Iron Man 2 (2010)
Director: Jon Favreau Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L Jackson
Certificate: 12 Running Time: 124 Minutes
I don’t think too many people would argue that the first Iron Man was a surprise hit. It had all the right ingredients to be one, but was still a gamble – rookie director, risky casting, unproven draw power of character – but happily it payed off; Iron Man proved to be one of the most enjoyable comic-book adpations to date, thanks in no small part to Jon Favreau’s sublime direction and the irresistable charisma of Robert Downey Jr. Thankfully, they both return in this well-timed sequel. But herein lies the problem… The first film ended up such a hit, Iron Man 2, unlike its predecessor, had a lot to live up to. The weight of expectation has killed many a film, but did it kill this one?
Picking up six months after the first film, Tony is fresh from his revelatory press conference and is soon being hounded by the Government to hand his Iron Man suit technology over to them for mass production. However, between outsmarting them in court, humilating his newly prevalent competitors (including Rockwell on top form as Justin Hammer), and of course, continuing the good fight against bad guys, Tony is also starting to suffer – use of the arc-reactor keeping him alive is also slowly poisoning him. As a result he is becoming despondent and acting more and more recklessly, including handing Pepper the job of CEO of Stark Industries (filling her former position with Natalie, played by Johansson), while he entertains revellers at his newly ressurected Expo, larking about at the Monaco Grand Prix, and getting drunk in the Iron Man suit at what he believes to be his last birthday party.
While all this is going on, a former close colleague of Tony’s father, Anton Vanko, is spending his final few days in poverty in Russia, leaving his son, Ivan (Rourke), to seek revenge against wrongs apparently committed by Stark Snr. Turning up in the middle of a race at the aforementioned race circuit, it’s soon apparent that Ivan has a few tricks of his own, resulting in possibly the movie’s grandest set-piece. Despite barely scraping through this first encounter, Tony’s reckless behaviour continues, to the increasing concern of Pepper (Paltrow) and Rhodey (Cheadle), culminating in a house-destroying rumble with the latter whilst wearing the silver Mark II suit. Before long, however, Nick Fury arrives, expanding on his cameo from the first film, to give Tony a good hard kick in the behind! Newly invigorated and with a fresh sense of purpose, Tony sets out to stop a similarly determined, not to mention Justin Hammer-assisted, Vanko once and for all.
For a film driven by a tale of revenge, Iron Man 2 had the potential to be much darker than its predecessor, much like Empire Strikes Back was to Star Wars, but it’s surprisingly bereft of negative emotions, instead presenting most scenes in a light-hearted, sometimes comedic way. Fair enough, the first film did this too, but the effect is more noticable here due in no small part to Rourke’s imposing performance as scruffy, tattooed Vanko (an amalgamation of two villians from the comics), a.k.a. the aptly-named Whiplash. Downey Jr is once again on top form as Stark, especially when he’s out of the armour, verbally sparring with all and sundry, and Cheadle takes over from Terrence Howard as Rhodey. Whilst both are great actors, I personally always find it annoying when different actors play the same character (except for older and younger versions or something). Nonetheless, Rhodey remains as likeble as ever, although also somewhat more conflicted than in the last film too.
Iron Man 2 is pretty much more of the same. It gives our hero more to do, introduces a few new characters like the slimy Justin Hammer and the mysterious Natalie, expands some existing characters (Favreau’s own Happy Hogan, for example, gets a lot more screen time, as does Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury), and even adds a dollop or romance. Overall, it could’ve been a very different kind of movie than it is, in different hands, but would that’ve made it better or worse? It’s hard to say, but as it stands, despite a slightly disappointing final battle, it’s a good film and a good sequel, and I’m not sure you can really ask for much more.
RKS Score: 7/10