Above a city of a thousand lights, a man in a red and gold suit readies himself to jump off of a military aircraft into what appears to be the Epcot convention center. He activates the boosters in his feet and hands as he hurls himself from the plane and jettisons toward the thousands of cheering attendees inside the center below. Whizzing past fireworks and buildings, the crimson-gold man lands on a stage filled with beautiful, busty dancers at the Stark Expo convention. Tony Stark reveals himself to his screaming fans and looks right at home. Iron Man 2 has officially arrived.
Iron Man 2 can be boiled down to the relationship that these six characters have with one another. With both familiar and altered characters as well as completely new ones, Iron Man 2 is filled to the brim with star power. Scarlett Johansson plays the newest addition to the team, the beautiful Natalie Rushman who may be a “very expensive sexual harassment lawsuit” as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts informs Tony Stark. Don Cheadle has also joined the cast, and replaces Terrance Howard in filling the role of James Rhodes due to a complicated contractual fallout between Howard and Marvel Entertainment. While he may not be a new character like Johansson’s Natalie Rushman, the voice and presence of Cheadle as Rhodey provides a new outlook on a familiar character.
There are also two new villains for Tony Stark and Iron Man to face off with. Ivan Vanko, played by Academy award nominee Mickey Rourke, is a rogue Russian physicist who creates the Whiplash suit in order to make Iron Man bleed for stealing his father’s arc reactor technology. Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell, is Tony Stark’s rival in the weapons industry who produces overly expensive and comically under-developed products and is more or less a joke in comparison to Tony Stark. Together, Rourke and Rockwell create the two villains who can potentially ruin Iron Man and Tony Stark’s life.
It was an ambitious plan to pack Iron Man 2 with all of these characters, perhaps too ambitious. The plot is so packed at times that it is unable to give all of these unique characters time to breathe. I found myself wanting more screen time for Scarlett Johansson in particular, especially since she is supposed to bridge the gap between Iron Man 2 and the future Avengers movie. However, even though each actor is a bit short changed when it comes to screen time, all of the actors and actresses are phenomenal whenever they are given a chance to perform. Robert Downey Jr. and Tony Stark are one in the same, and Downey always delivers whenever he has a one-liner or a quick comment. Mickey Rourke proves that his off-screen training in a Russian prison clearly paid off as his depiction of Ivan Vanko is ruthless, cold, and calculating and feels entirely real. Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of Justin Hammer makes you understand his infuriation at always being second-string to Tony Stark, but Rockwell’s continuous injection of humor makes you laugh at rather than sympathize with the character. The most notable character portrayal though is definitely Cheadle’s James Rhodes. I am glad to report that although somewhat different in terms of personality than Terrance Howard, Cheadle’s depiction is faithful to the character. Cheadle does not have the same physical presence as Howard, but he does a great job building up the character to his eventual donning on the War Machine suit. When Cheadle finally puts it on, you believe that he is Rhodey’s War Machine and that is all that really counts.
But even with a star-studded cast, Iron Man 2 is not a perfect movie compared to its predecessor. Unfortunately, Iron Man two suffers from what I like to call the Spider-Man 3 Syndrome. In Spider-Man 3, Raimi and his team introduce a total of six new characters that play off of each other during the entire movie. In order to make it work, about four stories ran parallel with one another which ultimately converged at the ending of the film. This became a huge problem with fans and critics because it was difficult to follow what was going on. With so many stories and characters relationships, the film was concludes with poor character development and a boring plot that made the audience wonder why they waited with such high hopes. Like Spider-man 3, Iron Man 2 introduces way too many characters and is forced to develop them all in its 124-minute run time. This is a problem because Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, AND Robert Downey Jr. all need adequate screen time for the audience to care, which is impossible to do. What you’re left with is a relatively incomplete telling of each character’s development and the film ends up feeling like it was cut short. Although it doesn’t suffer from this problem as much as the truly disappointing Spider-Man 3 did, the problem is there nonetheless, which makes Iron Man 2 feel like a rushed version of the true sequel to the first Iron Man.
I believe that the reason why Iron Man 2 was not as disappointing as Spider-man 3 really comes down to director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Theroux. Although the actors do a fantastic job with what they have, it was really the choices Jon Favreau made when directing the film that make the movie truly enjoyable. Yes, it is a bit too short, but this is a limitation that a director must work with when satisfying the demands of the studio. Thankfully, Jon Favreau has a great partner in crime in Justin Theroux. The writer of the hugely successful Tropic Thunder, Theroux injects just the right amount of humor in every scene while writing a script that sounds completely natural. I quickly realized as I watched Downey and Jackson seemingly ad-lib their scenes that Theroux had written a script that was so true to the actors’ portrayals of the characters that I could actually hear these guys talking like real human beings. It’s truly a testament to the writer and the actor when I can hear movie characters talking like real people for developing a symmetry between the words on a page and the voice of the actor that brings the characters to life. My one gripe with Theroux is the overall arc of Vanko and Hammer in the second half of the film because it does feel fairly rushed. The character development from the first half of the film plateaus out, and the hope is that the audience can understand the justification of the villains actions during the big battle scenes at the end of the movie. For the most part, Theroux succeeds in creating the necessary build up and keeping a cohesive plot, but there is still that strange rushed feeling once the credits role. It was overall fun all around, but I wished the plot held all the way through like the first Iron Man.
Iron Man 2, as a whole, is a great summer blockbuster. It has been reviewed negatively by other critics because unfortunately Iron Man 2 does not provide that same “wow” factor that its predecessor offered. However, I think it is unfair to expect the same from Iron Man 2. It had ridiculous expectations to live up to, and although it may not provide the same in depth character study of Tony Stark that the first one did, I believe it doesn’t have to. The audience knows who the character is now and all they really want is an enjoyable summer movie that makes them laugh and has some great action scenes. This is probably why the crowds of both screenings I want to all praised the movie. We understand that this is not going to be the next Godfather, but we don’t want it to be. It is a hilarious action packed ride that wont’ disappoint you if you approach it for its fun factor.