When “Iron Man” came out in 2008, it wasn’t just another comic book story turned into a long feature film: it became the underdog sensation that got to re-write history on how such films should be made. Under the inspired hand of Jon Favreau, Tony Stark and his alterego Iron Man acquired human dimensions, while also holding on to their silly side, bringing true, old-fashioned comic relief. From this perspective, “Iron Man 2,” gathering the old cast with some extraordinary additions that click wonderfully, and picking up the story where the first film left it off, is a somewhat diluted version, flawed but still so high above average it will undoubtedly set a new standard for the genre.
The plot of “Iron Man 2” is traditionally sequel-like. Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark (by all means, not just in the sense that he plays the character), the former weapons manufacturer and genius that became a national hero and is now enjoying the perks that come with his new-found responsibilities. He’s loud, he’s arrogant, a narcissist who has the guts to put whatever might bother him on “mute” (not just metaphorically either), he’s good looking and, above all, he knows it all too well. Stark is also dying and he wants to make the most of the privileges he has for being Iron Man and basically protecting the US from all enemies and maintaining world peace. He wants to have fun and he’s making zero excuses for it, let alone try to make himself loved.
Understandably, the US government is not happy with the way things are and would like Mr. Stark to hand over his suit because it can very well be considered a weapon, one that many of the country’s enemies could try to replicate. Yet Stark is convinced no one could possibly master his technology, therefore he’s not giving up his property, as he calls the suit. Enter Ivan Vanko, a Russian scientist whose connection to Stark is through his father, a former partner of Tony’s dad. Played by Mickey Rourke, who spits every one of his few lines in a thick Russian accent that would be comic if it weren’t downright spooky (“Vere eees my boird?” Vanko says, asking for his parrot), Vanko becomes Whiplash, the villain who stands great chances of proving Iron Man wrong and actually defeating him.
So far so good: the film is beautifully balanced; so balanced that the scales even threateningly tip on evil’s side in a very believable manner, which would be a first for a movie of this kind. On a personal note too, things are good, with Stark committed to assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), secretly longing for Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) and shamelessly flirting in his usual charming manner with every other “skirt” that crosses his path. And then the film goes into overload, while still trying to maintain the same “tone.” Too many villains, too many unknowns in the equation, too many subplots, too little time to do it all.
Critics agree that, with the kind of potential it has, “Iron Man 2” could have been much better than the sum of its parts. It has very good elements, from the characters (Rourke as Vanko, and Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, to name just two of the baddies) to story line and subplots (the fatherless child and legacy themes that are present in both Stark and Vanko, but as if in upside down mirrors), yet it fails to quite get it right. It’s as if it throws all these wonderful ingredients into the same pot and then removes it from the oven before the concoction is done, so that it ruins both the ingredients and the final outcome. Because of this, the pace varies from accelerated to awkwardly hiccupy and even too slow for a film of such a caliber. By the time the credits start, the “Iron Man 2” experience feels like a bumpy ride – awesome nonetheless, but one that viewers can’t but wish it were less bumpy and trying.
“Iron Man 2” runs for 124 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language. It opened in many European countries on April 28 and will hit theaters nationwide in the US on May 7.
Jon Favreau is a brilliant director both when it comes to action scenes and to catching the human side of his characters. Extremely witty dialog, a clear outlining of the characters populating the “Iron Man” universe, awesome CG special effects, great music and, last but not least, excellent acting make of this film one that all movie lovers should see, regardless of whether they’re fans of the franchise or not. Speaking of which, “Iron Man 2” is also excellent for laying the grounds for the third film – with subtle hints woven in the plot, not with the by-now lame open ending.
Because of 2008’s “Iron Man,” expectations went through the roof with this sequel. The pressure must have been unimaginably huge when making this film, so it’s no wonder that Favreau and the movie studio tried to put the best they had into it. Sadly, they didn’t quite know what to do with it: while the first film left viewers satisfied, the sequel only makes them smack their lips and ask for more. There is also a certain “aw, this could have been better” feeling that lingers after one leaves the theater.
“Iron Man 2” is flawed but, then again, few are the films that can claim to be anything near to perfect. Even though one can’t but wish that Rourke had been given more screen time, or that some side stories had been left out for the threequel, the truth is that “Iron Man” will certainly prove to be this summer’s blockbuster: and good luck to that film that might try to pick up a fight with it. Fans will love it even if not all critics will. At the end of the day, “Iron Man 2” is a great, entertaining experience, albeit a tad disappointing.