Ol’ Shellhead had no way of living up to the hype and momentum gained from his previous and debutant outing on the big screen. “Iron Man 2” is certainly no slouch when it comes to action and adventure, it just seemed in so many places to…jar.
We find Tony Stark at the beginning of the film struggling to maintain his outgoing, egocentric public persona due to the fact that behind the scenes his Iron Man suit and the Arc reactor that powers it and keeps him alive is slowly killing him. Much has been said about the plot taking leads from the popular “Demon In A Bottle” storyline about Stark becoming an alcoholic. Let’s be straight, Tony does not become an alcoholic in this film. He appears to get drunk once at his birthday party since he feels with the problems from his Arc reactor, this could be his last birthday. He begins acting recklessly due to these reasons and starts turning everyone against him. It all comes to a head at said birthday party and thus begins our hero’s slow road to redemption.
The problem I found with at least the first two-thirds of the film was that it felt like a bunch of, admittedly cool, Iron Man scenes clipped together. There seemed to be no cohesive narrative to help each scene flow into the next. But trust me, that’s not because the film was short on plotlines. “Iron Man 2” sadly falls, although not as spectacularly as most do, into the deadly sequel trap. They tried to add too many stories and plot strands so that as you were watching a scene with Justin Hammer, for example, it would suddenly jump to another scene with Stark and Pepper Potts. The way it made these changes didn’t feel very organic, as if the scenes had all been jumbled up.
Robert Downey Jr. again lit up the screen whenever he appeared though. Director Jon Favreau certainly knows how to assemble a brilliant cast as praise can be heaped on most of the main actors. The fizz and spark between Stark and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) was sharp and snappy – more please next time around, Sam Rockwell was excellent as the slimy rival arms dealer, Justin Hammer, and Mickey Rourke bubbled with underlying (and at times overflowing) menace as Ivan Vanko aka Whiplash even though he’s never actually referred to as Whiplash. After the intense and visceral Monaco fight scene between Stark and Vanko, he sadly takes a seat behind a computer and quite lamely taps keys on a keyboard until the final act. Sadly, Samuel L. Jackson’s return as Nick Fury will be tainted with cheese for me (“remember, I’ve got my EYE on you.”). Please. Don Cheadle did a decent enough job taking over from Terence Howard as Stark’s erstwhile friend Rhodey. After the eventual transformation into War Machine and after Stark and Rhodey make up, I really enjoyed the banter between these two. As they fight off a horde of robotic bad guys, their banter reminded me of two mates playing a computer game and just talking about a move they just pulled off. Subtle but effective stuff. I was really impressed with Scarlett Johanssen’s turn as Black Widow (but again, never actually referred to as Black Widow). Admittedly, she didn’t have much to do but help set up Avenger-related plotlines, but her fight scene towards the end of the film was nigh on brilliant. I’m not usually a fan of women fighting (call me old fashioned) but she was awesome. The fact that she reportedly did nearly all her own stunts maybe helped sell that to me.
Now, my biggest gripe from the whole film is that of one Happy Hogan. Favreau’s cameo role in his own film has been expanded this time around, and it really got to me. It is a real ego trip for Favreau and quite simply left a bad taste in my mouth every time he appeared on screen. He’s involved in rescuing Stark from Whiplash in Monaco, racing a Rolls Royce towards oncoming F1 cars. He’s in a fight scene during the climax of the film and he even gets Johanssen’s legs wrapped around him. It really took me out of the film and is a let down from a guy who’s work behind and in front of camera I’ve always enjoyed. At one point, Stark says “Iron Man doesn’t have a side kick…” but it looks like nobody told Happy Hogan that.
The fanboys and Marvel-geeks out there will have a field day with this film as they expand on Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D. and the slowly simmering Avengers storyline. We see a certain star-spangled Avenger’s shield again — albeit used in a more comedic role and, if you haven’t already spoiled yourself, make sure you don’t leave until after the final scene post end credits. We find out what has been going on in New Mexico.
All in all, “Iron Man 2” sadly falls into the same old “bigger, better, stronger, faster” trap that most sequels become victim to these days. But it still picks itself up and delivers a breath-taking action adventure with comedy and a light touch which leaves us in anticipation for what Tony Stark can bring us in “Iron Man 3” and tantalisingly sets up “The Avengers.” It’s just a shame Favreau let his own ego get in the way and made some of the film feel like “Happy” hour.
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