Interestingly enough, I believe Iron Man is one of those comic book characters that actually translates better on film. Let’s face it: no matter how great the artist, Iron Man is a hero we want to see blazing through the sky, shooting rays from his hands, and just being generally awesome in live-action. I think that’s (one of the reasons) why the first Iron Man was so successful.
I’m happy to say that in nearly every conceivable way, Iron Man 2 is just as good as the original if not a tad better.
Let’s get the bad right out of the way. Certain aspects of the story in Iron Man 2 … well, they were a little clichéd and more than a little fuzzy. The parts concerning fathers and sons I got; the parts concerning Stark’s new power source and how he discovered it … not so much. And we have a lot of iron men battling Iron Man, which sort of felt like a retread from the first film and something I hope we’ve seen the last of.
Okay, let’s talk about the good! First of all, it is undeniably a fact that Sam Rockwell took a great movie and made it better. I actually couldn’t wait for him to return to the screen during this movie, which says something considering that he played an opportunistic, annoying jerk. His Justin Hammer was absolutely a blast to watch. He even outdid the always-entertaining Robert Downey, Jr., whose Tony Stark was not all that different from Justin Hammer in a lot of ways. For some reason, though, Tony comes off as the cool kid and Hammer comes off as the annoying bottom-feeder. These two actors were phenomenal to watch.
Mickey Rourke was also amazing, but for the completely opposite reason. As extravagant and bombastic as Downey and Rockwell were, Rourke was subdued. His villain, Ivan Vanko, could have been a joke. A man with daddy-issues tied to the Stark family who uses Stark technology to wage war against Iron Man. Instead, Rourke took him and made him his own—Rourke made him scary and real. Of all the characters, Vanko was the one I believed could actually exist, and that’s because they got a top-notch actor to play him. I loved every scene Vanko had except for at the end of the film when they ruined him just like they did Jeff Bridges in the first Iron Man. But man, when we first see Vanko’s gear at the road race … that’s the stuff of cinematic legend.
I’d also like to mention that Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts came off as far more likable in the sequel. I actually found myself rooting for her this time around, and I think that’s because they gave her a meatier role. Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes also had charm, as did Sam Jackson as Nick Fury and Gary Shandling as Senator Stern. In fact, this was a stellar cast who brought real charisma to their characters from top to bottom, making Iron Man 2 a fun film to watch.
And, of course, the special effects couldn’t have been done any better. I even took note that the score was appealing which usually only happens for me with James Horner, John Williams, or Danny Elfman.
I really enjoyed Jon Favreau’s direction. He seems to understand how to let his actors play to their strengths while keeping the action tight and the shots dynamic. Iron Man 2 was actually pretty funny in a lot of ways, which makes sense considering Favreau’s background, but it felt purely organic to the characters and not as though this was a comedy masquerading as an action film. And as much as I love The Dark Knight, I’m okay with a super hero movie having a lighter tone and giving us something to cheer about. By the way, I would have loved to have seen Favreau directing Downey and Rourke in the same scene. I can’t imagine two more different men.
So while the story left me scratching my head at some times, the sheer charisma of nearly every actor in this movie, as well as its action, sense of fun, and appealing direction made it a great ride.
P.S. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, make sure you sit through the credits. It gives a big hint as to the next Marvel film to be released.