I thought it might be interesting on the eve of Iron Man 3’s release to republish my review of Iron Man 2 from 2010. Largely, I stand by it. I think the film got a lot of blowback for trying to do too much, but after seeing how much of the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe it had to set up, I think that needs to be tempered. I haven’t edited it so below is 2010 me if you want to debate him, you’ll end up getting 2013 me, but it’ll be fun either way.
Iron Man 2 has a difficult task. Not only must it follow up the best Marvel movie ever in its predecessor, but it must set the stage for an expanded Marvel film universe. It has to set up Thor, possible War Machine and Black Widow movies, Captain America, and-most importantly-The Avengers. While doing all that, it must be its own film and continue the story of Tony Stark. Does it succeed in all of these endeavors? Yes. Is it as good as the first film? Not quite. Is it worth seeing? OH YEAH!
The film picks up six months after the events of the first Iron Man, and Tony Stark’s revelation that he’s Iron Man has caused him to become the center of more attention than even Tony is comfortable with. The US government wants the suit turned over as a weapon and is using Tony’s friendship with James Rhodes as leverage. The company is in turmoil and Tony’s more interested in super heroing than he is in boardroom meetings. Also, the palladium core that he uses to power the suit has turned his blood toxic and the invention that saved his life in Afghanistan is now slowly killing him. It is at this juncture that the son of his father’s partner (Mickey Rourke as Whiplash) and his chief business rival (Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer) join forces to bring him down.
If that sounds like a lot of story-it is. There’s even more to it than that, plus all of the asides that I mentioned previously that have to be thrown in to connect these films (some even retroactively as apparently this film takes place during the events of the Incredible Hulk as Nick Fury keeps referring to events in the southwest). What Marvel is doing here is something never before attempted on film. An unified film universe of characters and events, several a year, for who knows how many years? It’s a tremendously exciting proposition and as well as Iron Man 2 pulls it off, the movie suffers a bit for the amount of items on the menu. There were a few scenes from trailers not in the film, so I’m wondering if there is an extended cut to come and Jon Favreau was under pressure to bring the film’s running time down to two hours. This, and only this, is my criticism of the film. This film is a linchpin of the Marvel film universe, and it’s possible after a few more films come out that I will look back on this and see so much more of what was being done in this film to set up all the others and up my score. But, if I have to judge this movie on its own-as an isolated story-the plot was not as tight as it could have been and an amazing villain wasn’t given enough screen time.
We’ll start the rundown of the characters with that villain. If you told me that Whiplash could carry a movie, to the point where I’d be critical of the movie for not having enough Whiplash…well I’d have called that crazy talk. But by taking Whiplash and melding his origin with the Crimson Dynamo’s they gave Mickey Rourke a movie-stealing character. Every moment Rourke is on the screen, he’s absolutely riveting. His attack on Stark at the racetrack is an iconic action piece for the ages. My favorite moment with him, though, is the quiet discussion he has with Tony right after his arrest. I think the plot of the movie would have been stronger for focusing on the dual father/son relationships between the Vankos and the Starks, but Rourke sparkles opposite Stark.
Speaking of Stark, there’s really nothing more to say about how good Robert Downey Jr. is as Tony Stark. He’s so effortlessly multifaceted in Stark, playing a manchild finally faced with the consequences of a previously consequence-free existence. He’s dying and instead of clinging to the few people he’s ever let know the real him, he’s shoving them away with self-destructive behavior. They dip a bit into the “Demon in a Bottle” storyline from the comics in which Tony becomes a full-fledged alcoholic. Suffice it to say Stark spends most of the movie in a very dark place and Downey Jr. continues his acting renaissance with another sterling performance.
Gwyneth Paltrow has never been someone I’ve particularly cared for, but I love her as Pepper Potts and I love her and Tony together. They talk over each other and banter with speed, wit, and emotionally-charged nuance, and after two films I have to say they are my favorite couple in comic book movie history.
I’m still not sure why Terrence Howard was replaced with Don Cheadle in the role of James “Rhodey” Rhodes, but I think Cheadle’s an even better actor and he inhabits Rhodey in such a way that you can easily see why he and Tony are so close, but also why he’s such a formidable roadblock for him when he puts himself into the path of Stark’s self-destructive nonsense. As promised, Rhodes becomes War Machine in this movie and could probably carry a spin-off film of his own.
Scarlett Johansson is SHIELD agent Natasha Romanoff, a critical character in the Marvel Universe, with close ties not only to Iron Man, but to Captain America, Wolverine, and Daredevil as well. She’s not given a lot to do, but what she does she does extremely well. Her showcase fight scene is spectacular and I am absolutely SURE a fantastic Black Widow movie can be made.
The F/X are even better than in the previous film. All of the tech and the suits look astounding and when War Machine and Iron Man team up to fight Vanko’s drones at the end of the film, it’s pure Marvel porn. I’m not even mentioning another great Stan Lee cameo (better than Hugh Hefner? maybe!). I won’t even get into how good John Slattery is in just a few scenes as Howard Stark, Tony’s dad (who you’ll see in Capt. America). Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury? I’m still so amazed we’re actually getting that I can’t even comprehend it yet. Sam Rockwell is a hateful, gleefully funny foil for Stark in the business world (the “ex-wife”….ahhhh gold). The score is much improved from the weak one employed by the first film, though it’s overshadowed by the AC/DC songs. There are no criticisms to be employed, other than the film’s story took on a whole lot and if it had expanded it’s running time, I don’t think anyone would have minded and they could have polished the script to the perfection of the first film. However, this is a more than worthy sequel and most of the negative reviews I’ve read are nonsense. You will be grinning like an idiot the whole way through.
PS-Don’t you dare go anywhere until after you see what happens after the end credits, Marvel fans!