“Iron Man 2 doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but it blows that wheel to smitherines…”
Over the past decade we’ve seen some pretty phenomenal superhero stories. We’ve seen Christopher Nolan’s dramatic reinvention of the fledgling Batman series, Sam Raimi’s awakening of Spiderman, and Brett Ratner’s tale of the X-Men, among many many others. 2 years ago Jon Favreau entered that race with a little superhero film called Iron Man that was financed for $100 million dollars that won over both critics and audiences, and simply wasn’t afraid to have a lot of fun while still being smart and full of satirical comedy. Much in that same vein, Iron Man 2 has flown into theaters with huge expectations, and by no means does the film reinvent the wheel, but it blows the wheel into smitherines. 6 months after the public confession Tony Stark made, revealing he was Iron Man, things shortly come to haunt him and his decision. The film begins with the continuing yet hysterical realization that Tony Stark indeed is a pompous a-hole when we get to see millions of fans screaming his name and a group of “Iron Man” dancers frolicking behind him. Tony Stark milks every second of it and has fully taken his fame to his advantage, and while it seems he hasn’t learned anything from his adventure in the first film, you realize he really has though, yet it’s just within Stark’s character to be a complete jerk about it and continue on in his playboy lifestyle, other wise he just wouldn’t be Tony Stark. Iron Man 2 revolves around a central theme, and it’s the idea of the Iron Man suit’s massive appeal. On one side you’ve got Mickey Rourke who appears as Ivan Vanko, a past arms dealer who is hell-bent on a revenge mission to avenge his father’s death against Tony Stark. He plays the idea of “I could do this better” and builds his own version of the Iron Man suit, “Whiplash”. Sam Rockwell plays Justin Hammer pops in to play off Tony Stark as a weapons correspondent for the government who is given the task of mass producing the Iron Man suit for the United States government, and goes through many means in the film to get it. James Rhodes comes in later in the film for his own interests in his career to perfect the Iron Man suit himself, and ends up on the front lines in the weapon-equipped “War Machine”. All the while Tony Stark is trying to perfect his own technology for not only the Avengers initiative but his own well-being.
As it may sound, the plot does significantly suffer from an over-stuffed plot, the occasional “Spiderman 3” syndrome rearing it’s ugly head. Once you look at it from the particular perspective earlier mentioned of “all about the suit” it’s easier to understand. However, the script and the story has some serious trouble getting the plot to its end product during the first 1/2 of the movie. After it gets past it’s disjointed storytelling and gets all the characters past their beginning arc and in the right position, things get back into their stride and comfortable again. While the first half at times felt like a different movie in terms of charm from Iron Man 1, in the second half the familiarity kicks right back in and that realistic snark the original movie had makes it great. Iron Man 2 has a great notion of fully satisfying its audience with some great visuals, humor, and action, but really it never does hit that full potential it could have with a little bit of a smoother plot. There’s a great story lying in there, what with Justin Hammer’s interesting knack and the Avengers story lying overlying presence through the story, but I, among others, am more than satisfied with the ambitious yet sometimes flawed story we ended up with. If there’s a great thing Favreau knows how to do with his films, it is crafting some awe-inspiring shots of action. So many directors focus on shaky cams, realism, or set pieces, and while all of those are great in Cameron’s, Abram’s, and Mann’s pictures, Favreau proves he’s a master of simple yet elegantly awesome action pieces thankfully with no regard for preserving orderliness. It’s like a ballet of fire and monster trucks. Every action piece isn’t afraid to be ridiculous, and each is an insane amount of fun. I continue to be a fan of the brilliant way Favreau keeps Iron Man and others in suits human by showing us their faces inside the helmet during battles. Scenes like the reveal of Black Widow’s amazing butt-kickery, the opening freefall set to “Shoot to Thrill”, and the final robot-on-robot-on-robot soaring flight and land battle really stand out, and keep audiences like mine in that purest state of wonder only films like this can produce. The story doesn’t make huge improvements over the first, but one thing this sequel does well, as all sequels should, is expanding the scale to inspiring new levels. Iron Man 2 also surrounds itself with some outstanding leads. Mickey Rourke pitches an awesome set with what he has to channel an amazing Russian avenger that steps outside the expected, and Downey Jr. chimes in with another applause worthy perfect Tony Stark rendition. Paltrow and Johannsen are both serviceable in their parts, but Rockwell is the star of the show. His charisma, sarcasm, and the way he plays off Stark is brilliant, and makes the movie that much more enjoyable. He’s the perfect villain for the movie, there’s simply no better. Don Cheadle has a stint taking the place of Terence Howard as James Rhodes who later becomes War Machine. Cheadle does some great work in the movie, and although I was hesitant at first, by the end of the movie there was no better decision. It was also really nice to see Jon Favreau himself as an even bigger character in Happy Hogan’s spot in the movie, even getting to fight in a few hilarious scenes. Everyone just channels their parts to near perfection. Also, all of the brief, peppered hints involving the upcoming Avengers film did exactly what they were supposed to do, and were a lot of fun to watch for comic nerds as Hulk, Captain America, and Thor references became increasingly fun to see as time went on. Iron Man 2 is an interesting creature. It perfects the scale needed for this sort of movie, ratcheting truly awesome action and near-perfect casting, but it’s necessary to admit it does have some flaws when it comes to telling the story in the best, clearest way possible. I love being able to say Iron Man 2 is everything we hoped it would be. As I said earlier, Iron Man 2 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but while it’s demolishing that wheel it sure as heck is fun to watch, and it’s setting the bar even higher for action and superhero films to come.
4 1/2 out of 5