The previously infallible rule about comic book superhero movies assumed that if the first flick was good the second would be even better. Having the pedantic origins story out of the way the film makers are free to delve into the characters world and play on much broader complexities. Iron Man 2 sets out to do just that. It attempts towards the heavy and dreary with emphasis on the dramatic. There is much potential in this aspect and does deliver to a degree but unfortunately it does too much. With all it’s creaky plot devices and cluttered narratives it doesn’t quite reach the clarity and genius of Iron Man 1.
Warning: The following plot break down reveals slight story spoilers
The second installment takes off right where the first one left off. The world is aware that billionaire inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is the armored Super Hero Iron Man. Under pressure from the government, the press and the public to share his technology with the military, Tony is unwilling to divulge the secrets behind the Iron Man armor because he fears the information will slip into the wrong hands. Layering the premise is a multitudinous story. Tony’s artificial heart/generator that keeps him alive and powers his Iron Man suit is now killing him. Seemingly unable to conquer his looming death he plows ahead with the Stark Expo, a high-tech fair that’s part of his recondite relationship with his late father. Russian scientist/criminal Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is building his own high-tech suit and searching for a way to punish Stark for past crimes even as the business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) so too wants to get his hands high-tech Iron Man armor. A suit is even stolen by Stark’s best bud Col. Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle) who deems Tony too reckless and irresponsible to be a proprietor or peace. However, with the help of new friends in the world of global espionage who want to assemble a team of talents like Tony Stark may be able to win the day, keep his ticker ticking and win the heart of his friend and co-worker Pepper Potts (Gwyenth Paltrow). Sound like a lot? It is.
The plot devices are all means to to burden heavy Stark and move forward the idea of him over coming his greatest challenge, his ego. Fleshing out the personal problems of Tony Stark is particularly interesting. However, the film presents so many roads to explore and does not fully realize them. Suffice to say it’s an exercise in discursiveness.
Case in point. The component of the tragic tale of Ivan Vanko. We are introduced to a man that is the opposite reflection of Tony Stark. Like Tony he too is a genius that followed the path of the father. Yet, because of wrongs set by the Stark family his life he was brought down a different path. A path defined by revenge and retribution. Still, his journey parallels Tony Starks. In a similar experience to Tony Stark he creates destructive armor from scraps and in similar explosive fashion is captured and forced to develop weapons for a war fanatic. The preface of this interesting narrative started off strong. Particularly with the cold, menacing and maniacal monologue from Micky Rourke in the “If you make god bleed, people will cease to believe in him” prison scene. However, this dynamic diminishes and is pushed aside by the over flow of other narratives. Which was a shame because Ivan Vanko/Whiplash could have been a compelling villain. Someone who could have created a real sense of danger for Tony Stark. Not to mention the un-climatic fight scene with Whiplash, Iron Man and War Machine that ended abruptly and humorously as opposed to dramatically.
Wasted opportunities, yes. However, Iron Man 2 is not a narrative failure by any means. Though, the plot is unnecessarily convoluted, the array of character perspective clunky, at face value Iron Man 2 pleasantly goes against the grain of whats expected .Tony Stark, though, as sharp tongued as ever just isn’t that likable this time around. He has to reap the whirlwind consequences of his actions and he just doesn’t quite now how to deal. Iron Man might be invincible but Tony Stark isn’t.
Though, it’s not as kinetic as the first one and lacks the sense of fun the advertisements made it out to be it does deliver in other areas of expectedness. It offers the same satisfying dialogue and witty banter as the first. The exhanges between characters are as hilarious as they are intelligent. The acting is top notch. Robert Downey Jr. is infallibly charismatic and perfectly conveys the world heavy Tony Stark. Sam Rockwell is also typically brilliant as the Tony Stark wannabe, with all of the one liners, but none of the charm. Mickey Rourk steals the show. He was able to take a Marvel character who isn’t particularly strong or developed, and give him an amazing screen presence, every scene he is in you feel his uneasy,intimidating presence, and his lines delivered methodically. Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johanson and Don Cheadle don’t get enough screen time but each do what can with what they can. The chemistry of these characters almost makes up for the cavernous gaps in story telling.
Though, Iron Man 2 lacks subtlety, depth and barely achieves emotional resonance it’s genuinely enthusiastic and fun.