Continuing our look back at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, today Tom Pheby revisits Iron Man 2.
Sequels can be a perilous, pointless and sometimes frivolous affair, often trying to emulate the success of the previous outing without ever quite hitting the same mark. Although Iron Man 2 doesn't come up with any radical story changes or plot shifts, it's certainly steady enough to leave you wanting another helping. It follows a trend of incorporating elements from the present day (similar to X-Men) to provide credibility, and in doing so keeps you thinking, stimulated and entertained.
It's interesting that Tony Stark/Iron Man contradicts the traditional hero persona so comprehensively. Stark revels in the limelight and adulation and is clearly his own biggest fan but we somehow feel the need to cheer for him regardless. Possibly for this reason, it's quite difficult to imagine anyone other than Robert Downey Jr playing the conceited and unpleasant Tony Stark. It's a testament to his acting ability that he not only delivers the obnoxious, self serving and egotistical side of the character but also manages to make him irritatingly likable. How does he do this? Who knows! Yet RDJ manages to crank up the levels when he needs to appear insufferable whilst also making Tony Stark/Iron Man vulnerable enough for us to want to put a consoling arm around his metallic shoulder. Not bad for a man who spent years in the cinematic wilderness thanks to drug abuse. He has risen from the ashes of a spent career to establish himself as a damn fine actor who is highly watchable. You feel that in the hands of another less competent actor, the lines between the two aspects of the characters negative and positive might well blur and end up in the realms of farce.
Along with Downey Jr, Iron Man 2 also features another actor who has battled personal demons, Mickey Rourke. Rouke has come a long way from his dreary fridge porn flick, Nine and a Half Weeks, to become a credible actor. Gone are his days of having to pop strawberries in someone's mouth or drizzle them in chocolate sauce. Of course, he's barely recognizable from that period now, with a head so full of Botox that it has reached its cranial limits, and a body that resembles a Leonardo Di Vinci sketch book. I sat up and paid attention when Rourke starred in The Wrestler, and I've since added it to my list of favorite films. In Iron Man 2 he undoubtedly shines as Ivan Vanko who is hell bent on revenge on behalf of his father. Who better to vent your spleen on than a gobby billionaire that seems to have it all? Rourke gives it all that he's got, with as little as he was given, and turns Vanko's scenes into the more memorable moments of the movie.
We also get Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer. Rockwell struggles to find the perfect vehicles to showcase his talents, going from first class performances in films such as the The Green Mile and Frost/Nixon, to doing himself absolutely no favours by appearing in the nauseatingly naff Charlie's Angels (complete with a trio of distinctly vacuous glamour pusses whose only skill was to shoot whilst spinning through the air and applying lippy). Here Rockwell almost gives you the impression that he's taking his career seriously again and offers up a solid performance as Hammer, a rival arms dealer who wants to take poll position in this dubious profession, and guess who is in the way ... Yup, Tony Stark.
It's a sort of rehash of seven deadly sins in some respects. Greed, Envy and Wrath are all key ingredients and if you throw in Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) you could even include Lust. Johansson is an unexpected bonus in Iron Man 2, as it sees us first introduced to her Avengers character Black Widow. It's easy to see that this was part of a marketing exercise for the future film, but I can't say it's an unpleasant affair. She cavorts around the place looking for subjects to kick, slap or squeeze between her thighs with a degree of glee and manages to brighten things up in a way that Pepper Potts fails to do.
John Favreau returned to the directors chair and made this a fun energetic ride with stand out effects, ably assisted by a script that reflects on Military/Government shenanigans and corruption, the best of which is typified by the performance of the recently departed Garry Shandling as Senator Stern. Stern wants exclusive rights to the Iron Man project for the armed forces which Stark declines. In the middle of all these threads we learn that Stark is dying, poisoned by his own suit - what's a guy gotta do to get a break!
Meanwhile Hammer hires Vanko to design a superior version of the Iron Man suit that will make Stark's appear like the flimsy Tin Man costume from The Wizard of Oz. So the stage is predictably set for a no holds barred macho mechanical brawl, not too far removed from the end of the first installment, which is a pity.
The best part for me was when Vanko sniffs out Stark at the Monaco Grand Prix and starts chopping the place to pieces with twin electric whips, carving up everything in his path to get to Stark without his metal suit. This part of the movie is visually extraordinary, but what is more mystifying is that Vanko resembles a refugee from Primark.
When Iron Man 2 gets it right, it's an undeniable treat, but it stops short of the first installment and only keeps going forward on the shoulders of Downey Jr's presence. On reflection it's a decent follow up that is worthy of that empty slot on the DVD shelf, but it doesn't bring anything new (apart from those effects) and as a result is not as satisfying as the first.
Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter