- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
equels are, and will always be, a tricky business. Fail to raise the stakes and the movie plays like an unnecessary retread of its predecessor. Try to do too much, however, and it’s a bloated mess where character development takes a back seat to big, shiny action sequences. This was the dilemma facing Marvel Studios and director Jon Favreau when it came time to start working on a follow-up to the 2008 surprise hit, “Iron Man,” and although the movie isn’t without its warts, they’ve succeeded in creating a sequel that is definitely bigger, but not necessarily better. Of course, the original film is a hard act to follow, and while “Iron Man 2” may not be as good, it’s still a great way to kick off the summer movie season.
The story picks up six months later as Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), now an even bigger celebrity after revealing his secret identity to the public, is thrust into a battle with the U.S. government over the Iron Man armor. They’re not exactly thrilled by the idea that a private citizen has been able to achieve world peace almost single-handedly, and instead want to militarize the technology for their own benefit. What they don’t know is that the arc reactor powering the Iron Man suit (and keeping Stark alive) is also slowly killing him by poisoning his blood with palladium. To make matters worse, he's gained a few enemies since donning the red-and-gold armor, including Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), who teams up with rival arms manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) to create an army of Iron Men in order to crush Stark and his legacy.
It’s the next logical step in the “Iron Man” story, but it feels like Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux might have bitten off a little more than they could chew. There are so many subplots weaving in and out of the film that it’s difficult to discern between the ones that are important and those that could have been left on the cutting room floor. That’s probably because they’re all important in some respect, although some (namely anything concerning Samuel L. Jackson or Scarlett Johansson’s characters) feel more like setup to the upcoming “Avengers” film than a necessary addition to the story. Perhaps Marvel is getting a bit ahead of themselves when it comes to laying the groundwork for the future, because “Iron Man 2” could have done without all the clutter.
Favreau does a commendable job of connecting all the pieces into a coherent narrative, but it only works because of his incredible cast. Downey Jr. continues to shine as the wildly charismatic shellhead, while Gwyneth Paltrow gets plenty of room to grow as Stark’s closest confidant. The controversy surrounding the recasting of Don Cheadle as Rhodey (which is comically addressed in his first line: “It’s me, I’m here, deal with it and let’s move on.”) appears to have been for naught since you forget about Terrence Howard almost instantly, but Cheadle is still relegated to the background for most of the film. The same can be said of Rourke, who, despite a memorable introduction in the opening act, is never quite as dangerous as Vanko is made out to be. Sam Rockwell fares a little better as Hammer, a man whose bark is bigger than his bite, but that’s because the role presents him with the chance to be both funny and menacing.
If there’s one thing that “Iron Man 2” does improve upon, it’s the action. From Vanko’s thrilling attack on Stark at the Monaco Grand Prix to the big finale featuring Iron Man and Rhodey’s gun-heavy War Machine fighting side by side, there’s plenty of entertainment value packed into the film’s 125-minute runtime. The movie could have easily been undone by its own overambition, but “Iron Man 2” prevails as the light and fun summer blockbuster we were all expecting. Not every comic book movie has to be “The Dark Knight,” and if Favreau didn’t prove that the first time around, then he certainly has here.
Three-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
The Blu-ray release of the first “Iron Man” film was one of the best of the year, so it’s not surprising that Paramount has continued that tradition with “Iron Man 2.” The three-disc set is packed with hours of bonus material highlighted by yet another fantastic making-of featurette (the four-part “Ultimate Iron Man”) and an audio commentary with director Jon Favreau. Disc One also includes picture-in-picture storyboards and animatics for key sequences, as well as a S.H.I.E.L.D. Data Vault filled with personnel dossiers, project files and pop-up information that can be viewed in the movie. Disc Two houses a collection of deleted scenes, featurettes on the creation of the Stark Expo and the blending of practical and digital effects, a trio of profiles on Nick Fury, Black Widow and War Machine, a brief In Memoriam for DJ AM, and loads of concept art. And to round out the set, Paramount has also included a DVD and digital copy of the film.