Directed by Jon Favreau
Written by Justin Theroux
It makes a lot of sense that Iron Man 2 was the only sequel before Avengers. Iron Man had been a huge success, the hype for Thor and Captain America still needed to be built, so put their hammer and shield in Iron Man 2 and get people even more familiarized with the world of Tony Stark. As a movie, however, Iron Man 2 is mixed. I think it’s good, but, well, it has some significant flaws.
But let’s start with those good parts. First off, again, we have some fine acting. As usual, everybody who was good in the first Iron Man is still good here. The replacement of Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle is something I’m indecisive on. Before re-watching, I thought that Cheadle was more over-the-top than Howard. But really, Cheadle is just as subdued, he just has a little more screen presence, and it helps that he gets to put on the War Machine armor. Rhodey is far more memorable when his big scene isn’t in a control room, but in fights against Tony Stark and a group of villain-controlled Stark armor. Mickey Rourke as Whiplash gives a very subtle and quiet performance. Later interviews had him saying that he was angry that much of his role was cut when he did so much for it, such as learning Russian, and you can’t help but feel that there is more here that’s not being seen. The first appearance of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow is great, and provides one of the best action scenes of the movie. But they all end up getting overshadowed by Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer. He isn’t just over-the-top, he’s somewhere a thousand miles above the top. It’s ultimately rather funny that his character has very little effect on the plot, but I wouldn’t dare remove him from the movie.
And again, we have some great action scenes, particularly in meshing the action with comedy. We’re getting more towards that Marvel-style of having something really awesome followed by something that makes the audience laugh. Black Widow defeats a bunch of guards while Happy struggles with just one. The sequence of Tony being chased by a troop of rip-offs of his tech gets the tension lightened when their flying causes a parking garage full of car alarms to go off. And in-between the action, Iron Man 2 does tackle some serious themes. The idea of what would happen if somebody like Iron Man existed in the real world, and how the military would react to that, is explored, and leads to some realism aspects that show up in the future Marvel films. And Tony’s dying also flirts with his comic book alcoholism, but sadly doesn’t quite follow through on it.
And that’s one of the big flaws of Iron Man 2. For its serious themes, the movie can’t quite handle them, probably because it’s focused on being a summer blockbuster. When Tony gets drunk at a party, it’s played for laughs, and there’s very little threat for the audience that Tony will actually die when his armor starts killing him. And the solution to the problem is done in a second act that just slows the movie down too much. There’s nothing particularly interesting about having Tony sit in a lab, and the solution ends up getting found and made too easily. And we have some major Avengers foreshadowing that doesn’t work. It’s not so much nodding towards the bigger universe Marvel’s developing as pointing at it with big glowing signs. And finally, there’s the final battle with Whiplash. After the fight against the drones manages to wow, you expect big things when Whiplash drops down, only to have him defeated in the span of a few seconds with a blatantly obvious Chekhov’s gun. It leaves you with a “That was it?” feeling.
Still, Iron Man 2 isn’t bad. It’s quite enjoyable and good. It’s just not as good as it could’ve been. You can feel it wanting to be that good, it just stumbles in several key places.