Review - Iron Man 2

Iron Man was one of those films that surprised audiences and made you feel good. It was a comic book film at it's heart and Robert Downey, Jr., burst (reburst?) onto the scene and stole the show. He played perfectly off of everyone in the film and you were completely convinced that he was Tony Stark (much that I was convinced Toby Maguire was Peter Parker). With the film's success a sequel was inevitable and now that sequel is upon us. Does it live up to the hype?

The film wastes no time in its opening in reminding us of everything that happened in the first film. In fact, so little time is wasted that the sequel takes place six months after the events of the first film. Six months doesn't seem like that long a time, but in Iron Man 2 it's enough time for the Stark Expo to become a huge event (despite being nothing more than an ego boost for Tony Stark), the US Senate to want to commandeer the Iron Man suit for peace and for Ivan Vanko to seek vengeance against the Stark family for perceived slights against the Vanko family. Throw in Pepper Potts as the CEO of Stark Industries and Don Cheadle as the new Col. Rhodes and you've got yourself a sequel.

Iron Man 2 followed a similar arc as Iron Man. In both movies, Tony Stark starts out quick-witted and brimming with confidence. In fact, he almost feels that he's invincible. He's then faced with a realization in both that there are choices he could make in life that may work to serve him (and those around him better). After making this realization, he becomes a better person. And the day is saved. The old saying goes if it ain't broke don't fix it, and I think that's what writer Justin Theroux was going for here with the sequel. He knew what resonated with the audiences in the first film and worked similar subplots into the sequel. Granted, Iron Man 2 was a little heavier on the father-son focus, but even the first one had a similar dynamic between Tony and Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges).

Jon Favreau said in an interview that doing the "Demon in a Bottle" storyline might be too dark for audiences and I think he's right to an extent. I mean, who wants to see an episode of Intervention: Iron Man? The thing is though that Iron Man 2 features Tony on a downward spiral that culminates in a drunken bender that almost costs him his life. He knows that the Ark Reactor is slowly polluting his blood and that he really doesn't have long to live, prompting him to realize that he should live his life on his terms. This, of course, means as recklessly and narcissisticly as possible. I think the decline in character was played really well by Robert Downey, Jr., but, honestly, I think he knows since he's been down this road before in real life.

Mickey Rourke's portrayal of Ivan/Whiplash wasn't as profound as his performance in The Wrestler but it was still admirable nonetheless. Rourke spent some time in a Russian prison to get into character better and it really showed. In the movie, he's destitute and vengeful, viewing his role in juxtaposition with that of Tony's and realizing that he could have just as easily been the wealthy playboy while Stark the poor exile. Whiplash's role was furthered by Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, the arms dealer who was clearly jealous of Tony and vastly inferior in technology designs when compared to him. Hammer knew one thing and one thing only: pure weapons. He doesn't have the same panache that Stark has; instead, he makes up for lack of elan with tons of bullets and notoriety.

I still love Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and she's just as frenetic and stressed out about Tony in this film as she was in the first. She even has a great rapport with Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, despite not knowing her full role in Stark Industries (despite Scarlett being pretty hollow in her role). Jon Favreau even got in on the action a bit more this time around as Happy Hogan. I get the sense that in the first one he was primarily focused on making a great movie, whereas this time it was more about having fun. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury was pretty meh...I suppose his role will pick up when he does one of the other nine films he's supposedly signed on to do with Marvel.

The action set pieces in the film (the race at Monaco and the end at the Stark Expo) were phenomenally well done. The last big fight scene suffered some of the same problems that plagued Transformers; that is, the action is so fast and furious that's hard to keep an eye on everything that's going on. Plus, Iron Man fighting other versions of himself is getting a little old as far as movies go. Can't we get a villain that is more than just a genius looking to create and army of Iron Men to fight Tony. Sure, we got Whiplash against Suitcase Suit in Monaco, but that was woefully short and didn't really get away from mech on mech action. It was nice though to see War Machine thrown into the mix, so there was a different set of weapons used in the fighting.

Sequels are usually the films that take everything that was good about the first film, clean it up a little and presents in a bigger way. Spider-man 2 did just this and is arguably the greatest superhero film of all time (I go back and forth between this and The Dark Knight). The beauty of Spider-man 2 (and I think the reason I give it the ever slightest nod over The Dark Knight) is that it still feels like a comic book movie. Both their "prequels" if you will (Spider-man and Batman Begins) surprised audiences and really made superhero films legitimate as something more than a comic book adaptation. Iron Man was sort of the same thing: it was a film that really felt like a comic book but was embraced by mainstream audiences as a movie. Iron Man 2, despite being pretty identical to the first film as far as subtext and themes go, is a solid comic book movie.

Unfortunately, it's going to be a victim of its own success. Since the first film was so remarkably and surprisingly good, the bar for the second film is probably set unfairly high. So you may not think you like it that much after seeing it. Personally, I loved it. I think it managed to keep the same feel of the first movie, was paced very well and ended on a good note. The action was there, the humor was there (just picture Tony Stark DJing a party in the Iron Man suit) and there was also the setup of the Avenger Initiative through various clues. As far as I'm concerned Iron Man 2 will delight fans that liked the first movie.

It's not necessarily going to be considered among the greatest comic films of all time, but it's a pretty fun ride that lives up to the reputation of the first one. Ultimately though, there's not as much substance as the first film. It's almost as if the film mirrors Tony's character and Iron Man 2 is really just a Tony Stark bender. It's lots of fun at the time and you really enjoy the ride, but in the end it doesn't carry the same gravitas that the first film did.