The first Iron Man was undoubtly one of the top 5 or 6 superhero movies of all time. Here’s my list in no particular order; The Dark Knight, Spider-man 2, Superman: The Movie, X-Men 2, Blade, and I could put Iron Man on this list as well. That’s how good the first film was. The first film catapulted Iron Man from a B-List, possible fringe A-lister in the Marvel kingdom to a bonafide A-lister right alongside Spider-Man. Iron Man surprisingly became a classic and breathed new life into Robert Downey Jr.’s acting career after his high profile downward spiral into drugs and alcohol that almost consumed him during the mid-90’s and early 00’s. The first film is what brought RDJ’s career and himself back into the public’s consciousness and has kept him there at the forefront ever since. RDJ became Iron Man in the same way that Christopher Reeve became Superman. They are Iron Man and Superman respectively. Again, I must say, Iron Man was that good. So how is Iron Man 2 supposed to top a classic?
It’s not. And it never tries to be better than the first. It’s just a good movie and it more than held its own. Not at one point during the movie did I say to myself, “damn, this is no where as good as the first one” even though I knew that it wasn’t. It passed the “sequel test” with flying colors. The “sequel test” is a major test that critics such as myself use when critiquing a film. People ask me all the time, why do you give sequels these kinds of tests when you should grade the movie by its own merits? I then tell them that if that were the case, then why would the director film a sequel in the first place? You’re suppose to stack a sequel up against the film(s) that preceded it. A sequel’s purpose is to add continuity to the story and if a sequel doesn’t fit the mold then it doesn’t work. And Iron Man 2 definitely works.
Iron Man 2 is set six months after the original, and depicts a world that’s largely at peace due to the ultimate weapon that is Iron Man. At the same time, other companies and countries are desperately trying to replicate the technology with all of them failing miserably. The US military and certain Senators want Stark to surrender his plans to the Iron Man weapon immediately but Tony Starks fends them off until Ivan Vanko, played brilliantly by Mickey Rourke, is able to recreate the technology and makes himself known at the Monaco Grand Prix. Vanko is the embittered son of Howard Stark’s (Tony’s father) former partner. Battling intrusion and interference on all sides, Tony must also contend with SHIELD operatives, competitive weapons designer Justin Hammer (played by a scene stealer Sam Rockwell), the loss of any respect from close friends Pepper Potts (Gwneth Paltrow) and Col. Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and the fact that being Iron Man is slowly killing him.
Iron Man 2 is more of what we’ve already seen and that’s not a bad thing. The action is compelling and frantic but you can still see everything that’s happening. The drama is tense and relevant. They couldn’t have picked a better bad guy. Ivan Vanko is the exact opposite of what Tony Starks has become. Both are the offspring of geniuses, while Vanko grew up in poverty and Tony of course lived a priveleged life. This is the fuel for Vanko’s rage as he believed that he and his pops should have been the Russian team to what Tony and his dad were in the U.S. He blames Tony’s dad for his father’s fate and thus his bad guy origin was born. I just wish that Vanko would’ve been given more screen time and more of a character arc. I felt that his Whiplash character could have been akin to Heath Ledger’s Joker if given the opportunity. But with so many new characters being introduced, it was understandable for why he couldn’t get the development that a lot of viewers probably craved.
This movie not being able to cater to the characters and their developments was probably the weakest part of the movie. There were things that wasn’t explained out as thoroughly as they should. For example, Col. Rhodes, without spoiling anything, obtained an Iron Man suit and just simply mastered the weapon with ease and flew away. Now in the first Iron Man movie, we witness how Stark becomes Iron Man, how he needs to learn to use the suit and become one with it, how he builds it and we can understand, that he is the only one, who could use it that way. Apparently all you need is the suit because Rhodes just hopped in and instantly became War Machine. Where’s the back story? This movie at times felt like a placeholder for future Marvel films such as Thor and the Avengers by inserting Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury and giving him more screen time to promote these initiatives.
I must say that the comical aspects are sharp and entertaining. Even more so than in the first film. And that the characters gelled with each other and the pace of the entire film moves smoothly. Iron Man 2 is everything you could hope for in a sequel, building on what worked, removing anything that didn’t and promising more to come, provided that the Iron Man franchise can avoid the epic comic-adaptation pitfall of the dreaded ‘third release’.