Iron Man 2 faces the unenviable task of living up to its predecessor. The success of the first movie was a surprise to many, and part of what made it so fun was its arrogant anti-hero Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr. His quippy, cocky, charismatic character was truly a breath of fresh air from the conventional action movie heroes we’re assaulted with each summer. So now that the cat’s out of the bag, can the sequel capture the same magic? Sort of.
Tony is basking in the glow of all the attention being foisted on him after he “privatized world peace,” as he calls it. He is a major celebrity now, and at the Stark institute, he is presented in the same manner you would see a band introduced at a stadium concert.
A splashy little group of “Starkette” dancers wearing hot shorts and bra tops dances in the background while Stark addresses his adoring masses. All the spectacle looks like a show straight out of Las Vegas. The ego-stroking has gone straight to Tony’s head, and his hubris has rendered him quite unlikable.
In Moscow, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) seethes by his father’s deathbed as he watches ad nauseam television coverage of Tony Stark’s big reveal as Iron Man. His father whispers, “It should have been you” just before dying. Vanko feels his family (who has worked for the Starks in the past) has been wronged by the Stark family, and he starts plotting his revenge, building a specialized suit that is equipped with deadly whip-lasers.
Tony is brought before the Senate Armed Forces Committee, because the government wants to acquire and weaponize Tony’s suits. Tony flatly refuses, and hams it up on CSPAN, embarrassing the committee and a contractor, Justin Hammer (played by Sam Rockwell.) Tony assures the committee that no one will come close to the technology for another ten years.
Meanwhile, we learn that the device in Tony’s chest is failing, and the replacement batteries are corroding at a brisk rate. It seems that there is not a viable replacement, so essentially Tony is dying.
He starts putting his things in order, namely by officially naming his assistant Pepper as the acting CEO of Stark Enterprises. She is overwhelmed, and a bit confused, because Tony has not shared his condition with her. Once he has passed off the company, Tony starts acting recklessly.
He gets behind the wheel of a car for a Grand Prix in Monaco without letting Pepper and Hogan (John Favreau) know. Vanko makes an appearance, flipping around cars like they are matchsticks, and forces a confrontation with Tony.
Hammer is impressed with Vanko’s suit, and hires the shady inventor to create suits for the military, since Tony won’t. You know that’s not going to end well. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) tries to recruit Tony, and places Natalie Rushman (Scarlet Johansson) as Tony’s assistant, since Pepper is now promoted.
Vanko creates an army of drone suits as requested, but programs them to do his bidding, so the big battle is between Iron Man and the drones, with a little help from Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle.)
The cast is great. Pepper and Tony engage in some witty repartee, and the humor we all loved in part one is present, but not as pervasive as it was in part one. This movie takes a darker tone by making Tony physically vulnerable, which in turn makes him mentally vulnerable.
He battles with the bottle, picks fights with his friends, and alienates people. This came across as genuine because if someone is terminally ill, they are going to do some irrational things.
Paltrow and Johansson are very good in their respective roles as Pepper and Natalie. I found Paltrow more likable and endearing than I have in years, and Johansson doesn’t have a lot to do, but what she does, she does very well. Color me impressed by her brief appearance as a genuine ass-kicker. Her fight scene was pretty awesome, and I was not expecting that, but I also realize that most of that scene worked because of a great stunt-person.
Downey is still perfect as Stark, but Cheadle is just sort of there. As for Rourke, he looks menacing and mean, and that is probably the most that he is called upon to do. He sports gold teeth and a plethora of tattoos, and doesn’t really speak that often. I suppose he makes a pretty decent villain, but I found it a little hard to buy the fact that he is a genius, he really comes across as more buffoon.
My main issue with the film is the pacing. There is a rather unnecessary 20 minute or so lag in the middle third of the film that seriously took me out of the movie. It’s not that I need action 100% of the time, quite the contrary, I felt the action in the movie was sufficient.
It’s just that there is a lot of exposition in that 20 minutes that we don’t need to see, and it felt like padding. I think that cutting the movie down twenty five minutes or so would have resulted in a tighter, more consistent viewing experience.
Fortunately, the last thirty minutes of the movie are an absolute blast, and more than make up for that unfortunate drag. Iron Man 2 is not as good as the original, but if you are a big fan, you should be satisfied.