Originally Reviewed – 5/20/2010
If there’s one almost constant in the universe, it’s that sequels rarely surpass the quality of the original film. Maybe it’s the lack of freshness, maybe it’s the high expectations or maybe it’s just bad luck that drive these flicks straight to the bargain bin, but a sequel is simply a tough nut to crack. From The Matrix to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, sequels almost always lead to a letdown. So how did director John Favreau do with his second crack at the Iron Man franchise? In my opinion, just fraknin’ fine.
Iron Man 2 finds our beloved Tony Stark in quite a few pickles. Not only is he being pressured by the government to surrender his Iron Man weapon to the US Army, he has a mad Russian after him to avenge the “stealing” of his father’s arc reactor (Mickey Rourke), a rival industrialist looking to make a suit of his own for the military (Sam Rockwell) and a secret agency looking to recruit him, headed up by an eye patch wearing Samuel L. Jackson. Add to that a love triangle between him, Pepper Potts and his new assistant, a back stabbing best bud and all sorts of daddy issues, and you can see this film has a ton going on, with mixed results.
With a complex and muddled script, Iron Man 2 really bites off more than it can chew and the result is a thick narrative that does nothing except set up the eventual sequels. As a result, things like plot structure and character development are thrown to the wolves, creating an uneven experience. Still, Favreau knows how to direct the franchise and he does his best to connect the web of plot points as well as create some kinetically satisfying fight sequences. Even as the main cast balloons to over double the original film, Favreau does a fine job of keeping everything moving, remarkable given the bloat in the screenplay.
As for the cast, the only returning members are Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow and while Downey does his Tony Stark shtick to perfection yet again, the introduction of Scarlet Johannson as Tony’s new eye candy reduces Pepper Potts to a withering, weeping damsel in distress and a poorly acted one at that. While the script really didn’t give her much to work with, Paltrow does a shockingly bad job in the role reprisal, surprising considering how good she was in the first installment. The rest of the cast, with the exception of Sam Rockwell who is a scene stealer as the competing industrialist, just chews their lines and gets through the feature. Don Cheadle does his best with his limited screen time, Mickey Rourke was very believable yet uninteresting as the Russian madman and Johannson adds some sexiness to an otherwise bland cast of supporting characters. Again, the cast does their best with their diluted screen time but the acting quality is nowhere near the original film.
Luckily, the film holds together due to Downey’s great performance and the skilled direction of John Favreau. Without those two, this could have been a mess, but the film is a satisfying second stanza that bridges the fantastic original and the eventual sequels quite nicely. While nobody arcs here (Stark is still a loveable dick, Potts is constantly fretting, etc, etc), the film doesn’t take a step back and still provides some visceral thrills that make it an enjoyable go-round. Some reviewers have said this movie is merely a 2 hour advertisement for the sequels, and while I can see where they’re coming from, I still think the film stands up fine on its own. While it’s not the achievement the original was, Iron Man 2 works nicely as a solid start to the summer movie season.
Score – 70%