High expectations rested on the shoulders of Jon Favereau and his team for this second outing in the Iron Man franchise. The first Iron Man movie was a box office and critical smash; anticipation for a second film was sky high. So it is good to see that Iron Man 2 does not suffer from disappointing second sequel syndrome.
Most pleasing is the fact the familiar faces of Robert Downey Jr, Paul Bettany (voicing JARVIS, the computer) and Gwyneth Paltrow, are joined by several new ones, including: Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Don Cheadle (replacing the unavailable Terrence Howard in the role of Lt Col James Rhodes), and Scarlett Johansson. So there is very much the feeling that the gangs all (or at least mostly) here, and a few extra friends have been brought along for good measure.
The film picks up almost exactly where the first left off, with Tony Stark (Downey Jr) announcing to the world that he is Iron Man, and since then has, in his own words: "privatized world peace." However, whilst on the surface everything seems peachy, there is trouble brewing. Ivan Vanko, the disgruntled son of a Russian ex-employee of Stark - who helped developed the power core used to power the Iron Man suit - is out for revenge against Tony believing he is to blame for his families decent into poverty. Unfortunately Tony has problems of his own, the technology keeping him alive is slowly poisoning him, and a US Senate committee along with arch business rival Justin Hammer (Rockwell), are itching to get the technology of the Iron Man suit from him to use it as a weapon and for profit.
Jon Favereau has once again outdone himself in his direction, and balances big splashy action sequences with more regular-paced dialogue driven scenes between the characters. All however are equally satisfying for different reasons, like the witty back-and-forth between Tony Stark and ‘Pepper’ Potts (Paltrow), or the huge fight scene between Iron Man and the Hammer drones. Thankfully the latter don’t suffer from Michael Bay’s Transformer-style shakey-cam, so you can at least see what’s going on. Of course it’s the action which drives the film, and what action! The Monaco racing scenes were some of my favourite action scenes in a movie this year - although I am biased as a Formula One fan. But in that context, and having seen several attempts at filming motor racing for the big screen, this would rank as one of the better attempts.
Also the casting of Rockwell, as Justin Hammer, is particularly sublime. Hammer is exactly what Tony isn’t: uncool; underhanded and lacking self-confidence. He is a man very much left in Stark’s shadow, and Rockwell plays him to a slimy par-excellence. Scarlett Johannson is also an interesting addition to the cast, although I worry that she is simply there as window dressing. Her character Natalie Rushman is a little vapid, and her only purpose in the film is to be sexy. Don’t get me wrong, this is one of the sexiest performances I have ever seen from her, but for an actress of her caliber this role feels rather wasted on her.
A major criticism of this movie is that Rourke’s Vanko gets way too little screen time. During the establishing scenes we are made to expect that he will be at the forefront of the plot, and whilst he plays a significant part, he is not in your face for very long at all, and you do have to wonder if that’s down to the fact he can communicate only in Russian sounding mumbles and pained expressions. Don’t get me wrong Rourke is a fine actor (just look at The Wrestler) and he is well casted for this role, but if his dialogue delivery was such an issue that they had to cut down the character’s screen time, then get a man in who can talk properly!
Also there are too many plot threads weaved through the narrative. True, these are held together respectably and the film isn’t too labored by all the circulating twists, however, perhaps the writers should have cut at least one thread of this intermingling plotline out, as this would have allowed us to have spent more time with one of the others in more depth. This is especially felt in a number of scenes, which neatly introduces Iron Man’s connection to the up-coming Avengers film, and look as if they’ve been bolted on to promote said movie.
So in summary, Iron Man 2 lives up to the hype of its predecessor, and with gusto. It’s hard to call which of the two Iron Man films is the best, as both are satisfying Super hero flicks, with delicious action sequences, fine casting; acting and direction. I know some people have been disappointed by the sequel, but I went in with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised with what I saw.