Notable Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel. L. Jackson
Review: So how do you match the quality one of the greatest comic book adaptations to date with a sequel, if that’s even possible? Not to mention matching the expectations that the sequel will have to live up to because of how successful the first was. Introducing some of the most prolific actors in Hollywood such as Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, and Scarlett Johansson into the Marvel world is a pretty good start. Start tying in Avengers material to the script to get people hyped for the upcoming collaboration and you’re getting warmer. Give Samuel L. Jackson some actual screen time and you’ve grabbed my attention. But tying everything together in a cohesive and flowing story revolving around Tony Stark/Iron Man was the make or break point of the film. With so many new elements introduced in Iron Man 2 to set up for not only a third Iron Man but The Avengers also, I knew it would be a task keeping the story squeaky clean. And while I believe Favreau did a good enough job to keep me happy till the end, some sloppy script points kept Iron Man 2 from achieving the excellence Iron Man earned two years ago.
Iron Man 2 picks up after Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) made his surprise announcement at the end of the first movie that he is in fact Iron Man. But now that it’s public knowledge, the government wants Tony to hand over the suit so the technology can benefit the military. At a government led hearing, we watch as Tony makes a mockery of the judicial process trying to take place. We meet rival weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Rockwell), whom is up there with Tony’s least favorite people, who was brought in to testify against Mr. Stark. Tony’s friend Lt. Col. James Rhodes (Cheadle) is also called upon as he is asked to read an excerpt from his report on the Iron Man technology completely out of context. And still, Stark is able to completely get out of any legal trouble and walks without any trouble. That is until we are introduced to Ivan Vanko (Rourke), son of Anton Vanko who helped Howard Stark create the arc reactor technology. Sadly, Anton Vanko never got any of the credit he deserved when he was deported from the country, which his son Ivan is determined to change by taking revenge on Tony Stark. He uses the arc technology to create energy whips that he uses to ambush Tony Stark when he is racing in Monaco. While Tony is able to walk away from the attack, he knows he has a whole new problem to deal with. All the while too, Tony is dealing with palladium poisoning from the power core that is keeping him alive but killing him at the same time. So after some hard thinking, Tony decides to appoint his assistant Pepper Potts (Paltrow) the new CEO of Stark Industries and hires the gorgeous Natalie Rushman (Johansson) as his new assistant. But with everything Tony has to deal with between fighting certain death and dealing with an equal technological match in Vanko, Tony has to be careful not to let his life spin completely out of control. Something that S.H.E.I.L.D agent Nick Fury (Jackson) is afraid of as he pays Tony a visit and finds him at his worst.
So before going into why this film didn’t live up to the high standards of the first, let’s talk about some of the high points of the film. What got me was the casting. If there is one person who is a perfectly charismatic match for Robert Downey Jr., it’s Sam Rockwell. I loved his part as Justin Hammer; nothing but a sleaze ball business man who has the pleasure of being a low-grade Tony Stark. Always in Tony’s shadow and never having products that can outshine Stark Industries, Hammer will do whatever it takes to one-up the legendary Tony Stark. And Rockwell brings the character to life-giving him such attitude and totally playing up the seedy vibe his character gives off. You have to love it. Sam Rockwell is Justin Hammer, just as Tony Stark is the only person who could play Tony Stark as well as he does (and continues to do). Rockwell is the perfect competition for Tony Stark. I can only hope we see him again in another Iron Man or even a role in The Avengers as one of the evil forces our superheroes have to deal with.
We also get a taste of what Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of Nick Fury is going to be like, and Jackson brings every bit of his flair to the character. I love it. I can’t wait to see more of Jackson in every single Marvel movie that is coming out now. And how could I forget the addition of Scarlett Jo as Natalie Rushman aka Black Widow? We only get to see the seductive Johansson in action once, but when we do it is oh so rewarding. Get ready to see more of her in other Marvel movies too because of her role in the Avenger Initiative, and if there’s any actress people can’t get enough of it’s her. Thank you Iron Man 2 for the great new additions to the Marvel world that I cannot wait to see more of.
But what did this movie do wrong? It wasn’t the acting, because every character was right on. The problem came from the problem that this movie just had too much going on. Sure we have all these amazing characters to work with, but how are you supposed to give each character their justified amount of time on-screen? I left off Mickey Rourke above because while he was the main villain of this movie, he gets lost in the shuffle of everything else going on between Hammer, Stark, Pepper, Fury, Rushman, Rhodes…you get my point. Mickey wasn’t bad by any means, but Ivan Vanko just seemed to only exist in the movie for the sole purpose of giving Tony Stark a villain to fight. In such a vivid world, Vanko just seemed flat and one-dimensional while all the other characters had depth to their lives. Cheadle had the same effect on me, taking over for Terrance Howard as Stark’s partner “Rhodey.” There was just a feeling around Cheadle that he didn’t belong and I could barely see any emotions from the usually powerful Cheadle. With so much to cover in Iron Man 2, someone had to get left behind.
I also had some problems with some of the many plot points. For example, Tony struggling with the poison. He is dying for a good majority of the movie, but then in a matter of scenes his problem is solved and nothing dramatic ever comes for the occurrence. They could have made Tony react so much stronger but instead that part of the story gets lost in the shuffle of everything else the movie is trying to do, and it almost gets to a point where the movie remembers “Oh yeah, Tony is dying. Eh, this will fix him, next scene!” So much more could have been down with Tony’s downward spiral, but instead we get that mixed in with the Stark/Potts relationship, Tony struggling with his emotions towards his father, Tony trying to keep the government from taking his suits, Tony trying to deal with Ivan Vanko, Tony trying to deal with Justin Hammer, Tony listening to Nick Fury; and all while Favreau does is best to set up for The Avengers. A more focused plot would have done wonders for Iron Man 2.
Although it can’t match the original, Iron Man 2 still proves to be a vastly entertaining movie. Downey Jr. delivers as Iron Man once again, proving he is hands down the best actor for the role. The only problem the movie possesses stems from the fact that there is just too much going on to enjoy every aspect of it. The script is just too muddled with various stories taking place at the same time. The beginning and the end are both strong, but the middle seems to drag on as we try to decipher the bevy of stories on-screen. Does it kill the movie? By no means. But it does take away from the importance of some main points and keeps your head spinning. A cleaner script with more focused plot points would have made the difference for Iron Man 2. The movie also spends a lot of time trying to work in Avengers references and establish some characters like Fury and Black Widow, but not enough. All the movie did was leave you wanting more. We now know these characters exist, but that’s about it. The movie should have focused more on, well, Iron Man, than everything else. So much more could have been done with Tony Stark as a character, but instead his mentality feels like he is exactly where we left him last movie with no change. Can you fault Iron Man 2 for trying to be a little ambitious though? I’m happy for the fact that the whole movie didn’t turn into just filler in between the first movie and the third movie of a trilogy. It brought more to the table in that sense, but still fell a few feet short. I still love the fact that the film got Rockwell and Johansson involved though and brings us one movie closer to that inevitable uniting of the Avengers. I just wish more care was put into the story at hand, instead of creating a script with only the future in mind.
Final Rating: 7 crazy cool Iron Man gadgets out of 10