*spoiler free review*
I have been looking forward to Ironman 2 since about 8:30 pm, May 2nd of 2008. That was when I walked out of the theater after seeing the first Ironman. The original was an instant modern classic that joined the elite upper hero class with Dark Knight, X-Men 2, and Spiderman 2. It’s rare for a first outing to be so successful on all fronts but Director Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr surprisingly hit a home run. So standing in line at midnight last night with hordes of other fans had me pondering if it were possible for part 2 to exceed the first. My thoughts; Ironman 2 not as thrilling but still a solid experience.
Ironman 2 picks up almost to the moment where the first left off with Tony Stark’s shocking announcement to the world that he IS IRONMAN. It then fast forwards 6 months to all the hype and complications that come with such a bold statement. Not only is Stark Industries in disarray but the government is after his toys and the very technology that is powering Stark is starting to kill him. Meantime, Ivan (Mickey Rourke), a Russian bad boy (and apparently engineering genius) starts plans to exact revenge on the Western iron god. There are tons of old relationship issue with the faithful servant Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow) and some new ones with sexy assistant found in mysterious Natalie Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson). Sam Rockwell also brings some complications as Justin Hammer, a competitive weapons dealer trying to get a slice of Stark’s pie. Ultimately, the plot is simple. Bad guys are trying to develope weapon of mass destruction and Ironman has to stop them.
In many ways, I-2 is a much different movie than the first. Surprisingly, there is not much action this time around. It actually teases more than pleases with the few fights scenes with Ironman. I-2 should aptly be names ‘Tony Stark’ because much more screen time is committed to him in his Armani suit rather than his armored one. I was surprised to find this a ‘character developement’ movie as Stark wrestles with issues of mortality and heroism for a significant percentage of this story. This is a slower paced part two and it’s quite nice. Instead of bigger and badder, I would rather have deeper and richer for a sequel (unlike the Transformers 2 mess!). Younger viewers might get antsy in their seats waiting for the red and gold armor to appear which is about 30 minutes into the film (and only for a short time at that!). Some might find part 2 a little boring at times but I thoroughly enjoyed the ‘Stark-arc’ and appreciated the evolution of the character.
All the new characters introduced like Rourke, Rockwell, Johansson, and Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury, all do a fine job in their respective rolls. It was nice to see Fury having more of a role than just short cameos at the post-credits of previous Marvel films. No one stands out like Heath Leger’s Joker but it’s all solid, likeable performances. Unfortunately, there is not enough time for each new or old characters to really have too much fun. A lesson hopefully Favreau will note for next time.
My main problem with the movie is that the plot is fairly thin and felt like an afterthought. It’s the typical bad guys trying to demonize technology for their own personal gain. There is a slight revenge theme with Rourke’s Whiplash but that is barely explored. Fortunately, Favreau doesn’t let the character development and bland plot keep him from the wit and humor of the first film. So while the plot didn’t distract from the experience, it definitely suffered by comparison to the origins story of the first. A very small quibble is that there is A LOT of building going on. Tons of hammering, drilling, and sparking. I felt like I was in a FORD truck commercial or the end of an A-Team episode on steroids. So maybe next time, less show and more tell.
In contrast, the main strength of Ironman 2 is Robert Downey Jr. With the exception of Heath Leger or Christopher Reeves, I can’t think of anyone more perfectly suited to play the principle character. Like most hero movies, the challenge is depicting the civilian not the hero. If you get that right, then the rest is downhill and Downey gets this right. He builds off his character with just the right balance of excessiveness and vulnerability. He is focused and driven but completely lost all at the same time. There is no one else that could play the all-powerful yet helpless Stark better than Downey.
One thing I must note. Mid way through there is what has to be the best ‘prop cameo’ ever since the Alien’s skull in Predator 2. I won’t spoil it but it is nothing but fantastic and cleverly used. Oh, in the tradition of most Marvel movies, make sure you wait till after the end credits for yet another remarkable teaser referencing the future Avenger movie. I am starting to think Avengers will never live up to the unprecedented hype it’s creating. We’ll see.
Overall, I really enjoyed Ironman 2. It’s not quite as fresh and thrilling as the first but it’s a solid addition and an honoring part 2 to the franchise. The future is as bright as Ironman’s nuclear powered chest. So now it’s May 7th, 2010 and I am now eagerly awaiting May 2012 for the third installment. I better get in line tomorrow because it will no doubt be the best yet (Favreau, it’s now time for bigger and badder :).