence as they did the first time out. However, while Iron Man 2 continues the themes explored in film 1, there’s a sense of broader narrative and unbridled energy as we’re no longer inside an origin story, but a bold new direction. Favreau made a point of not having the “Demon In A Bottle” storyline from the comics as the base for this film, even though the film does tend towards Tony’s self-destruction by way of booze. However, the film leans more towards using this as a comedic element, and intended or not, isn’t as powerful a narrative as it perhaps could have been. Tony’s mortality was dealt with in the original film, and I sometimes felt while watching Iron Man 2 that the screenplay was more interested in how Stark could be thwarted than him as an actual character. It’s a minor quibble, but for the second outing I’d like to have seen them take a different path somewhat. That said, the story we do get is complex and cool. Second-tier characters are brought in as Tony’s world is thrust even moreso into the spotlight: he has proclaimed to have brought about total world peace, something which sits heavy on the shoulders of those who’d seek to continue war. Scarlett Johansson is stunningly hot as Natasha Romanoff, a young secretary for Stark Industries who isn’t all she pretends to be, and her role will no doubt be expanded in future films (and the in-the-pipeline Avengers movie). Sam Jackson returns for a more extended role as SHIELD agent Nick Fury, eye-patch and all, giving Tony a kick in the pants late in the piece to pull himself together: Fury also gives Stark a glimpse into his own past by presenting video footage of Tony’s father, a relationship Tony himself had thought squandered.
The relationship between Tony and Pepper Potts (Paltrow) is given a spotlight, although not as often as it was in the original film; Paltrow and Downey Jr have a wonderful chemistry together, and although their scenes are short and limited, they manage to be the main driving force behind a lot of what transpires on-screen. Don Cheadle brings his a-game to the show, out-acting and out-Rhodes-ing Terrence Howard’s turn as Stark’s bestie. Paul Bettany again voices Tony’s basement computer Jarvis, with all the sarcastic wit the British can muster, and their repartee is again a film highlight. Mickey Rourke is impressive as Whiplash, his emotional journey perhaps not as complete as the script would want, but still a mesmerizing (if dialogue-limited) performance. The star of the show, however, is the star of the show, Robert Downey Jr. Once again proving that he can act the pants of just about anybody alive today, Downey Jr smirks and quips his way through the film as the ultimate man’s man, the ultimate bachelor, Tony Stark. The camera loves him, his chemistry with various cast is tangible, and his nuanced portrayal of a man lost in his own self-importance is marvelous to watch. Tony Stark isn’t a hero, per se, he’s a man enjoying playing at being a hero: the film essentially tells the story of how he actually becomes a hero.
Mention needs to be made of the stunning production design on Iron Man 2, from the visual and practical effects to the costuming and location shooting. The Iron Man suit itself looks fantastic, as do the variants worn by others through the movie. War Hammer, the character we see fighting alongside Tony in the film’s finale, is as cool a character as Iron Man himself. The film doesn’t tend to focus on key money-shot moments, rather it uses its effects with almost self indulgent abandon, moving from one frantic scene to the next without pausing for gratuity and novelty. The effects (as I always say) should serve the story, not vice versa, and Favreau has delivered a film that just that: his editing and camerawork don’t leave time for eye-candy fatigue to set in. I guess if I have any single complaint about Iron Man 2 is that its second act, where the story really takes hold, feels a little lethargic… but only in a minor way – this is still a massively entertaining film on every level, it’s just that it takes a few moments longer than necessary to get to the cool finale. Hardly a major problem, but something worth noting.
I really enjoyed Iron Man 2 for what it was: an entertainment piece designed to please crowds and fanboys alike with some wonderful characters and brilliant action set-pieces. Unlike The Dark Knight, a sequel that goes much darker and more brutal than its predecessor, Iron Man 2 feels more like Spider Man 2, in that it takes its hero and gives him a much broader canvas to play on, without sacrificing fun for seriousness. It’s heroic-lite, a fanciful, faithful comic-book film that feels like a Red Bull hit mixed with some superb eye-candy, and if you don’t enjoy it you’re obviously dying inside.