2008’s Iron Man, directed by Jon Favreau, was full of fantastic performances, wit-infused dialogue and CGI-laden action sequences. It took its place on the throne as possibly the greatest superhero movie ever, only to be displaced a couple of months later by Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
Iron Man was a cathartic brother to the gritty Gotham tale -where Bruce Wayne was morose and closed off, Tony Stark was an accessible everyday man, despite the fact that he was essentially the complete opposite. The multi-millionaire alter-ego facade that Bruce Wayne puts on, the charm, the glittering repartee -that’s what Tony Stark really is. Iron Man followed on the back of a line of disappointments for the franchise that is the Marvel superhero movie. Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Elektra, amongst others, had all tanked badly with critics. In this film, Marvel had an antidote to the ‘gritty realism’ trend that The Dark Knight was about to imbue in the industry.
Fast forward to two years later, and the release of Iron Man 2, helmed once again by the returning Jon Favreau. Marvel are in the middle of launching their current wave of superhero films, a wave which will climax with the release of The Avengers in 2012. And therein lies the main problem with Iron Man 2.
At 40 per cent expositional set-up for The Avengers and 50 per cent Tony Stark’s almost caustic dialogue (the other 10 per cent is the action), the film forgets everything that was so right in the original, to make way for one long Avengers commercial, featuring Samuel L. Jackon. Joining the cast for the sequel are Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and tagging along for the ride is Don Cheadle -replacing Terrence Howard, who was reportedly dropped for a variety of reasons. All perform admirably with what they’re given here, with Rourke and Rockwell in particular standing out.
Iron Man 2 picks up exactly where the first film left off, with Tony Stark revealing his alternate identity to the world. Rourke’s character (Ivan Venko) gets the briefest of introductions before we’re forced to trudge through a gratingly long courtroom scene, one which shows that the character of Tony Stark has become a lot more narcissistic than the one we’re used to. The film’s stand-out set piece follows, in which Venko terrorises the Monaco grand prix in pursuit of Stark. Cars are cut in half before being launched into the air and it’s almost impossible to tell where the CGI begins and ends. It’s an exhilarating scene, but unfortunately, that’s pretty much the last of the action that Iron Man 2 has to offer.
Favreau and writer Justin Theroux shift their attention to Tony’s business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and Ivan Venko takes a backseat, even more so when Johansson’s shifty-looking character shows up. Flirting dangerously with Spider-man 3 territory, the film leaves you wondering who the main villain is actually going to be -and not because it’s well written, but because it’s just not clear where they’re going with the whole thing.
The problems don’t stop there. One of the things that made the first movie what it was, the swift and snappy dialogue is ramped up until it’s no longer funny, but unbearable. This time, it’s not just Tony that’s in on it, but also Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow), his assistant/girlfriend. There’s also a very unsavoury bit of self-aggrandising self-insertion in Jon Favreau’s cameo role. Playing Tony Stark’s bodyguard, he manages to throw himself more than a few one-liners and a scene where his head ends up between Scarlett Johansson’s legs.
Iron Man put Marvel back on track and relaunched Robert Downey Jr, with him going on to put in an Oscar-nominated performance in Tropic Thunder. Iron Man 2’s greatest acclaim is that it’s half the film of the original.