Movie Review: Iron Man 2
I realize I’m in the minority when I say Iron Man was my favorite superhero movie from the summer of 2008. No matter your preference, it’s hard to deny that Iron Man and The Dark Knight were near-perfect compliments to one another. Whereas The Dark Knight was dark and brooding, Iron Man was an intelligent take at dumb entertainment.
Long-standing superhero movie trends show that these franchises typically peak with their first sequel, as was the case with Spiderman 2, x2, and of course the aforementioned The Dark Knight. Thanks in no part to the nauseating sounds of AC/DC that filled the trailers, I was able to get just as excited for this sequel as I was for the original two years ago. And alas, everything that was great about Iron Man is matched in excellence by Iron Man 2.
Joining the returning Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his assistant-turned-CEO Pepper Potts, played by the radiant Gwyneth Paltrow, is Mickey Rourke as the movie’s main villain, a Russian physicist whose dying father has a bit of a checkered past with the Stark family. The long underrated Sam Rockwell enters the fold as a slimy rival weapons technician, and Scarlett Johansson plays the mysterious and tempting replacement to Potts as Stark’s assistant. James ‘Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard) manages to sift through the crowded ensemble and take on a larger and more vital role as he becomes fed up with Stark’s inflated ego and attempts to save him from himself.
A common fault of superhero sequels is that they often spread themselves too thin and become convoluted with an abundance of characters and villains. The villains in Iron Man 2 are a bit underdeveloped, but that actually works in the movie’s favor because writer Justin Theroux manages to keep most of the attention on Downey. After all, the most interesting conflict is the one between Tony Stark and himself. The fame and responsibility brought on by announcing himself as Iron Man has led him to a life of arrogance and overconsumption. He’s also faced with some very serious health problems. The script is just as funny as you would expect from the writer of Tropic Thunder, and it leaves enough room for a particularly spectacular “hit-girl” moment from a catsuit-clad Johannson.
With the sequel comes the proverbial efforts to make everything bigger and better, but director Jon Favreau has great instincts and doesn’t overdo it. He manages to improve on the first film’s anti-climactic final battle while still keeping the action sequences short and sweet. He seems fully aware of that watching iron-clad men in battle can feel like being forced to listen to a recycling machine and acknowledges that the film’s strength, as in the first one, is in the actors.