John Favreau’s Iron Man was a good movie, but I didn’t like it nearly as much as a lot of people. Sure it was a fun movie and after the overlong movies that populated the summer of 2007 it felt like a breath of fresh air, but a lot of people quickly began to lose their sense of perspective about it. By the end of the year there were actually people under the delusion that Iron Man was anywhere close to the level of The Dark Knight, and that’s just ridiculous. Still, most second installments in comic book franchises seem to improve on the originals recently (E.G. Spider-Man 2, X-Men 2, The Dark Knight, etc.), so there was definitely room for potential in Iron Man 2. Unfortunately, this sequel hasn’t brought this franchise to new levels, but it also hasn’t dropped it to the depths of the average threequel either. If anything, I expect that what this movie is going to do is give people the same experience of mild respect that I had with the first film.
Set six months after Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) revealed his identity at the end of the first film, this sequel finds Stark debating a concerned senator (Garry Shandling) that wants Stark to turn over the suit to the military. Starks friend, Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) has mixed feelings about this but tries to stand by his friend. Ultimately Stark is able to keep his suit because he insists that no other country or company is anywhere near replicating his accomplish, something that his industrial rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) disputes. Little does he know that in Russia a man named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is actually very close to making just such a suit and plans to use it to get revenge on the Stark family.
Iron Man 2 starts out pretty well. Robert Downey Jr. is still really fun in the title role and John Favreau hasn’t given up on mixing in Swingers-style banter with this effects extravaganza. We also get a pretty cool action scene where Rourke’s character attacks Stark while he’s driving a Formula One Racer. That’s all good stuff, but it isn’t long after that when the movie gets bogged down in what can only be called the second act from hell. It’s in this section that Tony Stark turns from being a somewhat loveable prick into being an insufferable whiner. It’s also where we bear witness to a ridiculous slapstick fight scene that will almost certainly draw comparisons to the infamous dance scene in Spider-Man 3.
Perhaps the most troubling misstep during this middle section is the way it brings the story to a screeching halt in order to formally introduce a character named Nick Fury played by Samuel L. Jackson. It’s been public knowledge that Marvel Films’ intention is to insert this character into a number of its films in order to eventually lead up to a film called The Avengers which will bring together all of these heroes into a team. The idea of an Avengers film has potential but it is not worth stopping all their movies in their tracks for twenty minutes in order to introduce it. Jackson himself is pretty cool, but all this material is completely superfluous to the business at hand, they should have just kept this silliness contained in post-credit stingers.
I don’t want to dwell on this movie’s weaknesses however, because well, there’s something about it that seems to make you want to view the glass as half full. Much like the original, the film usually moves at a pretty nice pace and it’s constantly being alleviated by some nice dialogue. The action scenes are really nice while they’re there and they’re always short and sweet, not overstaying their welcome. The special effects are once again really nice but they also blend into the film really well, this never feels like a glorified effects reel and that’s one of this series’ biggest strengths.
I also rather liked Mickey Rourke in the film although there were issues with his character. Whiplash is ultimately a pretty simplistic villain, his motivation ultimately boils down to little more than “my name is Ivan Vanko, you killed my father, prepare to die,” and his costume (he’s a dude with electro whips) is kind of lame. Still, Rourke is appropriately grizzled and he delivers his minimalist dialogue in a very amusing fake Russian accent. I wish they’d done more with the character, but a lot of his screen time is stolen by Sam Rockwell’s character, who would have been a lot more amusing in small doses as a side character than as a prominent part of the film’s storyline.
Maybe I just needed a decent action movie this week, or maybe I just had really low expectations going into it, but I was mostly satisfied with Iron Man 2 and probably enjoyed it about as much as I enjoyed the first film (and, again, I wasn’t that first film’s biggest fan). That said, this movie can be a bit of a mess at times and it was real close to pushing itself off the cliff. It’s only because of some really enjoyable performances and some good action that this movie is saved from being a disaster and somehow turned into a pretty decent summer action movie.
*** out of Four