I believe some of us (I hope most of us) go see the Iron Man movies for the comedy-action qualities as opposed to mere action segments. Continuing in the footsteps of Iron Man, Iron Man 2 keeps up the wit and humor, never taking itself to seriously like those other, lesser, films featuring fighting robots.
This time around we have Mickey Rourke as Russian villain, Ivan Vanko/Whiplash. After Ivan’s father Anton dies, he swears to bring vengeance on the Stark family as Anton helped create the arc reactor that vaults Tony Stark to even higher notoriety.
Meanwhile, Stark has problems of his own: Congress is busting his balls for not turning over “the Iron Man weapon” and his drinking habit comes to light when the arc reactor in his chest begins to poison him. His computer J.A.R.V.I.S. quips that what’s keeping him alive is killing him.
Using an arc reactor based off his father’s schematics, Whiplash confronts Stark with electric whips that nearly kills him even with the Iron Man gear. However, after Stark embarrassed competing weapons manufacturer, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Hammer decides to break Ivan out of jail in an effort to outdo Stark’s technology.
With Whiplash’s attack using Iron Man-like technology, Stark drinking, and refusing to hand over Iron Man suits to the U.S. military, Lt. Colonel Rhodes (Don Cheadle) steals one of the shiny suits. Upon turning it over to his superiors, it is utilized by Hammer to refine his robot army. These events bring S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) into the fracas, as Stark’s new personal assistant, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) is actually S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow in the comics) assigned to Stark to keep an eye on things. From there of course, let the battle between good and evil begin.
One of the biggest concerns leading up to Iron Man 2‘s release was the cascading waterfall of characters to be featured, resurrecting Spider-Man 3 flashbacks in the minds of geeks the world over. I’m happy to say that the film delicately balances the spinning plates: though we don’t see a lot of Ivan/Whiplash, this works in his favor as the few moments we see him establish him as an unforgiving, Russian brute (I won’t get into the identity politics…for now); Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer is an incredibly smarmy, wannabe Tony Stark, and Rockwell sells his impotence with convincing sincerity; and even though director Jon Favreau included Scarlett Johansson as competing eye candy to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Pots for Stark and audience alike, Johansson’s brief fight scenes actually convinced me of her ability to kick some ass. And I don’t even need to detail Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance: he’s great and he’s the reason we watch Iron Man.
So great cast, great writing (sans the few groan worthy lines from Iron Man), and an okay story. Setting up Natalie and Pepper as competition for Stark’s heart adds a nice touch of sincerity to the film as well. Though Natalie may be prettier than Pepper in some ways, Pepper and Stark are too alike in age, looks, and intellect to not be with each other. They’ve shared a lot of the years, so it’s sweet to see the guy go for the right girl instead of just the hot one.
There are a few minor hiccups:
MINOR SPOILER, SKIP PARAGRAPH
In the first film, the amazing thing about the arc reactor was its cheap, easy power, but in this film the arc reactor in Stark’s chest needs fuel of some sort that then requires Stark to artificially create a new element to sustain it.
After the big showdown, did we really need Stark to save Pepper Pots at the last second? She totally succumbs to “damsel in distress” scripting and it’s just silly given what we know about her.
And finally, can we move away from Tony Stark regularly fighting dudes in revamped Iron Man outfits?
SPOILER ALERT OVER
There are also a few nerd moments: in the first Iron Man some fans spotted Captain America’s shield in the background on Stark’s workbench and it’s back
When we see Rhodes for the first time, Stark is surprised, but definitely on two levels: for the film’s story (“Oh, so surprised that you’ve arrived Rhodie”) and to acknowledge the audience’s surprise given the now infamous switch of actors for Rhodes, from Terrance Howard to Don Cheadle. Cheadle says to Stark’s surprise, “I’m here, deal with it.” Take note fanboys.
And I shouldn’t even have to tell you this, but stay after the credits (hell, you should stay for the credits for all films; you’ll better appreciate how much work they require if you do, so show some respect)
Iron Man 2 outdoes the first (an accomplishment) and manages to be entertaining, not for the special effects, but due to quality cast and writing. Even more impressive is that it expanded to fit more story and more characters, yet didn’t explode like a Gallagher melon. Iron Man 2? I approve.