Iron Man 2 Review

‘Sequels never better the first film,’ says the movie bible. Sure, there are rare exceptions – Aliens, Terminator 2, Hannah Montana 2: Crimson Massacre, etc – but the rule remains true. This rule, however, does not seem to apply to comic book movies, where the sequel – freed from the shackles of the origin story – is nearly always better than the first film. Iron Man 2 keeps this proud tradition alive.

Just a few short months have passed since Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) revealed himself as Iron Man and the world has never been more peaceful. However, dark forces are gathering against ol’ tin head. One the one side, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), son of the man who helped Tony’s father Howard invent the original Arc Reactor. Bitter and vengeful, Vanko creates his own Arc Reactor and electric whips, becoming the villain Whiplash. On the other side, the defence department, who demand the Iron Man suit be turned over to the military. If Stark refuses, they are more than willing to turn to industry rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).

But that’s not the end of Stark’s troubles. The palladium core that keeps the shrapnel from entering his heart is now poisoning his blood. Faced with his own mortality, Stark goes off the rails, making Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) the CEO, alienating Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and drinking heavily. There’s also the small matter of Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), Pepper’s new secretary who seems to know a surprising amount of martial arts…

If that synopsis sounds overstuffed then that’s because it is. Iron Man 2 is packed to the gills with new characters, new situations and more things going on. Even director Jon Faverau’s cameo as bodyguard Happy Hogan is extended to four times the length it was in the first film.

In spite of that, Iron Man 2 is a consistent delight, providing spectacle, action, warmth, wit and humour in a tidy package that manages to avoid outstaying its two hour long welcome. The story moves along with the speed of a freight train, cramming in a ridiculous number of ideas and scenes with style and aplomb. One minute Tony Stark is single-handedly defeating the defence department with a few carefully chosen words, the next he’s battling Whiplash in the middle of the Monaco Grand Prix. The pace of the scripting, incredibly, manages to keep everything in check and simultaneously hit all the plot points that a film should – acts 1, 2 and 3 are all very clearly defined.

The downsides are many, unfortunately. The sheer number of things going on in the film means that Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow doesn’t actually have anything to do until the very end, while Whiplash’s backstory and reason for hating Stark is given an incredibly brief five minute explanation in the prologue. There are also only two fights with Whiplash in the entire film and both of those are pitifully short. The few memories Stark has of his father feel a little ham-fisted and lightweight in their attempt to add depth to the drama and really needed expanding. Also, Samuel L Jackson’s appearances as Nick Fury are too few and too short – he needs to have a much bigger role in the expanding universe.

Still, for all of those complaints, there are just as many incredible things to like. Tony Stark is still the only superhero just as interesting outside the costume as he is in it, there’s twice as much humour on offer and about ten times the action. Jon Favreau is clearly a director who can direct ballsy action scenes and the weight of the cast beneath him are talented enough to carry the human drama.

It might not be close to perfect, but Iron Man 2 has a lot to like about it. Bigger, badder, tougher, funnier and more exciting than the first one. Perhaps the rule should be changed to, ‘sequels never better the first film – unless the film is a comic book adaptation.’

4 stars

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