Iron Man 2 powers down

Minh Bui


The sequel to 2008’s summer blockbuster lacks the ambition of its superhero peers

 

 

In the summer of 2008, the first "Iron Man" movie lifted off as one of the smartest and most entertaining action films in recent years.  "Iron Man 2" planned to up the ante, adding more metal suits, attractive leading ladies and villainous baddies for everyone’s favorite multi-billionaire. However, these additions contributed to a sequel that strays very little from its predecessor and results in an underwhelming experience.

Despite contending in the same league as successful comic book directors like Sam Raimi and Christopher Nolan of the Spiderman and Batman franchises, director John Favreau doesn’t place any kind of distinguishable stamp on the Iron Man property. Sequels like Spiderman 2 and The Dark Knight transcended their predecessors by developing the emotional complexity and relationships of the protagonist. In "Iron Man 2" however, it seems Favreau was more than content with resigning to the typical cliches within the superhero movie sandbox.

As a result, the sequel subscribes to the generic action formula of the more the merrier. There areIron Man is dying, not of palladium poisoning, but from a lack of ambition. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment. more powered armor suits, more gadgets and more PG-13 levels of mild nudity. The seemingly impervious Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., is now faced with palladium poisoning from the arc reactor in his chest, strained relationships with his love interest and sidekick and a number of enemies trying to get at his suit and legacy. In the end, there is just too much going on in the movie and the actual payoffs are too underwhelming. What made the first film great was the simplicity of the story — the creation of Iron Man. The Avengers Initiative and the underdeveloped Cold War intrigue plot points dragged the movie and left it feeling much longer than its two hour run time.

The real firepower of the movie though, comes from the cast. Although it might seem impossible for audiences to relate with the womanizing multi-billionaire Renaissance man, the charming wit and down-to-earth sensibilities of Tony Stark make him hard to resist. The sharp banter that comes through the dialogue is the principle highlight of the film and actually makes up more of the movie than the explosion-filled trailer might lead one to believe.

Of course, the genius of Downey Jr. needs worthy opposite casting, and this year Jeff Bridges has been succeeded by not only Mickey Rourke, but also the excellent Sam Rockwell. Although Rourke’s interpretation of the dirty, revenge-filled Russian physicist Ivan Vanko makes for a much more menacing adversary than Warmonger from the first film, the back story between Stark and Vanko’s father could have used more depth. Rockwell is the real star however, as the seedy and snarky Justin Hammer, a weapons developer whose jealousy and hate for Stark’s success makes him the Donald Duck to Stark’s Mickey Mouse.



The problem with the rest of the casting doesn’t come from the actors themselves, but rather characters they play. The relationship between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) isn’t written as anything more than very brief and playful banter. Therefore, Stark’s romantic motivations and the ending of the film come off as ingenious (not to mention cliche — another superhero romantic ending on a roof? the first "Iron Man", "The Matrix Reloaded", "Spiderman 3" anyone?). Don Cheadle’s sidekick role as Lt. Rhodes (War Machine) seems more tacked on and antagonistic than the sincere friendship interpreted by Terrence Howard in the first film.

Scarlet Johansson
demonstrating her assets as the character Black WidowRounding out the minor characters is Scarlett Johansson, whose character Black Widow was more of a set up for the Avengers film than anything significant pertaining to "Iron Man". Her role is representative of Favreau staying within the superhero sandbox, with Johansson’s acting came through her chest and bum more than anything.

Of course, Tony Stark’s suit of shiny armor is first and foremost for blowing things up, and the sequel does it in spades. The action sequences in the movie don’t leave viewers on the edge of their seats, but do a very good job of pacing. Rather than have the same quick split-second cuts that were so typified in the metallic orgies of "Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen", shots are held for very long periods so that viewers take in all the action.

Ultimately, "Iron Man 2" doesn’t do much to set itself apart from its predecessor, let alone other action movies. The script isn’t as tight as the first film, and many of the side stories are there to lay the groundwork for the Avengers film, rather than contribute directly to this one. Although the sharp banter and the performances by Downey Jr. and Rockwell are excellent, the movie inevitably leaves the audience wanting more, and not necessarily more of what they just had seen.