Iron Man 2 Review
Title: Iron Man 2
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Palthrow, Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson
Two years after the first Iron Man, some things remain the same, while others have changed. The things that haven’t changed are the things that matter most – Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Palthrow), Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr’s) business associate, Stark’s best friend, Lieutenant Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, the Iron Man suit, and of course, Stark Industries. What has changed is that Tony Stark must deal with not one, but two villains in the form of Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) and Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). The aforementioned Rhodey is still by his side, but he’s now played by Don Cheadle. Tony also has a mysterious new assistant, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), and where Tony once worked alone and never took orders, he now sometimes answers to Nicky Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the chief of SHIELD. The other change is the sequel’s quality – it isn’t as good as the first Iron Man, and though the original was an entertaining piece of pop culture, Iron Man 2 is a less fun, berserk ride.
Iron Man 2 begins six months after the first movie and Tony Stark is even more famous. His Iron Man identity is public knowledge and he singled-handedly privatized world peace with his Iron Man suit. But, the American government doesn’t want the suit getting into the wrong hands and in an effort spearheaded by Senator Stern (Garry Shandling), Congress commands that Tony Stark hand over the weapon to the Defence Department. Stark is convinced that his competition (including Justin Hammer) is years off from copying the Iron Man technology. At the same time Tony’s arc reactor which has kept him alive since his capture in Afghanistan is now killing him. In his vulnerable state he is ambushed by Russian physicist Ivan Vanko – a man hell-bent on getting revenge on Tony Stark for the perceived misdeeds of Tony’s deceased father, Howard Stark (John Slattery).
Like many superhero sequels, there are almost too many characters crowding Iron Man 2. The most powerful and memorable of all is Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko. Vanko’s hulking body is covered in prison tattoos, his mouth full of gold teeth, and Rourke snarls about half of his lines in Russian, and his accent in English works. While Vanko is terrifying and even more, in his violent Whiplash alter ego, he never feels like a real threat. In their first encounter Iron Man dispatches Whiplash, who is then promptly tossed into jail. Whiplash says he attacks Iron Man to make “God bleed” so people can “cease to believe in Him”. But what Whiplash forgets is that he bleeds too in this fight. If Iron Man can defeat Whiplash he’s dying and unprepared, Whiplash is no longer an unbeatable threat.
Where Mickey Rourke nearly outshines Downey Jr., Sam Rockwell may well be his doppelganger, personality-wise. Rockwell was once considered to play Tony Stark, and here you get a chance to ser what Rockwell would have done with the role. Rockwell’s Justin Hammer is a lot younger than the comic book defence contractor, but here he could almost be Stark if Hammer wasn’t such a greedy hotshot. Rockwell plays him with the same twitchy strangeness he’s done so brilliantly a few times before, but his faux elegance (you’ll get distracted by the self-tanner on his hands in one scene) turns it up a notch, and Rockwell is always fun to watch.
Scarlett Johansson is nothing more than eye candy in the movie’s first act, but by the end Natalie Rushman (or Black Widow in the comic books) has genuine kick-ass fierceness. Naturally, she wears a sexy catsuit, but her fight scenes aren’t for lusty fanboys. She doesn’t simply kick ass – she annihilates.
Iron Man 2 rests on where it goes and where it doesn’t go. Tony Stark, like in the first movie, doesn’t do teenage angst. He embraces his power. The Iron Man franchise might be for kids, but its heroes and villains are most certainly not for children. What the movie agonizes over is the big picture stuff: should the Iron Man weapon be kept in private and increasingly reckless hands, or should be handed over to a military industrialized government? You know where Stark stands, but both sides of the debate are brought up, and Iron Man 2 plays with politics. Not surprising in the Iron Man universe, but surprising for a tent-pole picture.
While Iron man 2 is both politically relevant and breezy as the first – everything with what is wrong with blockbusters, especially their sequels, is heightened. The movie is louder and bigger than ever and not in a good way. Iron Man 2 is a hulking, clumsy picture. The villains have larger weapons and flashier powers, but for all their flash, they are not substantially threatening enough. The endless metallic melees between the Iron Man suit and Stark’s enemies are shrieking, fiery and confusing. The other half of the fight scenes are Rhodey in another weaponised suit battling Stark, after Stark has too much to drink – the intentions of this illogical battle are never really clear and neither is the ease with which Rhodey handles the new suit. What was once ultracool necessity is now just plain ultraviolence. The suits are bigger, shinier, more destructive – and for what? The villains aren’t much of a threat, so why beef up the armour?
Tony Stark is a likeable as ever, and Pepper is ever-faithful. But the background noise around them, rather than immediate danger is what puts the film not only out of the original’s reach, but out of the reach of other superhero sequels like Spider Man 2 and The Dark Knight.