How can a movie be obnoxious and charming at the same time? I don’t know. But somehow Iron Man 2 manages to be both an over the top summer blockbuster and a gleefully charismatic and funny film. With the origin story out of the way, Jon Favreau’s sequel can move into new territory. The film is packed to the gills with wild action, new characters and scenes designed to setup future Marvel films. That last one, while extremely cool for the dorks among us, is also one of the weaknesses the film has; it’s those scenes that make Iron Man 2 feel more like a piece of a larger puzzle and less like a stand-alone film. But fear not, Robert Downey Jr. is in top form as Tony Stark: the hard drinking, fast living billionaire industrialist who doubles as Iron Man. In more than a few ways, the film is much like Downey’s character, it tries to do too much. Tony Stark’s excesses always get him into trouble and the same is true of the film.
Spoilers to follow.
I don’t want to give you a synopsis for the movie, if you’ve seen the first film then you know what to expect. If you haven’t (Wait, you haven’t seen Iron Man?! And you’re reading a site called Dork Shelf?) then all you need to know is that Tony Stark is Iron Man. Everyone loves Iron Man, he is a superhero after all; for various reasons, be them business or personal, it’s Tony Stark that people have an issue with. For the comic book dorks, everything is where it should be, complete with generous nods to Captain America and Thor—twice for the Norse God if you watch closely and stay after the credits. For the average filmgoer however, most of this Marvel universe minuitia will either be confusing or just get ignored. Most won’t mind though, since there are explosions and one-liners aplenty. Jon Favreau definitely has a better handle on the action this time out, an action sequence at the Monaco Grand Prix takes the cake as standout set-piece early in the film. Don’t get me wrong, there is great action throughout the film, but much of it features guys in robot suits fighting robots or other guys in robot suits. Many of these scenes are a dizzying clang of metal, that are almost too hard discern what’s going on or who’s hitting who. I was reminded of first Michael Bay Transformers movie. The action works when Downey’s performance is thrown into the mix; like his drunken mechanized brawl with James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) that literally destroys Tony Stark’s house.
Robert Downey Jr. proves that once again his smug, self-assured charm can carry a film, even with so much going on. He’s backed by a pretty stellar cast that includes Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell. Rockwell is perhaps the only actor on the planet who could out-smarm Downey and he does so hilariously as Tony Stark’s business rival Justin Hammer. The film’s villain, Rourke’s Ivan Vanko is a quirky Russian with a knack for technology and a hate-on for Tony Stark. Vanko and Stark only get together to beat eachother up, but the best scene with the two is when they were just talking. As for Samuel L. Jackson and the rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew, they’re fine most of the time, but they feel out of place in the more realistic world (giant robot suits are real!) of Tony Stark. Tonally, it’s hard to square the classic comic book elements of the Marvel universe with the rest of the movie. In terms of their performances, Jackson plays Nick Fury as himself; which isn’t a bad thing since the most recent iteration of the Fury character is actually based on him. As for Scarlett Johansson, she seems torn about how to play Black Widow. Half the time she plays it straight, the other half corny; but she does wear that outfit well. These characters, neither of whom have actual superpowers, illustrate how difficult it is going to be to tie these Marvel films together. Throw Thor, Captain America and the Hulk into the mix and whichever filmmaker ends up making The Avengers (Please not Joss Whedon, Please not Joss Whedon!) certainly has their work cut out for them.
The film is far from perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction for the Marvel films. It’s loud, it’s funny, it’s all over the place, but if you liked the first Iron Man, you’ll like this one. For the most part, the film knows what it is. Minor issues aside, Iron Man 2 is simply great summer entertainment.