Iron Man 2
The line between the actor and the character is blurring, and it’s arguable whether John Favreau’s second film is any good, or just another thrilling dosage of Downey Jr. at his finest


24 October 2010

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Plot summary

Tony Stark has declared himself Iron Man and installed world peace... or so he thinks. He soon realizes that not only is there a mad man out to kill him with his own technology, but there's something more: he is dying.

Are we ready for more Tony Stark, a man so like Marmite, you’ll even love him or hate him? If you love him, you’ll gobble up his banter-filled charisma by the spoonful, like an exclusive front-row guest at every high-powered event and lavish party he holds in this sequel. If you hate him, you’ll grimace in disgust at the taste his ‘humour’ leaves in the mouth. In fact, Stark aside, what we are witnessing is Robert Downey Jr. developing a distinct role-playing style, from Sherlock to Stark, one of cocky, self-destructive maverick genius that’s fast becoming his expected trademark. Actually, it’s getting to the point that a film with Downey Jr. minus quick-fire wise cracks would feel odd and a tad pointless that every new project becomes a personal challenge for the man. The line between the actor and the character is blurring, and it’s arguable whether John Favreau’s second film is any good, or just another thrilling dosage of Downey Jr. at his finest.

What Number 2 does offer is much of the same sharper than sharp comedy, coupled with ample brutality and destruction to keep the fan boys and gamers more than happy, and without a trace of 3D in sight like recent offerings, the action is clearly depicted and not heavy on the eyeballs to follow. Whether some of the scenes feel like a collection of mismatched scenarios that suddenly jolt the director’s memory to conclude them in one big crescendo of all-out carnage is by the by. What is commendable about the whole affair is how well each character is presented to us, complete with back story and more depth than usual in graphic novel adaptations. There is also the long-standing bromance and Batman and Robin sub-plot between Stark and pal Rhodey, this time played by the ever composed Don Cheadle who brings a trust and credibility to any role, but is never in any danger of upstaging Downey Jr. in full swing. Still, Cheadle supplies the humour at times and has fun of his own.

Each character has a point of interest about them that makes them compelling to watch as the inconsistent plot manages to find its way. Baddies are always far more appealing in this sense, and Favreau’s latest do not disappoint as such, although it could be argued whether either really is a worthy Stark adversary? Mickey Rourke as bitter Russian physicist Ivan Vanko and vengeful son of the old inventor that made the Stark family who they are today brings is own personal brand of intimidation to the role, mumbling in Russian at any given opportunity and giving any self-respecting badger a run for their money in the stripy hair department. If we’re honest, and since The Wrestler, all is dandy for Rourke who can play ‘broken man on edge determined to fight back’ over and over again, much to our satisfaction. Equally, Sam Rockwell is delightfully slippery as Stark’s less-talented competitor, Hammer, as he tries to grab the biggest slice of the defence market, but just doesn’t have the Stark showmanship to pull it off. Enter Robo Cop déjà vus as the iconic suits become real droids that (surprise, surprise) go out of control and spray the living daylights out those in their path. This film is always keen to remind us of the human angle, with Stark’s battle to stay alive simultaneously setting the scene for another Iron Man old-timer and the story’s romance: Pepper, anyone?

With all the sharp retorts and sharper metallic objects, Pepper Potts/Gwyneth Paltrow’s curves make another welcomed outing in the most tailored of power-dressing suits. But they have stiff competition from pouting Scarlett Johansson as super smart, no-nonsense cutie Natalie Rushman as newly-appointed CEO Potts’s new assistant by day, but butt-kicking operative Natasha Romanoff at night. Johansson has never looked sexier, happily going through the (admittedly, old-hap) killer moves like a cat suit-clad Thurman as The Bride (Kill Bill). These shameless displays of female prowess accumulate in the most hilarious booty-shaking moment, as both ladies in black set about a wiggle competition up some stairs to every red-blooded male’s appreciation. Still, sexist comments aside, each female brings her own qualities that often compliment each other, as well as wickedly subject Stark to more temptation, like a giddy frat boy on heat in a girl’s dorm.

In fact Iron Man 2 is all about over-indulgence and titillation, there to be enjoyed. Both sets of suits, the metallic and material kind, do not fail to impress either, as does the action and Stark remarks. It’s not a question of whether you will enjoy the sequel more than the first, just that you will continue to enjoy it, and with Downey Jr. let off the leash, it’s the buzz of where he leads us that is the real catch of the franchise. We are certainly set up for film Number 3, that’s for sure.

I should probably point one thing out first; I didn’t see the first Iron Man film. Prior to seeing this film, though, I had read myself up to speed. Tony Stark, the head of a major military contracting company, is an out-of-control womaniser. He is also Iron Man. Gwyneth Paltrow is his assistant and there is chemistry there. He has a thing called an Arc Reactor linked to an electromagnet that was built into his chest when he got captured by terrorists. He builds three suits (the first two don’t work properly). Jeff Bridges is a former-friend-turned-bad-guy who builds a suit and is eventually defeated in a compelling climax. Stark reveals to the world that he is Iron Man. It was received well by critics.

This time round, Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is dying slowly due to the intensity of his suit. He is also under pressure to handover his Iron Man suit to the US government pressure that greatly increases when a Russian Mickey Rourke shows up as Ivan Vanko and apparently proves that Iron Man isn’t the deterrent he thought he was and other people outside of Stark Industries have the technology. After blowing up about five Formula One cars Vanko is jailed until Stark’s arch-rival, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), breaks him out to help him build robots that he can sell to the army. Vanko, however, has much more deadly intentions in mind.

The plot is set up well and seems to be heading in a good direction but then it becomes a bit of chaotic mess in the middle with unnecessary confrontations and enough bad science that would make Ben Goldacre’s head explode.

The acting was good. Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson and Don Cheadle all put in what you would expect and I liked Rourke as a Russian but then I like Rourke. There are some really good comedy elements in the film that are missing from so many other superhero films which is largely due to the presence of Downey Jr. At times, it did feel like a transitional film to Joss Whedon’s upcoming Avengers movie (which Favreau is producing) but that, in turn, added an element of intrigue to an otherwise uneventful plot.

I’m not sure if it’s faithful to the comic. I’m not sure if it’s even faithful to the first film. In all honesty I expected Iron Man 2 to be a stereotypical superhero action film which, in essence, it was but with the added value of great lead actor. Robert Downey Jr. brings charisma and irreverent comedy to his role that is missing from most superhero leads and turns what could easily have been a bland role in an average film into something much more entertaining.