The sequel to 2008’s surprise superhero hit film Iron Man, based on the Marvel comics, pretty much serves up more of the same. Once again, Iron Man 2 presents a fairly silly story in a more-or-less convincing way, excellent special effects and a handful of action sequences that range from lackluster to pretty good. However, any drawbacks that the film suffers from are substantially compensated for by the very strong performance by its charismatic and likeable cast. The degree to which you enjoy Iron Man 2 will most likely depend on what expectations you are bringing to it but for those who were underwhelmed by the good-but-not-great first film, Iron Man 2 is surprisingly enjoyable.
Robert Downey Jr. dominates the screen as Tony Stark who is now openly reveling in the public adulation for Iron Man. However, not only is Stark suffering from a severe case of hubris and a growing blood toxicity problem, but Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the Russian son of his father’s ex-business partner, is out for vengeance. Downey Jr. has a distinctive acting style that is often the saving grace of many otherwise forgettable films and his work in both the Iron Man films plays a huge part in what makes them so enjoyable. Stark is a narcissistic hedonist who despite his many failings seems to be unfairly blessed with a fierce intelligence, sex appeal and resourcefulness. We should hate him but Downey Jr., director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Theroux (both actors themselves) make Stark completely loveable and we are never not on his side.
Sam Rockwell as Stark’s business rival Justin Hammer is also a lot of fun and Rockwell clearly enjoys reprising the villainous nerd persona that he displayed in the original Charlie’s Angels film (complete with another geeky bad-guy dance routine). Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, who becomes the CEO of Stark Industries, is also a highlight and she displays considerable comedic restraint playing the straight part in the love/hate relationship against Downey Jr’s far more flamboyant Stark. Unfortunately Mickey Rourke gets little to do of interest other than play a generic Russian bad guy, which is a somewhat embarrassing throwback to Cold War era stereotypes. Scarlett Johansson as the mysterious Natalie Rushman also feels underused.
At first the representation of private industry as the sexy bringers of world peace, while the government is portrayed as clueless meddlers, looks like the film will head in the same ultra conservative direction of the Transformers sequel but Iron Man 2 largely avoids traditional political readings by portraying nearly all characters, institutions and organisations as either highly flawed, misguided or up to no good. The action sequences, which are few and far between, do lack the exhilaration that was to be found in the first two Spider-Man films (which contain the similar light tone to the Iron Man films) but the star power and snappy dialogue keeps the film briskly moving along. Iron Man 2 continues the superhero film trend of being a sequel that is better than its predecessor and although it contains none of the self-reflexivity of Watchmen or Kick-Ass, the darkness of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films or the inventiveness of the Hellboy films, Iron Man 2 is fun, unchallenging and inoffensive entertainment.