Movie Review: Iron Man 2- A Mediocre Sequel That Mildly Entertains Despite the Rigid and Hodgepodge Plot

Good sequels are actually quite rare but it seems the comic book genre should be ripe with them, considering that characters go on for years in multiple issues of a series. It was inevitable for Jon Favreau to return to his popular and semi-approved critical take on Iron Man, which touts Robert Downey Jr. as the egotistical, loud-mouthed, risk taking Tony Stark. What worked in the first Iron Man was essentially the updated origin story as to how the suit was created this time in Afghanistan rather than Vietnam. Because the film had this core or spine to it allowed the action to build in a seamless fashion. This time around it’s as if Favreau and writer Justin Theroux have spread themselves too thin attempting to borrow and grasp from multiple issues of the Iron Man comic series creating a rigid action film that only entertains on the most simple of levels. The action is intense and well done but there is something inherently missing in this structure that was there for the first installment. So despite its too calculated dialogue, stitched together story structure, and familiar action sequences, Iron Man 2 does have enough personality, intriguing spectacle, and interesting interpretation of villains that will keep most summer blockbuster audiences happy if not those who expect slightly more from their films.

Iron Man 2 opens up just at the ending of the first one with Stark admitting to the world he is the Iron Man, a superhero with a mechanized weapon suit, as an old Russian man watches on dying as he tells his son Ivan that it should have been him on the television. As the credits role we watch a tormented Ivan, a controlled and intriguing Mickey Rourke, putting together with limited resources a weapon powered by the exact same substance that powers the Iron Man suit. Tony is living the high life of popularity as he begins his year long technology expo, back talks ignorant senators (Gary Shandling), and basks in the limelight of his new celebrity status. However, we learn that Tony is dying because the core technology that is his heart is killing him, slowly but surely. He embraces a new life full of risk, which includes driving in the Monaco Grand Prix. This is where Tony gets taken off guard as Ivan Vanko makes his way on the track and uses his new electric whip yielding weapon which almost kills Tony. Vanko proclaims later that if you make god bleed people will cease to believe in him, unfortunately a sentiment that is only proclaimed rather than actually becoming a struggle within the film. Another layer of the conflict is when Tony’s military industrial rival Justin Hammer, Sam Rockwell in an appropriately personality parallel role, breaks Vanko out of prison and gives him the funding he needs to create advanced iron man suits and drones. All of this integrated with Tony attempting to cope with death as his body keeps rejecting the technology in his body and finding out the truth behind his father’s research makes for a bit of a convoluted superhero film that quickly pieces everything together for convenience. But ultimately it works for a basic structure for a film to progress along and Jon Favreau does an efficient job if not a methodical take on directing this time around.

Everything looks good and what more can you expect from a high budget superhero film that can hire state of the art digital cinematographers and an army of special effect technicians. It just appears that Justin Theroux quickly hashed out an Iron Man 2 script based around Tony Stark’s depression with facing death rather than with his technology getting put into the wrong hands, which isn’t the case in the film as it is in Favreau’s favorite Iron Man comic, Demon in a Bottle. There is some elements of that here with one scenario in particular of Stark getting incredibly drunk at a party in full Iron Man arsenal, that proves to be incredibly reckless and dangerous. Another hodgepodge is Mickey Rourke’s whiplash, which actually adds a great deal of another Iron Man villain called Crimson Dynamo who was the Soviet Union version of Iron Man. This is an interesting addition to the story considering that Ivan Vanko’s father is named Anton Vanko, the actual Crimson Dynamo in the comics. It’s apparent that Favreau and Theroux have done their research but there is evidence that they were attempting to add too much into one particular script and the result is varied. Good action, some good performances, and a definite perfect depiction of Black Widow, played by a hit or miss Scarlett Johansson. The real crutch here is actually Don Cheadle who was the replacement for Terrence Howard, a talking point of great controversy when it originally happened. Cheadle is just dry in many segments of the film and is hard to take seriously despite the fact that he takes himself too seriously most of the time on screen. Perhaps the screenwriter and director have failed to flourish James Rhodes the character as much as they could have and have miscast him twice now considering he is supposed to be a tad more muscular and bigger in size. Despite this unfortunate consequence of focusing too much on one character, as well as having Gwyneth Paltrow still in the film, most of the actors do a sufficient job for the film to be entertaining.

Perhaps it’s the security of knowing that the sequel to a popular superhero film that the work in developing the initial story just falls short. Iron Man 2 definitely falls short of the standard it set for itself in the first installment and that was by far from being the grandest of all superhero films and possessed a great deal of flaws. For having this kind of budget and cast there really shouldn’t be any rigidity to the dialogue or sequences, but everything seems sort of pieced together from different sources making an uneven film. This happens many times with high expectations for sequels, such as The Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean, or even 28 Weeks Later. Some superhero sequels have been better than their first origin set ups, such as Spider-Man 2 and X2, which used the already established set of characters and put them in an equally intriguing storyline. Iron Man 2 could have learned a great deal from benefitting from its origin and continue with a complex and well flushed out story. Instead they tried to add too many elements by mixing villains, adding in War Machine and Black Widow, as well as letting Samuel L. Jackson go off in typical form making it more annoying than entertaining. There were just too many attempts at cheap laughs, which was a deterrent in the first Iron Man as well, and not enough focus on a gripping a easily flowing narrative.

Overall Iron Man 2 is entertaining, and possesses a great deal of what summer audiences are looking for. Robert Downey Jr. is personable and narcissistic making Tony Stark the egoist that you envy and love. Mickey Rourke is appropriately vengeful making the villainous threat a believable one. Jon Favreau and Justin Theroux have some minor successes in character personalities and action sequences that will keep you entertained and distracted from the more weak segments of the script. It’s just an unfortunate beginning to the summer of 2010, considering that Star Trek opened up with a surprising attention grabber last year and Iron Man 2 is just slightly a disappointment. Another layer adding on to the disappointment is looking onward to the rest of the summer with nothing other than Christopher Nolan’s Inception being of any intrigue. This could be the fault of high expectations but really it’s the security of knowing that it will do well regardless of criticism. When films become resistant to bad word of mouth or the populists are fine with a mediocre product than filmmaking becomes more of trying to sell a product rather than bringing in all of the creative elements to tell a story. Unfortunately Hollywood has been heading down the wrong direction with movies for a long time now and it’s hard to tell when another 70s film movement or a Dogma 95 movement will immerge from the depths of product placement and formulaic structure.

Grade: B-

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