Directed by Jon Favreau
Written by Justin Theroux
Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark
Gwenyth Paltrow as Pepper Potts
Don Cheadle as James 'Rhodey' Rhodes
Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanoff
Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer
Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko
Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury
Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson
John Slattery as Howard Stark
I remember getting pretty excited for this film back in 2010. The first film had become one of my favorite movies and due to its massive success, a sequel was pretty much a guarantee. With a lot of the main cast returning and Jon Favreau coming back as director, the fans were pretty hyped. Carl and I saw it opening night in Madison's IMAX theater, which wasn't really that special, because it wasn't in 3D, nor was it formatted to fit the entire screen for certain sequences, but sometimes you got to take advantage of having one just 15 minutes away from you. Our initial reaction was that we had a good time with it, but it just wasn't as good as the first film. I have felt that way with each viewing of the film. I do enjoy Iron Man 2. I don't think it's in any way a bad film, but it is a bit underwhelming after what an experience the first film was.
One of my biggest criticisms with the film is that it tries to balance too much in its two hour run time. None of the individual plots are bad, but putting them all together can feel a bit bloated at times. Tony dealing with his revealed identity while simultaneously having the palladium in the arc reactor slowly killing him would be enough to carry a film, but we then get a lot of other side plots including Pepper taking over as CEO, both Ivan Vanko and Justin Hammer having a personal vendetta against Tony and then teaming up, introducing Natasha Romanoff and more involvement with SHIELD, Rhodey getting to wear the suit that will eventually become the War Machine armor, it's all in this movie and it can get a little crowded at times.
Another criticism I have is that the action isn't anywhere near as exciting as the first film. My favorite action scene in the entire film is Natasha taking on an entire hallway of goons with such ease. That sequence alone proved that Scarlett Johansson was capable of playing Black Widow. More on her later, though. The third act is fun, mainly to see Tony and Rhodey team up and fight together, but Hammer drones never feel threatening and they are easily expendable. I actually like the Grand Prix sequence earlier in the film quite a bit more. Seeing Tony outside of the suit, still trying to fight Vanko, is exciting.
There is still a lot to like though. Robert Downey Jr. is once again perfect as Tony. He's inhabited the role pretty flawlessly at this point. Like the first movie, he's the best part of this one. I like that we get see him out of the suit through the majority of the film, because it wisely decides to focus on further development with his character and I like that he doesn't get to automatically be an Avenger by the end. A lot of his rash decisions are dangerous for him and to an extent those close to him. He makes a lot of these choices due to him thinking his fate is sealed, but scenes such as him choosing to race in the Grand Prix or drunkenly stumbling around at his birthday party in what is essentially a highly dangerous weapon show that he is a flawed character. He can build and use his mind in any way he wants, but he's still only human. It's great characterization and definitely the high point of the film.
Gwenyth Paltrow is still a wonderful Pepper Potts and I love her dynamic with both Tony and Natasha in this film. She isn't given a ton to do, but she shines in the role anytime she is onscreen. She even makes sure Justin Hammer is arrested. I like the occurring theme of her taking out a villain in each of these films. She pushes the button that overreacts the arc reactor to kill Obidiah Stane while Tony is completely helpless in the first film, she has Justin Hammer arrested in this one and she defeats one of the villains herself in the third film.
Don Cheadle is the second actor to play James Rhodes and he's also the better of the two. I think he does a solid job stepping right into the role. He and Tony have a great friendship and both actors sell it well.
Mickey Rourke is pretty good as Ivan Vanko, but he really gets sidelined to Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer. After a solid sequence at the race track, he's basically sitting around working for Hammer until his last scene in the film. I like that he's pretty smart and not just a muscle to Hammer's brains. While Hammer does run his own company, he doesn't have the brains of Tony Stark, so he's forced to work with Ivan and it turns out Ivan is just hellbent on revenge and he does not give a shit what Justin wants. He's a good character, but I just wish he was given more to do, especially in the final confrontation with Tony and Rhodey. Their entire fight is less than two minutes long. It feels way too rushed.
Sam Rockwell is a national treasure and one of the best actors working today. He's someone that I always am happy to see in anything and he plays such a good asshole in this movie as Justin Hammer. He gives one of my favorite performances in the film. He's the anti Tony Stark, and he wants the fame that Tony has, but he's constantly failing because he doesn't have the resources, intelligence or charisma that Tony does. I think his rivalry with Tony is more interesting than Ivan's is, because they choose to develop him as a character more, which is wise, because he is a more interesting character.
Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff has a great introduction to the MCU in this film. She doesn't feel like a character who is just here to make fanboys get excited because it's another Marvel character showing up. She is integral to the plot and I'm glad that she's put to good use. Physically, Johansson is perfect for the role, but she's also great in her dialogue scenes. I like her relationship with Pepper and the scenes she shares with Tony are entertaining. She is fully capable of handling this role and I'm glad she wasn't wasted.
John Slattery briefly appears as Howard Stark through old film reels and he's great as Slattery always is. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Tony is watching outtakes of Howard doing videos for the Stark Expo. It's shown that Tony never had the best relationship with his father, so when Howard says on film that Tony was his greatest creation, it's a moment that Tony finds out about almost 20 years after Howard's death. He earlier says in the film that Howard never said he loved him, nor even liked him, so when Tony gets to hear Howard say those words, it's pretty bittersweet, because he'd gone so long having that difficult relationship with him and it doesn't really change a whole lot since Howard has been gone a long time.
The characters are this film's strong point and that's something that Marvel has gotten right in their films since the first Iron Man. While the plot may get a bit overloaded, the relationships that these characters have is the most vital part of the film.
Iron Man 2 is a good, not great sequel. I don't think it deserves all the hate it's gotten over the years. Just because it doesn't quite measure up to the first film, doesn't mean it isn't still good. A lot of people rank it lower or on the bottom of their MCU rankings, but there are far weaker films in the MCU than this one and we'll get to them soon enough.
Next week: The god of thunder makes his MCU debut in Thor!