IRON MAN 2 (2010)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke
Written by: Justin Theroux
Directed by: Jon Favreau
A review by Cameron Kieffer
With every new Marvel flick that gets released, it gets harder to imagine that any of them would be a dud. Sadly, that hasn’t always been the case. Cut to 2010 and the release of IRON MAN 2. Released a mere two years after the first film, expectations were high to say the least. And while I am quick to defend the film, the majority of fans were left feeling disappointed.
Picking up about six months after the events of IRON MAN, this sequel finds Tony Stark facing his own mortality in a variety of ways. First, he learns that the mini-arc reactor keeping him alive is slowly killing him. Then we have a man named Ivan Vanko whose personal vendetta against the Stark family puts him on a path to destroy Stark in any way possible. And if Vanko doesn’t kill him, Tony’s friends will, as both Pepper Potts and Rhodey are continually put off by his increasingly erratic behavior. If all that wasn’t enough, our hero has to contend with rival weapon designer Justin Hammer, his potential recruitment into Nick Fury’s “boy band” the Avengers, and his own lingering daddy issues. Oh, and Black Widow shows up for some reason.
There’s a lot to digest in IRON MAN 2, and that’s one of its biggest problems. There’s simply too much going on for one movie. Rumor has it that studio interference led to script changes during filming to set up THE AVENGERS and the MCU as a whole.
As a result, Vanko, who was teased as the big bad, ended up losing a significant amount of his backstory. He also loses a lot of screen time in favor of increasing Nick Fury’s presence. While this was advantageous for future installments, it results in Vanko being just one in a long list of underdeveloped villains, one of the few real weaknesses that is consistent through much of Marvel’s filmography. Despite what was likely a smart, funny script by Justin Theroux (yes, THAT Justin Theroux), these changes ultimately made the film into an incoherent mess with lots of great ideas but little focus.
Another issue with the film is Stark himself. His snarky attitude is fun for a while, but he comes off as obnoxious for much of the film. At one point he’s just downright unlikable, particularly during his birthday bash. This scene hearkens back to the famous “Demon in a Bottle” storyline of comics fame that details Tony’s descent into alcoholism. However, this becomes just another plot point that seems shoehorned in and rushed with no real resolution. By the end of the film, Tony’s cured, his relationships are saved, and all is forgiven. The downside to this happy ending is that it never truly feels earned because the story is juggling so many ideas. The loose ends just sort of get strung together haphazardly.
Here’s the thing, though: I really, really like this movie. It’s flawed, it’s a mess, it has too much going on (not unlike our protagonist, really). But, at the end of the day, it’s a fun movie. Theroux’s script has some great moments and dialogue that just gets buried by producer notes and studio decisions.
Much like the first film, the cast shines here. Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. have fantastic chemistry together. It’s a very sweet moment when their characters ultimately end up together. Don Cheadle steps in to portray Tony’s buddy Lt. Col James Rhodes and does a great job taking on the role after the dearly departed Terrence Howard. Mickey Rourke does a fine job as Vanko, but he’s mostly wasted in the role. Likewise, Scarlett Johansson is good but somewhat forgettable as Natalie, aka Natasha, aka Black Widow. Fortunately, her performance and overall character get much better in subsequent films.
I do want to mention Sam Rockwell, though. The man is great in everything, and he just kills it as Hammer. Listening to his character deliver bad jokes and metaphors without a trace of irony is just a delight. It’s like listening to a bad stand-up comic trying to recite Dennis Miller monologues that make no sense. I mean this in a good way – he is such a great foil for Stark that you never expect him to be a credible villain until he actually starts to become one, and then he’s actually somewhat scary. It’s a weird transition, but Rockwell makes it work.
The Verdict: Watch it!
While it’s definitely one of the MCU’s weaker entries, it’s a fun movie that highlights the good and bad about Tony Stark. It’s not essential for an MCU re-watch. If you haven’t seen it, it’s pretty important, particularly the introduction of Black Widow, War Machine, and the evolution of the Tony/Pepper dynamic.