2 May 2010

Movie Review: Iron Man 2



B

Iron Man 2
2010, 124mins, 12
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Justin Theroux
Cast includes: Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sam Rockwell
UK Release Date: 30th April 2010

2008’s “Iron Man” was a rollicking success, and the movie that turned Robert Downey Jr. into a superstar overnight. Director Jon Favreau took a lesser known Marvel creation, and churned out a lively and unashamedly fun popcorn film two years ago, to the tune of $585 million dollars worldwide. With those sorts of financial statistics “Iron Man 2” was always going to happen, the only real question being could it deliver the same giddy thrills as its predecessor. Like most sequels, “Iron Man 2” is an inferior product to the original picture, yet that’s not to say it’s a poor film. This second instalment still finds a nice balance of action and humour, which despite a loose screenplay; is enough to keep it satisfactorily entertaining.

“Iron Man 2” picks up six months after the events of the first film. With the world now aware that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is Iron Man; the government is putting pressure on the playful millionaire to turn his technology over to the military. To make matters worse it transpires the Iron Man suit is slowly poisoning his blood, and Tony’s relationships with CEO girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and best friend Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) are becoming increasingly strained. However things reach a nadir when a Russian tech genius called Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) comes out of the blue, with vengeance on the Stark family dominating his thoughts. After an initially unsuccessful attempt at offing Tony; Vanko teams up with envious weapons designer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), the aim to outdo Stark industries in the technological field. Yet unbeknown to Hammer, Vanko’s ambitions are far more extreme and sinister than simply upstaging Stark at his own game.

Downey Jr. is still on great form as Tony Stark, some of the freshness has gone but the performance is still frontloaded with charisma. Downey’s delightfully jovial and sharp personification of Stark was one of the original film’s biggest selling points, and things haven’t changed much with “Iron Man 2”. Downey shows a capable grasp of both comedic and dramatic material, the latter most evident during his scenes opposite Paltrow. “Iron Man 2” boasts a more emotionally developed relationship between Pepper and Tony, requiring a more fearsome chemistry between Paltrow and Downey. Thankfully both performers step up to the mark and deliver the goods, giving “Iron Man 2” a beating heart under all the blockbusting hi-jinks. Mickey Rourke is skilfully restrained as Vanko, underplaying the role with insight and menace. Rourke successfully concocts a believable feeling of anger and rage, rendering his villainous arc viable and intriguing. Don Cheadle is somewhat wasted as Rhodes (replacing Terrence Howard from the first film), whilst Scarlett Johansson is adequately sexy as Tony’s new and mysterious secretary. Sam Rockwell nearly steals the film in the part of an inferior and ignorant weapon’s manufacturer. It’s a terrifically well attuned piece of acting, and further evidence of Rockwell’s superb range. Rounding out the cast is the ever welcome Samuel L. Jackson, playing the head of S.H.I.E.L.D, an operation with plans of their own for the Iron Man device.

The screenplay by Justin Theroux has some snappy dialogue and enjoyable set pieces, but in terms of storytelling it’s less convincing. “Iron Man 2” feels sloppy in some sections and certain facets of the film feel forced and underdeveloped; the need to include Johansson’s character a perfect example of the script’s excess baggage. The lean and efficient structure of the 2008 original has been substituted for something much less aerodynamic, “Iron Man 2” is actually a shorter feature; but it feels longer and at times powerfully overcooked. The tone of the film is much the same; albeit this time the narrative just doesn’t flow as freely or with the same degree of frantic exuberance. The film also feels very much like the middle section of a trilogy, the pay-off for the entire experience never quite arriving within this chapter. Hopefully a third film or a possible “Avengers” flick will round out the story in a more complete manner.

The action remains brilliantly shot, and the digital effects are still top notch. Jon Favreau handles the brash comic book moments well, they are expertly edited and captured in a coherent and non nausea inducing fashion. Spectacle is obviously a large part of the summer movie season, and “Iron Man 2” offers a hearty dose of it; culminating in an epic and energetic finale. Sequences involving Mickey Rourke dispatching a selection of cars, and Johansson athletically slugging goons are also excellent, and add wonderfully to an already powerful burst of big budget mayhem. Favreau isn’t a filmmaker dependent on classy CGI or hyperkinetic visuals to make his projects worthwhile, but he has obvious skill in those areas, which along with his light-hearted touch keep “Iron Man 2” fun.

“Iron Man 2” doesn’t do a bad job of forging decent onscreen relationships, the aforementioned dynamic between Paltrow and Downey being the highlight in this department. Theroux may fumble some of the basic narrative mechanisms, but he does a credible job of evolving the characters beyond what audiences have already witnessed in the initial effort. Rourke’s back-story is well deployed and intelligently conveyed, an essential success for the film given the actor’s brooding and reserved performance. Unfortunately the sequel attempts to lazily imbue it’s hero with one dimensional daddy issues; a bum note amongst some pretty solid characterization.

“Iron Man 2” is a weaker film than the franchise’s first entry; although it marks a promising start for this year’s cinematic summer. Downey’s flamboyancy keeps him ever watchable, whilst the action and zippy comic interludes are robustly handled by Favreau. The score is laden with tracks from AC/DC, a musical match for the material if ever I’ve seen it. “Iron Man 2” may not pack the same punch as the character did in 2008 (the element of surprise absent this time), but it is none the less an acceptably explosive and lavish slice of Hollywood filmmaking.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

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