Movie Review: Iron Man 2 (2010)
Iron Man 2 just kind of happens. It is two hours of stuff happening, and while it happens so fast that it doesn’t feel like two hours of stuff, it all happens in such an underwhelming way. Not that Tony Stark’s life isn’t as interesting the second time around, but given the massive, unavoidable hype and the expectations raised by the first Iron Man, Iron Man 2 is far too jittery to match its predecessor, which stands as the best movie yet made about a Marvel Comics character.
After the events of the first movie, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has a lot on his plate. Iron Man has become a bit of a joyride since nobody has stepped up to challenge him, but he must deal with the United States government, who want the Iron Man suit turned over to “the public” (read: the military), and his public, who are swarming his just-opened Stark Expo, a one-man World’s Fair, designed to celebrate both the technology of the future and the man who “successfully privatized world peace.” Oh, and the power supply of the Iron Man suit, which is keeping Tony alive, might actually be killing him.
Stark’s success, a point that he makes sure to brag about constantly, gets on the nerves of senators, competitors, and bizarre-looking Russian scientists alike. While he is able to blow off the Senate like so many wall street executives and former baseball players, his arrogance does little to quell the jealousy of his main business competitor, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), or Russian scientist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), who believes that Stark’s power supply is based largely on the work of his father, who worked on the project with Tony Stark’s dad until he had him deported for reasons unknown. Ivan does what so many others have failed to do: Successfully replicate an arc reactor, which he uses to fashion twin whips of electricity that cut through most objects like a lightsaber through butter. He heads to America to destroy Tony Stark and, in doing so avenge his father.
He fails, but not for lack of trying. Somehow, Ivan knows that Tony is racing his own Formula One car, wanders onto the track and cracks his whip at Tony’s vheicle, which crashes spectacularly. A fight breaks out, and Tony puts Ivan down. Justin Hammer, watching all of this on TV decides to spirit Ivan away so he can work on his Iron Man modeled drones, which Hammer plans on debuting at the Stark Expo, apparently open to competitors.
So you’ve got that, which would make for a pretty good movie in its own right. Rockwell steals the show as Justin Hammer, and Mickey Rourke’s scenery chewing and Russian accent do enough to distract from the fact that Iron Man’s villains are so bad that they need to steal his ideas to stand a fighting chance. You add in Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Scarlett Johansson as Tony’s employee, Gweyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, and Don Cheadle as Tony’s best friend, and you end up with a bloated movie that pushes its main antagonist aside for a couple of added fight scenes. Cheadle, who replaced Terrence Howard as James Rhodes, is given nothing to do but yell at Tony for having fun on his birthday. He eventually pulls the ultimate dick move: Stealing one of Tony’s suits, destroying half of his insanely expensive house, and turning patent-protected technology over to Justin Hammer. He, as Tony’s best friend, does more to undermine Stark than a competitor and a crazy guy who wants to kill him.
Naturally, none of that really matters. The best friend, villain, and CGI robot fighting aspects of the first Iron Man were that movie’s weakest aspects, and they don’t take away much from either films’ strong points: The script. As before, the dialog is sharp, witty, and fast paced. It never stops, even when Tony is being dogged by missiles, Rhodes in a virus-infected suit and Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine drones that are trying to kill him and, frankly, are proving to be a nuisance to the people trying to evacuate the Expo on account of the giant, terrifying robots. Robert Downey Jr. once again proves that his sudden ascent to superstardom was no fluke—no matter the circumstance, he always manages to be the most interesting thing on the screen.
It’s just too bad that there’s so damn much there, and that not all of it appears to be going much of anywhere. There was a point in time when the expanded Marvel cinematic universe was a cause for excitement, but now I’m not so sure. Iron Man 2 struggles to accommodate an expanded role for Nick Fury, who exists in this movie not as a teaser, but to tell us what we already know: That Tony is an irredeemable narcissist, but is pretty awesome nevertheless. Scarlett Johansson, as the Black Widow, lurks in the background, carrying clipboards until she’s called upon to fight security guards. Pepper Potts loves and hates Tony’s recklessness and takes on the task of running the company while he goes off and creates new elements. They, along with Hammer, Vanko, and Rhodes, create a hollow shell in which a guy like Tony can work his magic, but not one in which he can thrive.
Iron Man 2. Directed by Jon Favreau. With Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark), Mickey Rourke (Ivan Vanko), Don Cheadle (James Rhodes), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Sam Rockwell (Justin Hammer), and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury). Released May 7, 2010, by Paramount Pictures.
Paul Arrand Rodgers
Paul Arrand Rodgers has this blog, and that's about it.