Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke
While 2008’s Iron Man provided provided an enjoyable blend of tones and a career-defining performance from Robert Downey Jr., the eagerly anticipated sequel, released two years later in 2010… well… didn’t.
It’s strange going back to re-watch these older movies, as I remember rather enjoying this one in the cinema at the time. Unfortunately however, seven years removed from the wide-eyed excitement of “wow, they are actually making big-budget comic book movies!”, Iron Man 2’s flaws are unfortunately all too glaring.
Let’s start with the man himself. While RDJ’s original Tony Stark was an absolute revelation, providing a charismatic swagger mixed with and genuinely admirable resolve, Iron Man 2’s Tony Stark is, unfortunately, a bit of a dick. Now I understand that the whole theme of the movie is Tony going off the rails a little as a result of the fact that the Arc Reactor in his chest is slowly killing him, but it feels like Favreau perhaps leans a little too heavily into it, resulting in a smug, irritating Stark who it’s pretty damn difficult to root for.
It also doesn’t help things that Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko is perhaps the cookie cutter template for “forgettable, one-dimensional villains” (although Eccleston’s Maliketh would give him a good run for his money in Thor: The Dark World just three years later). Ludicrous accent aside, Vanko is almost entirely inconsequential throughout the course of the movie, being pwned with a suitcase-based Iron Man suit in the first act, before returning with a souped-up giant robot suit in the third act (because, y’know, giant robots) after spending the bulk of the movie plotting his dastardly revenge, only to be dispatched again in about 30 seconds. Underwhelming and utterly, utterly pointless.
The supporting cast doesn’t fare much better, sadly. Don Cheadle (stepping in for Terence Howard) feels like he’s going through the motions as Rhodey; Favreau tries to give his own character, Happy Hogan, some of the best lines and comedy moments which almost universally end up falling flat; Paltrow’s Peppet Potts loses all of her sass and charm, becoming little more than a screaming foil to Tony’s increasingly self-destructive antics. It’s not a great showing, let’s be honest. And don’t even get me started on Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, who does very little besides being eye candy for Stark and doing a little (admittedly rather cool) pouty, indy wrestling-esque bad guy bashing near the end.
In fact, the only supporting character who comes out of this remotely well is Sam Rockwell, whose comic timing while playing Justin Hammer – a sleazy, obliviously ridiculous antithesis to Tony Stark – helps him steal almost every scene he’s involved in. That said, watching him try to progress towards becoming an actual villain in the third act feels a little like what would happen if Cobra Commander was your annoying younger brother. Still, Rockwell is innately watchable, and the movie as a whole is lifted by his presence as a result.
The story is thematically very strong, with Stark ostensibly overcoming his demons and learning what it means to be a hero, but it really doesn’t feel like that on the screen, with all manner of awkward plot developments and scenes that don’t seem to serve any purpose shoehorned in along the way. And the less said about the way Tony manages to solve his Arc Reactor problem – thanks to his late father Howard going full ‘Da Vinci Code’ in a ridiculously contrived, incredibly hokey moment – the better.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what went wrong here, given the strength of the original movie just two years earlier. All the components are there for the movie to be a success, and admittedly, there are still some great moments along the way – the scene where Iron Man and War Machine fend off the Hammeroid attack is pure blockbuster awesomeness, for instance – but it all hangs together awkwardly, never really gelling into a cohesive film.
Ultimately though, it serves a worthwhile purpose in advancing the shared universe aspect of the MCU with the increased role of S.H.I.E.L.D., and at the end of the day, I really can’t be too harsh about a film that features Sam Rockwell dancing to the Average White Band’s “Pick Up The Pieces”. A low point in the grand scheme of things, but there are still worse ways to spend a couple of hours.
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