I did not initially recommend the original Iron Man when it was released in May 2008, claiming that the movie was anticlimactic and lacking in a compelling villain. An inbox full of hate e-mails prompted me to believe that maybe I made a mistake. Revisiting the film on DVD, I realized that I had indeed made an error. On a second viewing I appreciated Iron Man more for its fast-paced action, wit and the exceptional performances from Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow. One of the hardest things for any critic to do is to admit that they gave a movie an incorrect rating. I’m stating for the record now that Iron Man was terrific entertainment. Iron Man 2 is every bit as fun and humorous, if not more so. It’s considerably better than the overblown The Losers, another adaptation of a graphic novel released a few weeks ago.
Downey reprises his role as Tony Stark, who as you may recall revealed his secret identity of Iron Man to the world at the end of the previous movie. Since then Iron Man has played a tremendous role in upholding peace between the nations of the world. Some spectators however, including a senator played by Gary Shandling and a defense contractor hilariously played by Sam Rockwell, believe that Stark should hand over the "Iron Man weapon
" to the government out of fear that other countries may copy the equipment. Stark refuses to part with the suit though, claiming that no other country will develop the technology for another 20 years. Shortly after he makes this accusation, a Russian named Ivan Vanko, played by Mickey Rourke, who has developed an arc reactor of his own, attacks Stark. Shortly after the incident, Stark starts to contemplate whether he can handle the power of Iron Man.
Downey once again captures the essence of the wise-cracking and cocky, yet emotionally repressed, Stark in one of the great superhero performances. But what’s surprising about
Iron Man 2 is the strength of the supporting cast. Paltrow shined in the first Iron Man as Pepper Potts, Stark’s dedicated assistant, who knows him better than anybody. Here she continues to excel not as a mere damsel like Lois Lane or Mary Jane Watson, but an independent woman who saves Stark from disaster just as much as he saves her.
Another pivotal performance comes from Don Cheadle, who takes over for Terrence Howard as Lt. Col. James Rhodes, who worries that his close friend Stark is going to seriously endanger the world and himself if he continues to be Iron Man. There’s also some first-rate work from Scarlett Johansson as Stark’s new assistant, Natalie Rushmore, who may be concealing an alter ego of her own; Jon Favreau, the film’s director, who also portrays Stark’s limo driver; and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, who desires to recruit Iron Man for a little team known as the Avengers.
The one department where
Iron Man 2 falls short is with its antagonist. Rourke is a significant step up from Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane in the first movie. However, he’s not nearly as menacing or interesting as Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight or Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2. What Iron Man 2 lacks in a villain, though it makes up for it in the hero division with another stellar performance from Downey. Besides, it’s probably better that the Iron Man franchise isn’t so heavy on villains. Otherwise we might get something like the original four Batman movies or Spider-Man 3, which centered more on the bad guys than the title character.
What I appreciate about these two
Iron Man pictures, and to a greater extent Christopher Nolan’s two Batman films, is that the movies have brought superheroes into the real world. Unlike most superhero movies, which are about good vs. evil, the Iron Man films tackle issues we face in contemporary America regarding global safety and the people in position of power. Along the way Iron Man 2 delivers more thrills than one could possibly desire in this early season of summer. By the hammer of Thor this is an entertaining movie.
Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past five years, reviewing movies on his website, http://www.freewebs.com/radman_ns. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.