When Marvel decided to transform Iron Man from a character on the pages of a comic book to the silver screen, they made what is probably one of the most inspired casting choices in the history of superhero movies by obtaining the services of Robert Downey Jr. for the title role. Downey’s electrifying performance was one the major reasons for the critical and commercial success of the original Iron Man which has directly led to the existence of this sequel.
The reason I am highlighting Robert Downey Jr. is because his portrayal is again the centrepiece of Iron Man 2, and is solely responsible for maintaining our attention through the tepid first half of the movie. To tell the truth, the first half isn’t really boring in any specific sense, but it lacks the energy and action that Iron Man had in plenty. Part of the reason for that is too much time is spent on expounding on Tony Stark’s character and past, and too little on the actual superhero itself. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if this was the first movie since character building would be necessary in that case, but in a sequel we expect copious amounts of action which seems to be missing here.
Of course, one of the main problems when going with a character like Iron Man is that the man behind the suit, Tony Stark, is more interesting and enigmatic than the superhero personifying it. Iron Man himself is best when combined with a group of superheroes like The Avengers, for instance, rather than fighting enemies on his own. Another issue is that the nemesis roster for Iron Man is not as mouth-watering as, say, a Batman or Spiderman. So, while Batman gets to battle with The Joker in his sequel, Iron Man is stuck with Ivan Vanko, who sounds less-than-inspiring to say the least.
Enough of that now, the movie itself kicks off right where the first one ended. Tony Stark has announced to the world that he is Iron Man, which earns him the ire of not only S.H.I.E.L.D but also the U.S. government. The latter arrange a hearing where they ask him to handover the suit to the military terming it as a weapon of immense capabilities which shouldn’t be available to just one individual. Less than 24 hours after saying in the aforementioned hearing that the only suit in existence is his, Tony is attacked in Monaco by Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) wearing a not-too-dissimilar suit; however, one with some decidedly evil modifications. When Ivan is captured and jailed, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Stark’s chief business nemesis, arranges for his escape and provides him with unlimited resources to build a similar suit to bring down Stark/Iron Man.
In addition to that, there is also a lot of build-up for the upcoming Avengers movie in the base storyline itself. Tony Stark is slowly dying of Palladium poisoning caused by the arc-reactor core that, ironically, keeps his heart beating. Therefore, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) sends one of his best agents, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), undercover as Stark’s new secretary to watch over him and prevent him from causing further trouble. Tony also appoints his secretary, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), as the new CEO of Stark Industries and steps back from the limelight for the time being. And when Tony refuses to treat the Iron Man suit with the importance it requires, James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) decides to borrow the Mark-II Iron Man suit without permission, thus becoming the War Machine.
As I mentioned in the beginning, this is Robert Downey’s movie from start-to-finish. He is not playing the role of Tony Stark as much as living it, because the character is very close to his real-life enigmatic persona. Having said that, just how much of a genius actor Downey is should be evident in the very few emotional scenes where Tony Stark talks about his father. Nearly every other performance in the movie obviously pales in comparison to his. Gwyneth Paltrow shares some great chemistry with Downey which lights up effectively during the later portions of the movie. Scarlett Johansson, good actress though she is, is mostly present as eye-candy than anything else. Mickey Rourke is clearly enjoying his comeback run, though the role itself is probably a cakewalk for him. Don Cheadle’s casting as Rhodes is a bit of a disappointment. Terrence Howard’s performance served as the perfect counterpart for Downey’s manic energy in the first movie; the same is not the case here because Cheadle himself is an energetic actor who has to remain subdued here, which does not work as well as we would’ve wanted.
As I have already stated, there are nearly not as much action scenes as I would’ve wanted, but there is enough that the movie is not found desperately lacking in that department. One is the above mentioned Monaco scene which is more about cars tumbling over than anything else. The second is a direct confrontation between War Machine and Iron Man which features some great metal-on-metal action. And of course the entire movie builds up to the climactic sequence, which certainly does not disappoint with lots of great explosions and special effects.
If what I’ve written above seems like me saying that the movie is sub-par, it is actually far from the truth. Iron Man 2 is about as good a sequel to Iron Man as was possible with what the source material had to offer. Naturally, one would expect that a third Iron Man movie would be one-too-many which would explain the amount of Avengers content in this movie that serve as a lot of build-up to the eventual Avengers movie release in 2011. (Don’t forget to hold-on for a post-credits Easter-egg which contains a nice little surprise.) Whether we get Iron Man 3 or not, Iron Man 2 is definitely worth a watch if you who enjoyed the first movie. At least we get to see a lot more of Robert Downey Jr. in action which is reason enough to watch it.