As the Iron Man 2 opens, Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) has been called to testify before Congress. Since having shed his secret identity at the end of the previous film, his Iron Man suit has inadvertently begun an “arms race” as other countries attempt to duplicate the nascent technology. His testimony takes the sort of smug, irreverent tone that we all wish more people would adopt when addressing the allegedly august body. Of course, that tone is much easier to enjoy when it’s coming from the likes of Robert Downey Jr.
Downey shocked the world in 2008 by making Iron Man (of all things) a good movie. Iron Man, while an important within the confines of the Marvel Universe, is something of a second tier character, especially to those that don’t follow comic books. As comic book movies became big business throughout the ‘90s, they too often got bogged down in their own dramaturgical angst. Downey’s Tony Stark was a welcome breath of fresh air. Stark doesn’t regret his superpowers, he revels in them. He was inordinately successful before he became a superhero. His powers aren’t poetic justice after a lifetime of being downtrodden; quite the contrary. In Stark’s narcissistic mind it makes perfect sense that this sort of privilege would be bestowed upon him. He’s a self-centered, smug, smooth-talking playboy who, by all rights, we should want to punch in the face. It is the genius of Downey’s performance (both in the first film and again in here) that he flips these traits on their head. We like Stark. Not in spite of his character flaws but because of them.
He is delightfully unapologetic when it comes to his enjoyment of whiskey, women and weapons. All Stark needs is a good singing voice and he could be a one-man Rat Pack. If truth be told, Iron Man is probably the only superhero who is more interesting out of costume. Well, ok…Cat Woman would be more interesting out of her costume but that’s not what I mean. Would you go see a Bruce Wayne movie? Or a Peter Parker movie? No. But Tony Stark…or at least Downey’s version of Tony Stark? Absolutely. And for a good stretch of the film, that’s exactly what we get. The film, like its predecessor, coasts along quite nicely on the charisma of its lead. However, there can be too much of a good thing. And the film comes perilously close to that point. In fact, for an Iron Man movie there is decidedly little “Iron Man.” Until the final sequence of the film, I don’t think Stark suits up for more than 10 cumulative minutes.
Unfortunately, Iron Man (the character) has quite possibly the weakest rogue’s gallery of any major comic book character. Every major superhero has an archenemy (or two…or three). Batman has the Scarecrow, The Riddler and The Penguin. Spiderman has Sandman, Doc Ock and Venom. Iron Man gets Iron Monger and Titanium Man. As super-villains go, that’s a pretty far cry from The Joker. The previous film having used the closest thing to a nemesis that Iron Man has (Obadiah Stane the original Iron Monger), this time out the filmmakers have combined elements of multiple Iron Man villains to create Whiplash (Mickey Rourke); a hybrid of Backlash and Crimson Dynamo. (Yeah, Crimson Dynamo. I told you he had a weak rogue’s gallery.) Rourke continues his comeback in the role playing the not-that-much-of-a-stretch manically eccentric character.
Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard in the role of Lt. Col. James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes, dons an Iron Man suit of his own in an attempt to reign in a drunk and disorderly Stark. Cheadle and Downey have much better chemistry than he and Howard ever did. They have fun one-upping each other once the film allows for the inevitable team-up. It’s the freshest part of the film as Stark finds both a competitor and compatriot capable of keeping up with the machine gun like quality of his banter and his, well…machine guns.
Though Iron Man 2 will almost certainly be accused of being a bit light on action, most summer blockbusters feel as if those sequences were created first. We then spend the rest of the time staring blankly as the screenwriter contorts the plot in an effort to shoehorn them into the film. Thankfully there is none of that here as the action set-pieces serve the film, instead of the other way around. It’s a well-crafted film that could have used a little tightening up. But as bloated summer sequels go, you could do far worse. It might not leave you with the same giddy sense of discovery that the first film did but it still delivers.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being Iron Man and 1 being Condorman, Iron Man 2 gets a 7.