The most anticipated movie of the summer is nearly here as Iron Man 2 hits theaters on Friday. As with any follow-up to a hugely successful film the expectations are off the charts. Can Iron Man 2 live up to them and avoid the potential for disappointment? The simple answer is yes, it absolutely has achieved at least that much.
The film takes over with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) having essentially single-handedly enabled a time of peace across the world. However the US government is making a concerted effort to claim the Iron Man suit as a weapon so they can militarize it while other countries and organizations attempt to make their own. When Ivan Vanko with ties to the Stark family shows up and displays similar technology, that leads to Stark fending off enemies coming at him from all directions…including himself.
Downey is as charming as ever and it really can’t be understated how much he carries the film. Just about every comedic element plays off of him while he manages such a fine balancing act between being too silly and still grounded in reality. He always represents the tone of the film. Just like in the original he faces an obstacle that threatens his existence and requires his technological mind, this time along with an assist from another party, to solve the problem.
As for the new cast Don Cheadle takes over for Terrence Howard as Rhodey, and though I’ve always considered him one of my favorite actors he comes across as somewhat flat here. He is restricted to an extent by the character being the most level-headed one of the bunch and under military orders, but I just didn’t get the same sense of chemistry that was had in the original between Downey and Howard.
Sam Rockwell was excellent in the role of Justin Hammer, basically as the competition for Tony Stark in the defense sector. He has this swarmy quality that works really well as someone scheming behind the scenes. I also really enjoyed Scarlett Johansson. She looks amazing but didn’t dominate the screen…she was able to play off Tony Stark well in various scenes and came across credibly in the action sequences.
Justin Hammer isn’t the type of enemy that goes head-to-head with Iron Man, that was left to Vanko (Mickey Rourke) to be the physical presence. Rourke played it ominously, with a quiet confidence magnified by his switching between speaking in Russian or with a heavy accent for brief periods of time in English for effect. His first conflict with Stark in the film had some real strength behind it, and the final battle ramped it up even further.
There was a good deal of publicity surrounding Olivia Munn’s role in the film, and I was surprised that it ultimately amounted to that of a cameo. Maybe it was included just to set up a turn in one of the future films? I had been eagerly awaiting the result of what had been discussed at multiple turns though remained shrouded in mystery. Her original role was scrapped and she filmed the new one late in the process.
One of the most common complaints I’ve been seeing about Iron Man 2 seems to be a feeling that it attempted to pack too much in. I’m not sure I really understand that. The pacing was just fine (the story didn’t feel rushed at all) and the two villains Vanko and Hammer worked in sync. I also really liked the tie-ins to The Avengers. There was a decent amount involved as Nick Fury continued his communication with Stark but also hinted at the next big Marvel film coming down the pipeline. Make sure to stay for a scene after the credits roll.
Iron Man 2 has just about everything that could be asked for. Some great action scenes, advanced technology and special effects that pull it all off, charismatic actors and characters, good laughs throughout, and plenty of fan service. All that being said it might not excel beyond expectations in one particular area, instead hitting on each one well enough to make the ride a very enjoyable one.
Many will question whether Iron Man 2 is better than the original. That is a tough call to make. The sequel is certainly a lot of fun but the first was able to catch many by surprise. There is a good mix of laughs and action in Iron Man 2, along with the nods to those who have a good understanding of the backgrounds of the characters and where they are headed.
Those who enjoyed Iron Man will be getting even more of the same in the sequel. All of the elements that made the first so successful and fun to watch are evident in Iron Man 2 and maybe even pushed to a greater degree.