While we haven’t finished settling in after moving from Florida to Maryland recently – and still searching for a cheap matinee, rather than the $8 it cost us each this time (oh, where did you go, $5 matinees?) – we couldn’t miss the big Summer Movie kick-off: Iron Man 2. One of the few movies this summer we’ve been eagerly anticipating since it was announced, we hoped it would be able to live up to the fun of the original.
Robert Downey Jr., who perfectly epitomized the egomaniacal rich playboy Tony Stark in Iron Man (2008) returns to the role as if he never left. He once again delivers a spot-on character-driven performance – something that the viewer typically doesn’t see in superhero films – even successful ones (Spider-Man (2002), for example).
This time around, Tony has more internal pressures to deal with, rather than the external ones he focused on in the first film. Sure, he’s got enemies, but his internal fight is much harder to overcome. It shows another side of the character, and the viewer will appreciate the more in-depth look at Tony’s personal struggles.
Much has been said already about Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard as James Rhodes, but Iron Man 2 works even that major cast change into the film. As Cheadle is shown on-screen for the first time, Downey walks toward him with a quizzical expression and a slight grin on his face. Cheadle takes a look at him and says “Yeah, it’s me. Deal with it.” Of course, this fits into the storyline, since he’s a surprise witness against Downey at the time, but it also seems like a fitting first line from someone who’s replaced a major character. It fits in well, and manages to give viewers a grin at the same time.
As for Cheadle’s performance, as usual he steps up to the challenge and delivers a solid performance. He’s gotten more attention lately after a string of solid smaller performances, and it’s nice to see he’s getting more recognition for his hard work. His character factors into this sequel’s storyline in a much bigger way, and yet Cheadle manages to slip himself into the role so easily the viewer will find themselves saying “Terrence who?” by the end of the film.
Gwyneth Paltrow, who was such a delight in the first film as a sultry foil for Downey’s charm in the first film, is delegated more to a sort-of estranged businesswoman in Iron Man 2. She and Tony still have a moment or two, but she’s been replaced in the sultry foil department by Scarlett Johansson. While not very talkative, Scarlett manages to take on a more action-oriented role than expected with apparent ease, although she remains a bit aloof from both the audience and the characters around her – a seeming disadvantage that works a bit in her favor as the film progresses.
This time around, as well as adding a character or two on the side of “good”, the bad guys also multiply, as both Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell are out to get Tony/Iron Man this time around. While both Rourke and Rockwell delivering decent performances, neither are out to take over the film, and their performances, with a few moments of exception, tend to be a lot more low-key than viewers would expect (especially after seeing Ledger’s Joker completely dominate another superhero film, The Dark Knight (2008)). Instead, the main focus of the film centers around Tony’s personal struggles, and the film is much better off because of it.
That’s not to say the film isn’t action-packed when it wants to be. It is. Whether it’s Rourke’s Whiplash literally lashing his foes with whips that seemed to be fashioned from living lightning, or seeing Rhodes suit up both with and against Tony for a series of massive battle sequences, Iron Man 2 delivers special effects galore. As before, however, the film is, at it’s heart, a character-driven piece, albeit one with lots of flash and bang.
Once again, Downey Jr. and company manage to deliver big-time with the guy in the shiny metal suit. Kicking off our summer on a high note, Iron Man 2 delivers on most counts. A solid storyline that is character-driven from start to finish, interesting new kinds of challenges for the characters (rather than just another good vs. evil plot), a solid addition to the cast in the form of Don Cheadle, fun new gadgetry (wait until you see the ‘suitcase suit’!) and solid performances all around – not to mention some truly spectacular special effects that never lose the human element, despite their ferocity.
The only real drawback is the villains. Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer seems more like a joke, while Mickey Rourke’s tragic villain is never fully realized. Unfortunately, that’s the biggest downfall of Iron Man 2. The focus is so centered on the charismatic and entertaining Tony Stark, the villains are truly secondary characters and are never fleshed out very much…leaving them to seem a lot less threatening than they should be (and what’s with the weird bird thing? That’s just a ridiculous add-in). In fact, it seems as if Tony Stark is his own worst enemy, and the biggest threat he faces in this film is himself.
Still, even with that, it’s still a solid addition to the series, and definitely worth seeing on the big screen. Check it out for yourself today!