Movie Review – Iron Man 2 (2010)

by HELEN GEIB and NIR SHALEV

SYNOPSIS

Robert Downey Jr returns as Tony Stark/Iron Man in Iron Man 2, the sequel to 2008’s surprise blockbuster Iron Man and a linchpin of a new movie franchise starring a bevy of heroes from the pages of Marvel Comics comic books. New villains enter the picture in this installment: rival weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a mad genius with an inherited grudge against Stark. In Stark’s corner are his trusty girl Friday Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), his Alfred Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), and his oft-exasperated yet always loyal friend Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle, stepping in for Terrence Howard). Samuel L. Jackson follows up on his appearance in the first film’s post-credits teaser with a small but pivotal role as Nick Fury, leader of the superhero team the Avengers, while Scarlett Johansson joins the series as a woman of mystery. Garry Shandling rounds out the principal cast as a slimy senator intent on acquiring the Iron Man technology for a government weapons program. Favreau also reprises his role as director, and the screenplay is the sophomore effort of Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder).

HELEN’S TAKE

In Iron Man, Tony Stark discovered his conscience. In Iron Man 2, he realizes his own mortality. The storyline is a natural progression for the character and a strong dramatic spine for the film. It’s also a good tactic for making Iron Man 2 exactly what Hollywood hopes for in a sequel: the same but different.

Iron Man 2 follows what is now officially- now that there is a second iteration- the “Iron Man” formula. One element of that formula is an “it was worth seeing the movie for the performance alone” caliber performance by Robert Downey Jr. Is there anyone who doesn’t think Downey’s performance made the first film? It makes this one too; the performance makes the rest of the film into its showcase. Who else could play Tony Stark so well, with his indefatigable arrogance, irrepressible wit, undeniable charm, and reluctant goodness?

The “Iron Man” formula is a variation on the comic book superhero movie formula and the people who revolve around Stark are familiar stock characters. They are made memorable to varying degree by the combination of writing, performance/performer’s personality, and our varying liking for the type. Mickey Rourke’s supervillain is most definitely memorable. Sam Rockwell’s industrialist, forever and in every way an also-ran against Stark, is a weasel par excellence. Vanko and Hammer could take their comedy show on the road if they weren’t so busy bringing their evil plans to fruition. In Stark’s defense, you’re not being self-centered if they really are obsessed with you.

While the film takes Stark’s predicament seriously (he is being rapidly poisoned by the element that’s keeping him alive, see the first film), the overall tone is lighthearted, even playful. The film aims to show the paying public a good time. To that end it offers a charismatic hero, colorful villains, a goodly amount of action, a dash of romance, and lots of laughs. The script and performances play up the essential non-seriousness of a summer movie about a man in a metal suit facing off against other metal suits. Favreau as director keeps the actors in the same movie, keeps things moving, and consistently leavens the action with humor.

3 1/2 stars

NIR’S TAKE

Iron Man 2 is too similar to the first film. It contains the exact beginning and end as the first film but lacks the Stark character arc (from being the world’s leading weapons and technology manufacturer to ceasing all weapons productions and fighting crime on his own). The main difference, but a slight one, in this story is it comes after Tony Stark’s announcement to the world that he is indeed the Iron Man. Trouble soon follows when two new bad guys appear over the horizon. Well, that part makes sense.

It’s also my favorite part of the film, split into two: the first part I like is that we have Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko, a tattooed, gold tooth-capped, built-like-a-brick Russian who’s holding a grudge against Tony because Stark senior had worked with Ivan’s father decades back and had stolen the Arc Reactor technology from him. We can see where the lack of love came from. Vanko is also featured in the film’s introduction, and that aspect showcases that he’s an important part of the film. My other favorite part is Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, a weapons and technology manufacturing industrialist who hates Tony Stark, and vice versa, and who employs Vanko when he sees the new suit he’d built and the damage he’d caused to Stark in their first confrontation. Together they make an excellent team, even though from the get-go they keep their true intentions a secret from one another. Their performances are my favorite part of the film, Rourke underplaying it to a creepy but humanized effect and Rockwell being a snaky and annoying rich man.

As much as I like Robert Downey’s version of Tony Stark, the further inclusion of his drinking problem, and his fantastic sense of humor, he actually got on my nerves. He gained a type of A.D.D. and is somehow uncomfortable with people giving him things, and those little quirks, alongside his love for constantly interrupting others and speaking way too fast bugged me; and I don’t like disliking the protagonist. In a sense, Stark had become a type of bad guy, or bad person but I don’t think that that was supposed to happen.

The biggest problem I have with the film is that too much happens within the two hour running time. The resurfacing of Nick Fury is entirely unnecessary because all he does is talk about The Avengers initiative and we all know that The Avengers are going to have their own movie, so why does an Iron Man movie have to focus on that? Shouldn’t The Avengers movie have its own “origin story” within its first act? Also, Scarlet Johansson plays Tony’s new secretary. She has bit parts here and there that also ultimately refer to The Avengers so again, she doesn’t entirely belong here. She is the sexiest and most beautiful character in the film and also carries the best fight scene in it, but feels almost superfluous compared to the big picture.

This film is a pretty mess, but a mess nevertheless.

2 1/2 stars

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5 responses to “Movie Review – Iron Man 2 (2010)

  1. I’m agreeing with Nir here. I felt the film was mostly bland. Having had Stark change his ways, there’s not much to do with him characterwise, and the small character arc that he does have is slight in the least. But he doesn’t really go anywhere.

    The Avengers storyline served merely as an deus-ex-machina, and was poorly implented. It felt like it belonged in another movie, which it does.

    The end action sequence between Tony and Ivan was super-short, I blinked my eyes and it was over.

    I did, however, love Sam Rockwell. A good performance, but if you really want to see him in something good, watch Choke.

  2. Choke, yes. Good movie, great book. But “Moon” is Rockwell’s greatest achievement thus far.

    And I really dislike how Mickey Rourke was underused as a villain.

  3. I just saw this movie umpteen weeks after its opening, so you can guess that I thought the first one was just ok. I really liked Downey, of course, but it’s perhaps the only time I haven’t enjoyed a Jeff Bridges role and the suit stuff got boring by the end.

    This is the reaction of someone who doesn’t read comics and knows nothing of the larger universe of stories and characters Iron Man is part of. I enjoyed this sequel much more than the first film. I thought the writing was better, the characters better realized, and the story elements more cohesive.

    Mickey Rourke is fabulous, so much so that I think they had to ration his screen time to avoid unbalancing the story. Rockwell does more with that villain type than I thought possible. (It was baffling that he wasn’t nominated for best actor for his performance in ‘Moon’.)

  4. I agree about “Moon” a whole heartedly but I must mention that you’re better off not knowing anything about the comics when watching these film adaptations; see, the comics were written decades before the film adaptations. Take a look at the first Batman film from 1989: the comics originally came during the 1930’s; same with the Superman comics whereas the film came out in 1978. And as for the upcoming Captain America movie: the comics were taking place just after WWII and showcased his fight against the Red Threat. Those comics can not and do not translate to our times and the same thing with Iron Man. The comics were from even before the First Gulf War so his origin story was tweaked heavily, but in all the right ways.

    I thought that the first Iron Man film was near perfection because it followed in the footsteps that made “Batman Begins” perfect: it gave a costumed superhero a reason to exist and room to grow. In both films, the hero doesn’t appear throughout the first half of the film and each film is over two hours in length. Iron Man 2, I believe suffers from “sequlitis” because it rehashes the characters that were fully developed originally and simply repeats what the first film did, but it takes the second and third acts of the first film and makes them into the entire second film.
    Rourke did have little screen time and I thought that it was a drawback because he never gets a chance to become menacing or even a villain, at all. Rockwell and Downey Jr. were awesome but Sam Jackson and Scarelett Johansson were pointless because their characters don’t need to exist yet and weren’t developed anyway.

    I though it was a mess but I’d like to know what you thought made the writing better and the characters better realized that wasn’t done in the first film.

    Also, “The Dark Knight” is the most perfect comic book-based film, thematically and technically. It never steps in the wrong direction, has strong performances on all accounts, is extraordinarily directed and shot, and Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is sooooo good… And, unlike Iron Man 2, personally, continues to develop its characters, inducing pathos and a much needed humanized drama.

    • (Back from vacation)
      Your comment about source material holds true for more than comics, of course, and I have often found it a challenge to be fair to a movie based on a book I have liked. It’s a lot easier to take a movie on its own terms when I’ve no particular expectations, no favorite characters or scenes that the movie can ‘get wrong’. I read enough of the Superman and Batman comics growing up to be familiar with their worlds but never went any farther into the universe of superheroes.

      You’re right that the two Js don’t need to be there, but it seems ok to me to give bit parts to characters in a continuing serial. It’s plausible that such a secret group would exist in this world so why not introduce them as a lead to the next chapter?

      You make a good point that IM2 is a second act and I’m not sure that I would have like it as much if I hadn’t seen the first or didn’t expect to see the next. It’s perhaps better to evaluate them as chapters/books in a series than independently. In a good fiction series each book is a separate pleasure but the real satisfaction is the richness of character and world that is built. I’m not sure that’s doable in a movie series, especially a comic book one. I can’t immediately think of any long movie character series other than James Bond and I don’t think there’s been much development there – updateing, yes, but basically the same. I don’t know what ambitions they have for this series.

      I wouldn’t try to argue that there was a lot of character development going on but I did think the Potts character had more to do, a reason to be there this time. And I thought Tony Stark coping with mortality was sufficiently different and interesting to take the character forward. The friend was still a nonentity. There’s a reason that people use ‘comic book character’ as a pejorative. I think you expect too much if you want anything beyond slight variations in the same character and situations each time.

      I find the ‘what do we do now’ point of a story more interesting than the origin set-up portion. It’s probably nothing more than personal preference that I thought the writing was better this time. I laughed more, I wasn’t bored by the righteous conversion and rocket making, and the resolution was more entertaining. Possibly it is a mess but I have the advantage over you in being the casual moviegoer in search of entertainment for this one. I do have standards – The Fantastic Four was an abomination for instance – but I am willing to let a lot of things slide if it is overall an enjoyable two hours. You will get no argument from me re The Dark Knight though I don’t love it. It is quite excellent and I have only a tiny quibble about_never_ stepping in the wrong direction; I thought blowing up the hospital was just a bit too much.

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