The eagerly anticipated follow up to one of the most successful, and, out of nowhere at the time of release, most hyped comic book movies ever made, Iron Man 2 is more of the same, and a happy development of the formula that worked so well the first time around.
Picking where Iron Man left off, with Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) revealing to the public that he is the man behind the superhero mask, the government and press put him under great pressure to share his technology with the military for the good of America. But concerned it could fall into the wrong hands, Stark remains undeterred that he, and only he, should put on the Iron Man suit. Claiming the rest of the world is years behind in developing similar, armoured weaponry, Stark’s self-branded to privatise world peace is an unabashed success; that is until his latest foe reveals himself.
Sneaking into an illustrious event attended by Stark at Monaco street raceway, Ivan Venko (Rourke), with his own vendetta against our superhero, reveals a suit of his own and attacks the billionaire inventor when he least expects it. Ultimately failing in killing of Stark, Venko does though prove a weakness in Iron Man’s seemingly impenetrable armour, and with the vultures in government already circling, when Venko is provided with an even greater pool of resources, it seems Stark once again, will be left as the only man that can save the day.
While in many of the comic books, Starks’ main problem is a lack of self-control and struggle to deal with a drinking problem, it was rumoured his alcohol abuse would make an appearance here. Instead, however, inner turmoil comes from the very device that is keeping him alive. With shrapnel in his blood stream, in Iron Man’s first outing Stark builds an electromagnet and miniature arc reactor to stop the deadly substances reaching his heart, only powered a toxic element itself, the device is slowly killing him meaning aside from saving the world, Stark must also engineer a new core to save his life.
While the original was a great deal of fun, being the first in the series it was always going to be held back by the obligatory ‘origin story’ plot points. With the audience now familiar with each of the central roles, director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux were able to craft a film with much greater depth, and a much more rounded and interesting experience; at least as far as you can with a lightweight comic book action movie. While it would always be a pleasure to join Iron Man for the ride, it’s captivating to see how side characters intermingle with the central narrative, providing mini sub-stories that keep things ticking along perfectly.
While Downey Jr. is again great at Tony Stark/Iron Man, to Favreau’s credit, the film isn’t played out as the Stark show. Central prominence is of course given to the suited hero, and most of the plot developments either work around him, if not involving Stark directly, but it feels like everyone else in the film is of equal importance too. Across the board the talent is cast perfectly and provides a widespread charisma that makes it tough to take your eyes of the screen.
As Pepper Potts, Stark’s personal assistant, Gwyneth Paltrow shares wonderful chemistry with Downey Jr., Scarlett Jonahsson, playing a new recruit at Stark Industries, is great in the role, and with more revealed about her character than first meets the eye, it’s no surprise spin-offs for her are already being talked about. Mickey Rourke, no doubt cast after becoming man-of-the-moment around the time of his Oscar nomination last year, is a devilishly calculated villain, simmering beneath the surface and with the feeling you never really know what he might be capable of, suits the film perfectly.
Though we shouldn’t be surprised given the acting talents displayed in his many roles to date, it is Sam Rockwell, however, that almost steals the show. As Justin Hammer, a rival industrialist to Stark’s global weapons domination, and one of the men at the centre of the government’s demand for Stark to hand over his Iron Man technology, Rockwell bring his usual edgy quirks, at times providing a little comic relief, and elsewhere revealing a man on the edge. Rockwell is something of a revelation and I’d be delighted to see more of him as Hammer in more films within the Marvel universe.
While the first Iron Man film was criticised for turning into a metal-on-metal fight for the entire final act, here the action sequences are again well played out but used more effectively, and directed with greater tension and style than in any of Favreau’s previous work. The excitement and expanse of the finale is expected, but in close quarters, a corridor fight sequence and attack on the Monaco streets reveal a great understanding of how to effectively implement action.
Intertwining elements that again point to Paramount/Marvel’s Avengers plan, the superhero super-group, Iron Man is now primed for the 2012 film, with introductions to Thor and Captain America due next year.
Iron Man 2 might not have the power or tone of the recent Batman film, but that’s not what the filmmakers are after, and crafting thrill ride that’s so easy and accessible to take in, it’ll be tough to find a more fun way to spend a couple of hours.