The wait is finally over. After almost exactly two years, the sequel to the brilliant Marvel comic adaptation “Iron Man” hits the theaters. Fans and moviegoers alike have been awaiting “Iron Man 2” in that it is the first big-budget blockbuster of the four-month-long period of summer movie season. There really is no better financial choice than to place it at the helm. Look at the facts: it is a PG-13 SPECIAL-EFFECTS LADEN SEQUEL to a CRITICALLY-ACCLAIMED COMIC BOOK ADAPTATION that in and of itself SUCCEEDED AT THE BOX OFFICE AND ON DVD. If that formula doesn’t immediately translate to dollar signs in your mind, you obviously aren’t aware of the economics behind the summer blockbuster.
If you haven’t already read my “Top 10 Superhero Movies” list*, I awarded the first film the position of number two, second only to “The Dark Knight.” Obviously, you can see just how anticipative I was for the sequel to arrive. However, I wasn’t quite ready to give a pass to “Iron Man 2” before the fact; I did have my doubts. What I mean is that it is no easy accomplishment to produce one of the greatest superhero movies ever. Would it turn out to be as great as the first or would it get the “Spider-Man 3” treatment (oh Lord, no!)? I was hoping against all odds that lightning wouldn’t strike only once for director Jon Favreau.
I am here to inform you that the franchise hasn’t lost all of its steam just yet. Sure, it is a noteworthy downgrade from the first, but that is to be expected considering how dazzling the first was. The sequel is still a bunch of fun and still manages to retain a sizeable amount of edge and charm found in the first, plus the kind of action that you would come to expect in a summer movie. However, that is not to say that “Iron Man 2” is free of error. Don’t worry. I won’t begin with the bad straight away, but I will gloss over it at some point.
When we last visited this universe, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the cockiest head honcho of a weapons manufacturer you’ll ever come to know, stated that Stark Industries would hang up the towel in regards to weapon construction. He came to this decision after being held captive roughly three months by a terrorist organization that forced him to assemble his advanced weapon technology for Afghanistan. Stark escaped thanks to the impromptu creation of his Iron Man suit. Upon returning to his home, he works to upgrade the suit to a more appealing presence, complete with all sorts of quirks and extras.
Where “Iron Man 2” begins, Tony has returned Stark Industries to assembling machinery, only this time it is for Iron Man designs and they are not open to the public. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) has been promoted from Stark’s assistant to CEO of the company. Stark Expo is being held in honor of the world peace preserved since Tony’s creation of the suit (world peace in that nobody wants to mess with Iron Man). The suit has even inspired many people across the world to recreate their own, with some disastrous result. Because of the peace brought about, the United States government insists that the suit be sold to the military. Tony disapproves as he has grown accustomed to the suit and doesn’t want to bargain his technology.
While on a business endeavor (I use that term loosely) in Monaco, Stark is unexpectedly ambushed by a Russian man named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke). Vanko seeks revenge on Stark Industries, as his father worked with Tony’s father in erecting the first rough draft of what would become the arc reactor. After Stark Industries has unveiled the final product, his father received no credit and the Stark family was awarded the long legacy. Vanko himself is also a resourceful technician, who has created his own arc reactor as well as laser-whips that he unleashed on Stark.
Vanko is taken in by competing weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). While Hammer appears outwardly as friendly competition to Stark Industries, his true intentions are to ruin the company’s legacy for good. He believes that Vanko has the skills and the knowledge to do so. Hammer hires him to improve on the work that the company has already done, but Vanko lacks any real motivation to follow through with the agreement between them. Not to mention that Vanko hardly speaks a lick of English.
Lt. Colonel James Rhodes, a character originally played by Terrence Howard, is now portrayed by Don Cheadle. While I have a lot of respect for Don Cheadle as an actor, the material written for his character I don’t think is quite strong enough to warrant a performance from an actor like him. He does have a more involved role than he did in the original, but this one is much less demanding in regards to emotion, or even acting. Even his relationship to Tony Stark as his best friend is not as apparent in the sequel.
That is one aspect of the film that I have to criticize the most: either under-utilization of or under-written characters. While there wasn’t enough exploitation of Rhodes, the newer characters experience a heavier dose of the same problem. Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) acts as Tony’s new assistance that is adept at physical combat. While she is in some decent action sequences toward the end of the movie, she is rarely in most other scenes and what she is in is often forgettable. Meanwhile, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is a character that randomly pops up in the middle of the film without too much interesting to contribute. What he does though, I can’t really give away without spoiling.
While it sounds like I am coming down on the movie pretty hard, I’m not trying to. I did enjoy this movie to some degree, mostly due to performances and plot development. Robert Downey Jr. once again nails the depiction of Tony Stark, supplying plenty of humor and emotion to make up for his megalomaniacal attitude and actually make the audience side with him. The plot also manages to prevail and I was interested all the way until the end. The battle sequences near the end aren’t quite as impressive or as complimentary as they were in the first, but they still have more meaning than something like “Transformers” and casual moviegoers can still thoroughly enjoy the ride.
Like I said, I don’t hold “Iron Man 2” as high in regards of necessary viewing as I do “Iron Man,” but there is enough goodness to aid it in rising above 70% of action movies that are released in this day and age. Would it make it onto a revised version of my “Top 10 Superhero Movies?” Probably not. But there is enough charm, wit and inventive storytelling for me to give the film a recommendation. All I ask is that if a threequel were to be developed that the writers try to apportion screen time among the supporting characters and not spend too much time on throwaway characters.
*Link to “Top 10 Superhero Movies” list: http://saltythebeastmovies.blogspot.com/2010/05/salty-beasts-top-10-superhero-movies.html