- Iron Man 2
Directed by Jon Favreau
Screenplay by Justin Theroux
Robert Downey Jr. – Tony Stark
Don Cheadle – Lt. Col. James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes
Scarlett Johansson – Natalie Rushman / Natasha Romanoff
Gwyneth Paltrow – Pepper Potts
Sam Rockwell – Justin Hammer
Mickey Rourke – Ivan Vanko
Samuel L. Jackson – Nick Fury
Iron Man 2 is Bigger, not Better, Than the Original
But at Least It’s a Lot Bigger
Jon Favreau’s first Iron Man was a snazzy little number, cherry red and rocket-fueled and brimming with personality, even when it devolved a bit into action movie cliché right at the end. Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, out this weekend, should really be called Iron Man Too, since in many ways it’s the same thing only more so. More high tech fight scenes! More montages! More outlandish billionaires! And, alas, more flaws. Still, Iron Man 2 at once boasts an exciting persona and good old-fashioned fun, making many of the (many) flaws forgivable… much like Tony Stark himself.
Tony Stark, effectively back on top of the world at the end of the first film, is once again knocked down again by a brush with mortality. Yes, Tony Stark is dying. Apparently the human body isn’t supposed to have a palladium battery shoved inside of it 24 hours a day. (Who knew?) So while Tony secretly gets his affairs in order he’s also behaving more outlandishly than ever, overcompensating for the little time he has left with acts of dangerous bravado. That’s right… Ol’ Buckethead has a bucket list.
It’s a tribute to Robert Downey Jr.’s talent, not to mention his exceptional casting, that it takes the audience a long time to appreciate just how self-destructive he’s become. This is Tony Stark, after all… textbook narcissist and impulsive billionaire playboy, and it’s only when there’s an all-out action sequence intervention that we fully appreciate just how far he’s fallen. Tony Stark may be adorable, but our affection for him allows us to overlook just how pathetic he’s gotten until it’s almost too late.
But where Justin Theroux’s screenplay fails is in the act of bringing Tony up again from his lowest ebb. The second half of the film is awkwardly paced and mistakes soul-searching for a simple scavenger hunt, and confuses building character with building a very large laser of some kind. None of this is aided by the inexplicable decision to alleviate from Tony Stark many of the physical symptoms of his condition just when the film needed them most, leaving a film about high-tech uppercuts that doesn’t always pack a punch. A large portion of Iron Man 2 sacrifices drama for convenience, and the “ticking clock” plotline on which the entire movie is based takes a backseat to science-y montages and bizarre pronouncements like, “You can unlock the secret of your own heart.” That the perpetually glib Tony Stark manages to accept that statement without so much as cocked eyebrow feels out of character at best, and at worst… a little pathetic.
While Tony Stark is “unlocking the secret of…” Boy, that’s a hard line of dialogue to write, even after the fact… Anyway, supervillains are on the prowl, and this time it’s Whiplash, played by Mickey Rourke, who once again brings dignity to a dangerous brute. Whiplash blames Tony Stark for stealing technological innovations from his father and stages a high-octane fight scene on a race track in order to shame his nemesis publicly. This attracts the attention of Justin Hammer, another young billionaire weapons specialist whose lack of talent – not to mention charisma – leads him to recruit the unstable supervillain to build weaponry to overpower the Iron Man armor. This goes about as well as could be expected. Justin Hammer is played by Sam Rockwell, who manages to fit a little disco into his role as always. It’s a strong portrayal but a weak character, which may be amusing but doesn’t exactly beef up the conflict.
Joining the fray this time is Scarlett Johannson, so wonderful in films like Lost in Translation and Match Point yet so incredibly miscast here as a woman with a commanding presence. Although she is indeed beautiful and often talented, Johannson plays The Black Widow, superspy extraordinaire here, yet at no point feels like a powerful figure even when her mousey façade is stripped away (perhaps giving her a bit of a Russian accent when she’s playing “herself” could have helped). This isn’t helped by Favreau’s handling of her unmasking, which is offhanded to the point of forgetfulness, like it somehow slipped his mind that she’s kind of a big deal. Alas, nothing about the Black Widow seems terribly well-conceived, even her fighting style – which I have dubbed “Impractical Fu” – which consists almost entirely of wrapping her milky thighs around a man’s neck and twirling furiously. Not a bad way to go… but not convincing either, and when The Black Widow finally lets loose we’re far more impressed by Johannson’s stunt double than by the actress herself.
In contrast, Don Cheadle takes over the role of James Rhodes from Terrence Howard and is nothing short of a relief. Howard’s milquetoast portrayal of Rhodes from the first Iron Man was an enormous wet blanket on the proceedings while Cheadle manages to bring the same zeal to his portrayal that Downey does, creating a formidable ally, opponent and verbal sparring partner that finally accurately conveys what would bring these two diametrically opposed men together in the first place. We look forward to seeing more of him.
Iron Man 2 concludes in an expertly conceived action extravaganza which occasionally falls back on gadgetry to save the day, but should nevertheless satisfy any audience member’s need for fireworks if not emotional satisfaction. Iron Man 2 is simply a bigger film than the first, and as such has a very hard job to do. The results are, predictably, very messy, but well worth the effort. Iron Man himself is still a splendid cinematic creation, beautifully realized, along with War Machine and Whiplash who come to life at last as mostly-believable characters and suits of high-tech battle armor. Plus we get Scarlett Johannsen playing sexy dress-up and Samuel L. Jackson nailing his portrayal of Nick Fury (when he’s not spouting that awful “secret of your own heart” nonsense).
Like the first film, Iron Man 2 is big, brassy and a lot of fun… it’s just a shame they couldn’t have ironed out all of these lousy kinks.