Iron Man 2


Reviewed by: Nick Da Costa

Iron Man 2
"Unfortunately, the sad realisation about Iron Man 2 is that it suffers from its own success." | Photo: Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 opens on a dirty, dark Moscow tenement that recalls the claustrophobic conditions that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) found himself in during his imprisonment in the first film. He fought to take the first metal-cased step towards redemption. In the case of Ivan Yanko (Mickey Rourke), our ostensible villain, he is constructing the means for revenge. His target: Iron Man.

As if in a time machine we jump away from the grime of Mother Russia to the rich capitalist revelry of cheerleaders and pyrotechnics at the New York Stark Expo. It signals the jubilant return of the man himself, Tony Stark, the armour disassembling to reveal a tuxedo and a pearly white smile.

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This is a smile he needs to use to full effect in front of a Senate sub-committee that is demanding the Iron Man technology be handed over to the American government for safekeeping against threat of war. Behind the scenes Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), CEO of Hammer Industries, the primary military contractor, and bitter rival of Stark, plots to upstage Stark anyway he can.

At this point you’d be forgiven for seeing shades of Spider-Man 3 and fearing the same narrative downturn of that franchise. Fortunately, where that triple-narrative never felt organic, just a muddling of an origin story and a fan favourite villain forced upon a director, Iron Man 2 has a central conceit that ties everything together: legacy.

It’s the psychological edge. For all Stark’s confidence - his wit, charisma and invention - beneath the surface he is a bundle of insecurities. His armour is not just a weapon but a shield against the rejection he first suffered as a child. These enemies from the past (Yanko), the present (Hammer) and the future (the Government’s fears) weaken the foundations of the Stark empire and as it crumbles so does Tony.

In a neat cameo John Slattery plays Howard Stark, Tony’s father, and you realise the film hangs on the relationship between these two men. There’s a moment of epiphany, late in the film, that mixes a film reel message and digital displays to bring the worlds of the now and the hereafter together to poignant effect.

This also gives Downey Jr a moment of stillness that wasn’t afforded to him in the first film, and it’s a relief as his quick fire delivery and flamboyant personality - perfectly attuned to a character that would use the sign atop a donut shop as a chaise longue - can be exhausting. In a good way, obviously. He’s the pulse of the movie and it’s a beat that’s picked up once again by Gwyneth Paltrow as the long-suffering Pepper Potts. They share a rapport Hawks would have been proud of. Irresponsibility meets brass with equal amounts of tenderness and rebuking.

They cast a big shadow over the rest of the cast and besides Rockwell’s somehow likeable performance as a snivelling, jealous child, frustrated by his limited powers (check the Swingers musical cue - so not Money) there are few standouts. Rourke is surprisingly subdued, whipping some much needed humility into Stark at Monaco before transforming into a big bad that’s a little too reminiscent of the one from the first film.

Don Cheadle, as Lt. Col. James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes, gets to don the fabled War Machine armour and perform a raucous intervention on a drunken Iron Man, but you feel he needs another movie to get over the awkward transition from Terrence Howard in the first film. Johansson is equally unsure playing the mysterious aide Natalie Rushman. While she shows an impressive physicality in an action sequence late in the movie, she’s too cold, the tension set-up between her and Potts never quite sparking.

Perhaps she was thrown by the reported improvisational style of director Favreau. While it suits more instinctive actors like Downey and Rourke, later scenes outstay their welcome and jokes that lack refinement fall horribly flat. A stronger grip on the action would have helped as well. The camera tracks slowly at times, leaving some sequences little more than motion blur.

By the climax Favreau does find his rhythm, orchestrating the rush of boot jets, wailing car alarms, clunking helmets, machinery whine and finally the percussive tone of heavy ordinance and automatic gunfire to massive effect. As the combatants are splattered by the grease spurting from the geared innards of their robotic opponents you’ll find it hard to wipe the grin from your face.

Unfortunately, the sad realisation about Iron Man 2 is that it suffers from its own success. It’s done such an impressive job of grounding most of the more fantastical comic book aspects or incorporating them with subtle visual easter eggs - used to comedic and post-credit effect here - that, with each new comic book element introduced, the clash looks more and more obvious.

It’s understandable that Marvel would turn to Stark, the consummate businessman and raconteur, to sell the concept of SHIELD and the Avengers Initiative, but when it comes in the form of Sam Jackson’s cyclopean pimp Nick Fury it’s more hokey than cloak and dagger.

Assimilated correctly, costumes, camp and colour could still deliver the epic thrills of that extended cinematic universe, but it can’t come at the cost of individual films and their franchises. Otherwise Iron Man becomes simply ruby and gold threads in a vast but dissonant tapestry.

Reviewed on: 30 Apr 2010
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Tony Stark faces new challenges and meets new enemies, both in his own life and in that of his alter-ego, Iron Man.
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Max Crawford ***

Director: Jon Favreau

Writer: Justin Theroux, based on the comics by Stan Lee.

Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Samuel L Jackson

Year: 2010

Runtime: 124 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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