Marvel’s path to ‘The Avengers’ continued in the 2010 sequel to ‘Iron Man’…
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Clark Gregg
Directed by: Jon Favreau / Written by: Justin Theroux
What’s it about?
After revealing to the world that he is Iron Man, Tony Stark faces the scrutiny of the U.S. Government and the wrath of Ivan Vanko, the son of one of Howard Stark’s former colleagues…
When 2008’s Iron Man proved to be an immediate success, Marvel Studios moved quickly to greenlight a sequel for release two years later. With Jon Favreau once again in the director’s chair (and also appearing in front of the camera as Happy Hogan), Iron Man 2 would allow Marvel Studios to push forward with the first ‘phase’ of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which would culminate in 2012’s The Avengers (Avengers Assemble as it was released in the U.K.).
Whilst not as effective as the first Iron Man, Iron Man 2 is still reasonably entertaining and delivers much of what audiences loved about its predecessor. Picking up six months after Iron Man and Tony Stark’s revelation to the public that he is in fact Iron Man, the sequel sees an overly cocky and self-assured Stark falling foul of the U.S. Government – who have classified the Iron Man armour as a weapon – and drawing the ire of Ivan Vanko, whose father passes away without his work with Howard Stark on the design of the revolutionary arc reactor being acknowledged. Meanwhile, Tony has learned that the substance powering the arc reactor fitted to his chest is poisoning him and that he’ll face an early death if he doesn’t find an alternative.
Robert Downey Jr’s return as Tony Stark is a confident one and Justin Theroux’s script serves the leading star with some decent material that deftly combines humour and heart. Although the wisecracks can feel a little too dialled-up, it doesn’t necessarily feel forced like some of the later MCU films and helps fuel the motivations of the embittered Ivan Vanko who seeks to knock Stark down a peg or two. Beyond the lighter elements, Downey Jr gets further opportunity to delve deeper into the humanity of Tony Stark, frails and all, as he grapples with issues of his own mortality which drive him to excess (Stark’s drinking binge touching briefly on classic comic book storyline “Demon in a Bottle”) and the fraught relationship with his late father, Howard (John Slattery).
Gwyneth Paltrow is equally assured in her reprisal of Virginia “Pepper” Potts whose chemistry with Robert Downey Jr continues to be a highlight and Paltrow’s character is given room to grow as she takes up the role of CEO at Stark Industries. Don Cheadle makes a pleasing debut as Rhodey, taking over from Terrence Howard and proves a superior fit for the role, even more so when he suits up as War Machine. As Ivan Vanko, Mickey Rourke does well with what he has to work with providing a serviceable antagonist (a sort of mixture of iconic Iron Man comic villains Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo) that does the job but doesn’t quite have the same weight as Jeff Bridges’ Obidiah Stane from the original Iron Man. The threat to Tony Stark is bolstered somewhat by Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer (a recurring vilain in the comics), the boisterous rival industrialist seeking retribution when his government weapons contract is revoked thanks to Stark’s ramblings during the senate hearing. Rockwell effortlessly shifts between being funny and formidable adding both tension and wit to proceedings. The cast’s other most notable addition is Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow whose introduction, in terms of performance, feels a bit flat compared to her later MCU appearances.
One common criticism of Iron Man 2 is that there are times when the story takes a back seat in favour of building its ties to the wider Marvel universe and the set-up for the impending assemblage of the Avengers. In fairness that’s a bit of an overstatement – the inclusion of Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t too overbearing and has some significance to the plot as Fury helps Tony unveil his father’s unfinished work and search for a new power source for the arc reactor. It also builds on that post credits scene from the first film, providing a gentle push toward The Avengers.
Iron Man 2 has its flaws. It’s perhaps a little too sure of itself at times and there’s some loss of the irreverence that made the first Iron Man feel so unique and fresh. As mentioned earlier, Rourke’s villain doesn’t pack as big a punch as one would hope and it doesn’t help that, although the attack on the Stark Expo leads to an exciting finale, the final showdown between Vanko and Stark is rather anticlimactic with no real emotional payoff.
Ultimately, Iron Man 2 isn’t a sequel in the same vein as The Dark Knight or Aliens or Terminator 2, nor does it rank as one of the best MCU entries but as a comic book blockbuster, viewed with realistic expectations it’s a fun ride.
Geek fact! Iron Man 2 is dedicated to DJ Adam Goldstein who appears in a cameo filmed prior to his tragic death at the age of 36.
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