Jon Favreau’s second Iron Man outing successfully capitalises on the ground work laid out in 2008’s overrated feature, delivering a film that’s more exciting, more emotionally involving and funnier.
Since Tony Stark made the surprising decision to go public as Iron Man at the end of the first film, the world has become a better place as no one’s willing to go against his unstoppable creation (though we all know this won’t last).
It’s an interesting predicament and this particular problem is one that seems quite realistic. This – however shallow – exploration of peace through superior firepower is an interesting concept and easily tops the less than impressive half-hearted stance taken by the first film – that weapons manufacturers are only evil if they make weapons for the ‘bad guys’.
The second most important aspect of Iron Man 2 is that it dedicates more time to the Tony Stark/Pepper Potts relationship. This was one of the strengths of the first outing, and thankfully a lot more screen time is devoted to it here. Favreau has also managed a rare feat – creating strong independent female characters in a comic book movie (something The Dark Knight failed at completely). Paltrow’s performance as Potts is fantastic, and excepting a couple of moments which I shall get to later, she balances out Stark’s self-destructive tendencies. Scarlett Johansson joins the fold as Natalie Rushman, another wonderfully strong female character that completely mystifies Stark simply because she betrays no emotion whatsoever, something that – quite frankly – terrifies the playboy in him.
The replacement of Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle doesn’t really achieve much – Lt. Colonel James Rhodes’ stance isn’t really fleshed out enough to justify the creation of War Machine and Mickey Rourke is at a loss to bring any credibility to Ivan Vanko. It’s very rare that a superhero movie gets the balance between character motivation and plot right. Here, the personal relationships are handled with skill however the arch villain plot is barely realised. The biggest threat to the modern world is in fact Iron Man himself, though the film isn’t willing to plunder that concept to the fullest.
The action sequences are much better than the first film, generally, and the special effects are so-so. They simply can’t work out how to show Iron Man without the mask on – we either have Downey Jr.’s head stuck on top like a bad Photoshop cut and paste, or we have him dancing around in a plastic suit looking a lot like a Power Ranger. Here’s hoping that Ryan Reynolds looks OK in the CGI suit we’re going to be seeing in Green Lantern. After such a reliance on CGI in comic book movies, it’s significant that the best action scene in Iron Man 2 is one that focuses on real people and a lot of wirework.
Iron Man 2 is great fun, and much better than its predecessor. The writing really does the characters justice up until the last few minutes, which make me worry that the third film is going to be awful. For the most part, however, this gets two thumbs up, and is another well-placed step in Marvel’s ever-so-slightly-terrifying Avengers plan.