When Iron Man came to the big screen in 2008, the film based on the Marvel comic superhero was a huge hit. The film gave its star Robert Downey, Jr. a huge comeback that was capped off by an Oscar-nominated performance in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. With plans for a sequel to Iron Man was already in the works just after the film hit. Trouble started to brew during pre-production when one of the film’s original cast members in Terrence Howard was unable to be in the second one due to some financial issues. Even as director Jon Favreau tried to find an angle on how to tell the story of Iron Man while linking to other upcoming franchises like Thor and most of all, The Avengers. Now after two years of anticipation, Jon Favreau and company return with the long-awaited sequel simply entitled Iron Man 2.
Directed by Jon Favreau and screenplay written by Justin Theroux along with Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man/Tony Starks. Iron Man 2 has Tony Starks, now known as Iron Man to the public, dealing with new issues concerning his identity. With the government wanting the technology of the suit as does a rival weapons manufacturer, Starks is also dealing with health problems in relation to the arc reactor he created to keep the shrapnel away from his heart. Things get worse as a new villain named Whiplash arrives to cause Tony some problems as he seeks some help against his new adversaries. The second part of what is to be a trilogy that would also link Iron Man to the Avengers team. The film would also introduce some characters relating to the Avengers as well as Iron Man’s fellow partner in War Machine.
With returning cast members Gwyneth Paltrow, Clark Gregg, Samuel L. Jackson, Leslie Bibb, the voice of Paul Bettany, and director John Faverau appearing for the second film. The film also stars Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Garry Shandling, John Slattery, and Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko/Whiplash. Iron Man 2, despite not living up to its predecessor, is a fun, solid film from Jon Favreau and company.
Six months after announcing to the world that he is Iron Man, Tony Starks holds an event known as the Stark Expo to celebrate the legacy of his late father Howard (John Slattery). Despite bringing some peace to the world and being more popular than ever, Tony is now dealing with new problems. One of them is that he is suffering from palladium poisoning from the arc reactor he had created around his heart. Things get worse when he is called to a Senate hearing led by Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) to give the Iron Man suit to the government. Even as rival weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) wants the technology that Stark had created. Helping Tony deal with the government is his friend Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) as he reveals that giving the technology that Tony has made would go in the wrong hands.
Meanwhile in Russia, a man named Ivan Vanko is creating an arc reactor of his own based on blueprints that was created by his late father who had originally helped built the idea for the arc reactor. Ivan vows revenge on Tony believing that Howard Stark was responsible for the Vanko family misfortunes. Back in the U.S., Tony names his longtime assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) the new CEO of Starks Industries as Tony gains a new assistant in Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson). Pepper, Natalie, and longtime bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) go to Monaco for a race that Tony attends where Vanko appears on the race with his new weapon as well as his arc reactor. Tony is attacked as Pepper and Happy try to help by giving Tony his Iron Man suit.
Despite defeating Ivan and learning about him, Tony is haunted while being more troubled by his palladium poisoning and pressures from the government. Meanwhile, Vanko breaks out of jail with help from Hammer who asks him to create a line of armored soldiers in order to upstage Starks. Vanko agrees while having ideas of his own as he is presumed dead by everyone but Hammer. With Tony ill from palladium poisoning, he throws a birthday party while wearing the Iron Man suit. Things get out of control until Rhodey steps in wearing one of Tony’s silver Mark II armor to get things in control. With Rhodey now deciding to turn the Mark II suit to the government with some input from Hammer, Tony’s problems escalate when S.H.I.E..L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) appears.
Fury reveals the true identity of Rushman, who is a SH.I.E.L.D. agent named Natasha Romonoff, while giving him some resources that Tony needs to cure his palladium poisoning. Among them was some old film footage left by Howard Stark who reveals his love for Tony despite their contentious relationship as well as the secret to improve his arc reactor. During this recovery, Tony learns that Ivan is alive while he realizes that Ivan is planning to create some chaos as Iron Man is going to need some help against his new adversary.
While the first film successfully introduces the origins of Iron Man. The big question is what is next to tell. While Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux does successfully create an arc for Iron Man while connecting him to other upcoming franchise characters that would be part of The Avengers comic franchise. The problem with the film is that it doesn’t feel like a film about Iron Man but rather a tie-in to the upcoming Avengers film.
Many references and ties to The Avengers ends up being a distraction from what the film is supposed to be about. Tony Stark’s health issues with his arc reactor as well as dealing with new enemies in Ivan Vanko and Justin Hammer. At the same time, there’s other stories relating to Pepper trying to run Stark’s company while creating an origin story of sorts for the War Machine character. The problem with the script is that there’s no sense of balance to the story as there’s so much going on that audiences aren’t sure which story they should follow.
Some of blame can be on Jon Favreau’s direction since he is unsure what kind of film he should be making other than just a typical, comic-book superhero action film. Whereas the first film had something fresh with its mix of humor, action, and comic-book origin storylines. The second film isn’t as engaging as Favreau seems to try to please as everyone as he can. While he creates some amazing action sequences including Ivan’s arrival into the racing scene. There’s moments where he adds scenes where he’s not sure how to get the story moving. While the end result is a decent, fun action film. It just falls short of what was expected from its core audience, being the comic book fans.
Cinematographer Matthew Libatique does some fine work with the film‘s colorful, bright photography that is typical of action films. Yet, there’s nothing really eye-opening for many of the film’s scenes with the exception of the dark lighting in the sequence of Vanko building his own arc reactor. Editors Dan Lebenthal and Richard Pearson do a nice job with the film’s editing in terms of what is expected in the genre though lags at time due to the multiple storylines that appear in the film.
Production designer J. Michael Riva, with set decorator Lauri Gaffin and supervising art director David F. Klassen, do some excellent work with the look of Tony Starks‘ home as well as the creating of the Expo model that would actually does have a reason for the story. Costume designer Mary Zophres does a very good job with some of the look on the Iron Man suit as well as the leather-suit that Black Widow wears when she goes into battle. Visual effects supervisors Andrew Hellen, Robert Nederhorst, and Janek Sirrs create some amazing work for many of the film‘s action scenes including the numerous robots Iron Man and War Machine battle in the film‘s climatic moment. Sound designer Christopher Boyes and sound editor Frank E. Eulner do an excellent job with the sound in terms of creating the layers of noise that is needed in the film’s action sequences.
Music composer John Debney creates a score that isn‘t memorable nor unspectacular as it plays along to the expectations of a blockbuster summer movie. With Tom Morello providing some metal guitar work into the mix, the film’s score isn’t as energetic nor as aggressive as the first film was. The rest of the film’s soundtrack is provided by AC/DC for the most part to play up to the intensity of the film along with tracks by Queen, the Clash, the Beastie Boys, 2Pac, and Daft Punk.
The casting by Sarah Finn & Randi Hiller is pretty good though a bit uninspired. Cameos such as Olivia Munn as a reporter on the Expo, news reporter Christiane Amanpour, Bill O’Reilly, Stan Lee, Leslie Bibb as Christine Everhart (from the first film), and Kate Mara as U.S. Marshall are fun to see but don’t really anything for the film. Other small roles such as Garry Shandling as a smarmy Senator, Paul Bettany as the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S., Clark Gregg as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson, and John Slattery as Tony’s late father Howard don’t get enough time. Samuel L. Jackson is fun as Nick Fury while Jon Favreau does get to have some funny scenes as Happy Hogan. Scarlett Johansson is somewhat decent in her role as Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romonoff/Black Widow as she gets to look sexy and kick some ass. The problem is that her performance doesn’t have any meat to the role. It’s another example of the actress’ decline from her early years as an indie darling.
Don Cheadle is pretty good as Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine as he plays the role straight while getting to have some funny lines. Yet, the only problem with his performance is that he doesn’t get enough to do for an actor of his prestige. Sam Rockwell is excellent as Justin Hammer, Stark’s corporate rival as Rockwell brings a lot of excitement and swagger into the character as he nearly steals the film from everyone. Gwyneth Paltrow is OK as Pepper Potts though she either spends her time whining about what is happening or just being a damsel-in-distress as she’s not given a lot to do in the film.
The film’s best performance definitely belongs to Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko/Whiplash. Sporting a Russian accent, Rourke truly brings a slimy yet fun performance as a man hell-bent on destroying Iron Man and be psychotic. Rourke brings a nice sense of humor to the character. Even as he brings lot of showmanship for the role of Whiplash when he first fights Iron Man. Robert Downey, Jr. is in fine form as Tony Stark/Iron Man as Downey brings his mixture of humor, light-drama, and smugness to the character. Yet, it’s not as complex nor as engaging when he played the role the first time around. Still, he manages to make the film watchable throughout.
While it’s an entertaining, by-the-books blockbuster action film, Iron Man 2 is a disappointment of sorts. Largely due to the fact that there’s too many subplots and too many references for the upcoming Avengers film and its related characters. While standout performances from Robert Downey, Jr., Mickey Rourke, and Sam Rockwell do keep the film exciting. It falls very short in comparison to the first while catering to the idea of what summer film-going audiences. Though Jon Favreau does a good job in giving audiences what they want. Iron Man 2 is an example of a film that tries to do all it can but forgets in wanting to be a great action blockbuster film.
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Marvel Cinematic Universe: Infinity Saga: Phase One Films: Iron Man - The Incredible Hulk - Thor - Captain America: The First Avenger - The Avengers (2012 film)
Marvel Phase Two Films: Iron Man 3 - Thor: The Dark World - Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Guardians of the Galaxy - The Avengers: Age of Ultron - Ant Man
Marvel Phase Three Films: Captain America: Civil War - Doctor Strange - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - Spider-Man: Homecoming - Thor: Ragnarok - Black Panther - Avengers: Infinity War - Ant-Man & the Wasp - Captain Marvel - Avengers: Endgame - Captain Marvel - Spider-Man: Far from Home
Post-Infinity Saga: Phase Four: Black Widow (2021 film) - Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – (Eternals) – (Spider-Man: No Way Home) – (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) – (Thor: Love and Thunder) – (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) - (The Marvels) – (Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania) – (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3) – (Fantastic Four)
Related: MCU is Cinema: Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3 – Pt. 4 – (Part 5) – (Part 6) – (Part 7) - The MCU: 10 Reasons Why It Rules the World
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