May 2024

Iron Man 2 (2010)

DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau


Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Favreau, Paul Bettany (voice)


Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2 doesn’t surpass the first installment, and might fall short in a couple areas, but the sequel largely provides plenty more of the same to make it worthwhile summer entertainment.

Since publicly revealing himself as Iron Man, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) outwardly seems to be on top of the world. But the wealthy playboy again finds himself facing his own mortality when he learns the device implanted in his chest to keep his heart going is slowly poisoning him. Believing his days are numbered, Tony turns over control of Stark Enterprises to faithful assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and dedicates himself to resolving violent conflicts around the globe, in between drunkenly partying what’s left of his life away in true Tony-style. Meanwhile, the US government (represented with oily pompousness by Garry Shandling’s Senator Stern) is trying to get him to turn over Iron Man, Colonel Jim ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard) is caught between his friendship with Tony and the military’s desire to acquire his technology, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is still trying to recruit him for his Avenger Initiative creating a team of superheroes, and he’s gained a new assistant, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), who may be more than she seems. And Tony has two new enemies to face: Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), who has a grudge against the Stark family stemming back to he and Tony’s fathers, and Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a Tony Stark-wannabe rival defense contractor who decides to bankroll Vanko after seeing him in action.

Like almost all first installments in a superhero franchise, Iron Man was an origin story, and as such had a fairly simple and straightforward narrative that served it efficiently. And like almost all sequels, Iron Man 2 aims to be bigger, louder, flashier, and better. It succeeds at being the first three but not necessarily the fourth. There’s all kinds of stuff going on here—Tony’s health dilemma, his relationship with Pepper or lack thereof, Vanko’s revenge plot and his alliance with Hammer, the enigmatic Natalie Rushman, Nick Fury and The Avengers (still serving as set-up for the upcoming Avengers movie), and Tony’s tested friendship with Rhodey—and if the movie has a major flaw, it’s sometimes overly busy, with Natalie and Rhodey getting the shortest shrift. Fortunately, director Jon Favreau (who again also plays Tony’s bodyguard Happy Hogan) does a better job juggling various plot strands than Sam Raimi did with Spider-Man 3, and the movie never gets overwhelmingly jumbled and convoluted, although there are occasions where it flirts with it.

As before, Robert Downey Jr. commands the movie with his innate charisma, his effortless knack for spouting off one-liners (according to both Favreau and Downey, the dialogue was heavily improvised), and his ability to seamlessly move between flippancy and being more serious when he needs to be.  Among flamboyant billionaire playboys, Tony Stark makes Bruce Wayne look boring.  Gwyneth Paltrow continues to have a playful chemistry with Downey (although her hairstyle and wardrobe is unflattering), playing Moneypenny to his 007. Don Cheadle is only adequate as Rhodey, and isn’t given enough screentime to establish the role as his own. Scarlett Johansson doesn’t have much to do besides provide a little eye candy and kick butt with a cool fight scene late in the movie (although said scene makes her look bad-ass enough that it’s worth the wait). Mickey Rourke’s Vanko is given more build-up than pay-off. Rourke does an adequate job with what he’s given, which isn’t much; despite a decent superhero nemesis backstory, Vanko is left on the sidelines between his debut at a race-car track in Monaco where he strikes his first blow against Tony, and the climactic fight. More impression is made by Sam Rockwell, who plays Hammer with a deliciously weaselly fatuousness that brings to mind Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor.  In fact, there are occasions when Rockwell comes close to stealing the entire show. Samuel L. Jackson has an expanded cameo as Nick Fury, while Jon Favreau again steps in front of the camera with a few amusing moments as Happy Hogan, and Paul Bettany again provides the voice of Tony’s personal computer Jarvis.

Iron Man 2 is heavier on dialogue than action. Apart from Vanko’s strike at Monaco about half an hour in, and the climactic battle, there’s not much action, and the lengthy dialogue sequences might test some viewer’s patience (although the script, by actor Justin Theroux, provides quite a few snappy one-liners). The fight between a drunken Iron Man and Rhodey’s ‘borrowed’ War Machine in the middle of Tony’s mansion is a little silly, but fortunately the climax provides a full-on brew-ha, with Iron Man and War Machine facing off against dozens of Vanko-controlled unmanned attack drones, although the actual final fight against Vanko himself is over a little disappointingly quickly. Along the way, there are a number of delightful scenes, including Tony’s smart-ass performance at a Senate hearing and Hammer’s weapons exhibition to Rhodey and other military officials that reminded me of Mr. Zorg’s weapons demonstration in The Fifth Element (later Rockwell busts some dance moves that would give John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever a run for his money). Also amusing are the scenes between Hammer and Vanko; they make a comically mismatched pair, Hammer yapping and preening in three-piece suit and glasses with a spray-on tan like a cheesy car salesman trying to come across as cultured and classy, Vanko hulking and monosyllabic, mumbling in Russian (except for, of course, ‘I vant my burd’). There’s also a scene where Tony’s father (John Slattery) sends him a message from beyond the grave that leaves a more poignant impression.

Overall, Iron Man 2 is big and loud and flashy and entertaining; it doesn’t surpass Iron Man, but it’s not markedly inferior, and both represent solid summer entertainment. Most of those who enjoyed Iron Man shouldn’t feel ripped off for returning for Iron Man 2.