I’d like to preface this review by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the first “Iron Man” film released in 2008. It was, in my opinion, one of the better action films I had seen and certainly one of the better films of the ‘superhero’ genre. Having said that, I feel that I can say with great confidence that anyone who truly enjoyed the first film will be severely disappointed in its sequel, “Iron Man 2.”
It is almost standard fare in Hollywood and we hear it almost every time a sequel is released — “It was good. Not better than the original at all, but it was good.” Very seldom does a sequel live up to all of the hype and it is even a rarer feat for the sequel to best its predecessor. Perhaps “Superman 2,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Aliens” and most certainly “The Godfather Part II” are members of that elite group, but that is always up for healthy debate. More times than not, before watching a sequel, my expectations are not very high. “Iron Man 2” was an exception though. I was in fact expecting more from this franchise, from director Jon Favreau, and from screenwriter Justin Theroux. I was disillusioned. And if you are one who sees this film and is not as disappointed as I was, then I will go out on a limb and almost guarantee that you will at least grant me the service of at least admitting that it comes nowhere near the original.
Billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has a lot on his plate in this one. Now that the entire world knows that he is in fact the Iron Man hero, he is facing tremendous pressure from the government (most notably from Senator Stern, played by comedian Garry Shandling) to hand over the powerful technology to the U.S. military. He has also discovered that the palladium in the arc reactor that is responsible for keeping him alive, is in fact, slowly killing him (ah, the irony) and all of his attempts to find a substitute element have failed. On top of this, Stark must deal with the opening of the grand Stark Expo (you never saw Flushing, NY look saw strikingly impressive), in the name of his deceased father — and most of all, he is confronted with his new arch enemy, the Russian physicist-turned-evil genius, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke).
It seems that Ivan’s father worked alongside Stark’s father and the two of them were responsible for creating technology far ahead of its time. The two should have shared in the wealth and fame, but instead, Ivan’s father was pushed aside and was forced to live a life of misery, poverty and failure. Ivan wants revenge — he wants Tony Stark.
Rourke is great here, but that should be of no surprise to anyone. It’s always a pleasure to watch him work. Here, his Russian accent is near perfect and his tattooed body and appearance fit the villain caricature very well. He is well cast here and creates a mysterious foil to Stark with his gold teeth and great affinity for birds. What is terribly anti-climatic is that the whole film is building up to this grand face-off between the two and when it happens, it is just a shameful let-down. The confrontation is there, we’re awaiting this amazing finale, and it lasts perhaps a minute long and just like that, it is over…leaving the viewer let down…again.
Robert Downey, Jr. created a delightful, charming, charismatic Tony Stark in the first film. Here, he gets to do pretty much the same. Nothing new here – he makes his playful and witty remarks as often as he can. But we don’t see or feel any of the desperation that Stark had in the first one…not even when his life is on the line. In addition, his relationship with his former personal assistant Pepper Potts (Paltrow) is a huge letdown. The two had such great chemistry in the first one. Here, he appoints Ms. Potts to be the CEO of his empire and they seem to be at odds throughout the entire film. The only time the two have a meaningful, endearing exchange is when they are on a video-conference-call and she finds out about his illness…it’s a sad commentary when the only time two actors have a true exchange is when they aren’t even on the same screen together.
In other subplots (of which there are far too many), Stark must also deal with his industry rival, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) who enlists Ivan to work for him and ruin Stark for good. Rockwell is fun to watch. His Hammer is conniving and cowardly, the epitome of envy to the great Tony Stark. Oh yeah, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of S.H.I.E.L.D. also approaches Stark with a treasure-trove of old film and artifacts of the elder Stark. Fury also wants to see if he is S.H.I.E.L.D. material. Jackson is Jackson, except here, he wears an eye patch for good measure. Scarlett Johansson plays Natalie, who plays a newly employed Stark receptionist with a great deal to hide. Johansson doesn’t get to do much as far as honing her acting chops, but fits the role of sexy vixen who can kick the asses of 20 men quite admirably. Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard in the role of Lt. Colonel James Rhodes. We don’t miss Howard for a second, but, with the exception of the big paycheck, he should be grateful not to be a part of the mess.
Listen, it is what it is. It’s a Hollywood summer blockbuster film. I get that. And if you are looking to sit back, have some popcorn and enjoy some action, some funny lines (though not nearly as humorous as the original) and take out the brain for two hours, then you will perhaps enjoy it. Again, I was expecting more from this particular franchise – and from Favreau who fell victim to the ‘Too Many Villains in A Single Movie’ catastrophe that has struck many directors before him. In the end, to me, it felt like: “OK, we have a title for the movie, we have our director…we have our star-studded cast….hmmm, we just need some kind of a story. Anything’ll do…the public will come.” And I am sure they will. I’m sure it’ll make $250-$350 million domestic….But you still can’t say it comes close to the original.
Film: Iron Man 2
Director: Jon Favreau
Rating: – an extra 1/2-star for those who love summer blockbusters