Iron Man 2 is a mixed bag, saddled with an overcrowded plot and some uneven dialogue, but thanks to a few great performances and decent action scenes, it’s ultimately a successful sequel.
One of the film’s biggest issues stems from the timing of its release. An Avengers movie is on the horizon. This necessitates shoehorning in scenes with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and some barely there hints about Captain America. These help act as a set up for The Avengers, but they also distract from the main plotline here. Johansson and Jackson are reduced down to cameos (although Johansson does get some fun fight scenes), and they aren’t helped by the weak dialogue they’re given. The characters simply aren’t given time to develop, and don’t feel organic to the story.
The acting is generally good. Robert Downey Jr. is again perfect as Tony Stark, and Gwyneth Paltrow does a great job as Pepper Potts. The changing dynamic in the relationship between these two was one of my favourite elements of the film. The exchanges between them also contain the film’s best writing. That said, I was slightly crushed to see my favourite line from the trailer (the callback to Jerry Maguire) did not appear in the theatrical version of the film.
Mickey Rourke is not as strong playing Ivan Vanko, but he’s given much less to work with (similar to Johansson and Jackson), and is offscreen for much of the film’s running time anyway. His character’s back-story is murky at best (and what’s with his obsession with the bird?), but he nonetheless manages to imbue Vanko with a sense of malevolence and menace.
Sam Rockwell is enjoyable as the film’s other, smarmier villain, Justin Hammer, although he’s again hampered by the writing. The outcome of his character’s dealings with Vanko is not hard to foresee, and as a result he never feels like a serious threat. He’s also no match for Stark. To put it in a nerd-friendly analogy, Stark is Bill Gates, and Hammer is Steve Jobs.
Don Cheadle is in tough. Brought on to replace Terrence Howard in the role of Col. Rhodes, he is parachuted into the movie without giving the audience much time to adjust to him. The movie actually mocks this with his first line of dialogue: “It’s me. I’m here. Deal with it and let’s move on.” Downey and Cheadle don’t seem to have the most onscreen chemistry, but both guys are pros, and in the end, it worked for me.
That’s the bulk of what you need to know. The film’s score gets lost in the mix behind explosions and artillery fire, so I can’t tell you much there. If you like AC/DC and generic rock sounds, you should feel right at home. The cinematography is likewise nondescript, although I did enjoy a POV shot of Stark surrounded by a mob of fans as he attempted to go about his business. It felt like it effectively captured what it would be like to be him on a daily basis, and cemented his status as a “celebrity superhero”.
The effects do the job they need to. Things go boom, lots of bright lights, plenty of thumping bass. Nothing groundbreaking but up to par. Thinking logically, the action setpieces don’t make a whole lot of sense at times, but they are easy enough to follow. My biggest complaint is about the showdown between Vanko, Stark, and Rhodes, which felt anti-climactic.
In the end, if you liked the stuff with Stark and Potts from the first one, and you can overlook all the extraneous plot threads, and you feel the need to see big explosions, this movie should do the trick for you. Good summer fun.
(Note: I maintain another blog where I write about current events. On that blog, I made a post excoriating The Globe and Mail‘s Liam Lacey for his lazy review of Iron Man 2. I didn’t think it’d be fair to critique someone’s poor reviewing skills without offering up something to compare to, hence my own review of Iron Man 2.)