Screen Rant reviews Iron Man 2

Let’s get the big question out of the way: Was Iron Man 2 better than the first film? Not quite.

Having said that, remember that the first film set the bar WAY high, so not topping it doesn’t mean this sequel was bad. Far from it. What it means is that while I liked it a lot, I didn’t quite LOVE it like I did the first film.

Iron Man 2 opens with a voiceover that takes us through the speech at the end of the last film where Tony Stark reveals that he is Iron Man. About six months have passed since that announcement, and since then Tony has been busy zipping all over the world intervening in international conflicts. Of course the U.S. government is not too happy about having a private citizen loaded with weaponry intervening overseas on behalf of the country, and they want the Iron Man tech turned over to the military.

The government is represented by Senator Stern (played with perfect pompousness by Garry Shandling), who can’t convince Stark to turn over his private technology. This puts Tony on the opposite side of the equation with his good friend James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) who believes that sharing the technology with the military would lower the risks of having to depend on just one man. Speaking of Rhodey, it was great how they buried the whole “Terrence Howard isn’t Rhodey” thing with this line from Cheadle right at the start of the film: “It’s me, I’m here, deal with it and let’s move on.” There’s also a nod to fans of the first film in Tony’s first appearance where he says “It’s good to be back” and asks the audience if we missed him.

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Don Cheadle in a scene from 'Iron Man 2'

Stark Industries’ rival is Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), another wealthy weapons manufacturer who is the less charismatic version of Tony Stark. Hammer is jealous not only of Stark’s Iron Man tech, but of the man himself (Hammer comes off like a used car salesman who wants to be classy but doesn’t know how to do it). He’s developing his own armor technology but it’s years behind Tony Stark’s.

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Sam Rockwell in 'Iron Man 2'

One of the main plot points driving Iron Man 2 is the fact that Stark is being slowly poisoned by the palladium that powers the miniature arc reactor in his chest. It’s getting rapidly worse and despite applying all his genius towards finding a replacement, he hasn’t been able to find anything that works – he’s dying and it’s going to happen sooner than later.

While all this is going on we have Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) over in Russia, whose dying father was apparently shafted big time by Tony’s father, Howard. Vanko manages to build his own miniature arc reactor and vows revenge against Stark. Finally we have Scarlett Johansson playing “Natalie Rushman,” an accountant who comes into the Pepper Potts/Tony Stark relationship.

Continue reading for our analysis of Iron Man 2

These are a lot of characters and plot threads to merge into a two hour film, and to director Jon Favreau’s credit, he did make an effort to merge character arcs (Natalie with Stark/Potts, Hammer with Vanko) to reduce what he referred to as “villain-itis” – but with all those folks in there (plus Sam Jackson as Nick Fury) it makes for a lot going on. This makes things drag a bit in the second act while also splitting our attention and making the film seem a bit “busy.” Another thing about the film is that while the first one had a lot of witty banter between Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow, in one scene in particular it seemed too over the top – like they were trying to cram too much banter into too small a space. For much of the film Sam Rockwell took over the role of comedy relief from Downey Jr.  and considering what Stark is going through this is appropriate, and Tony does come back as the humor lead towards the end of the film.

There are also some plot points that require a bit of forgiveness on the part of the audience due to how far you have to stretch to accept them, but I have a feeling that some things were left out to keep the film moving forward at a good pace and will be revealed once the Blu-ray is released. On the other hand there were lots of little nods to the fans throughout the film which are always fun to see.

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Robert Downey Jr. returns in 'Iron Man 2'

Enough about the negatives – It was a pleasure to see Robert Downey Jr. back in the role, and I have to say that everyone involved did an excellent job. Gwyneth Paltrow’s role was expanded (and although the lighting makes her look blonde, she’s still a redhead) and director Favreau put himself into the film a lot more than in the previous one (and he was quite enjoyable and funny when he appeared). Personally I prefer Don Cheadle as Rhodey – he struck me as more of a military type than Terrence Howard, but I’m also influenced by being a long-time reader of the comic book on that point. Chemistry between Cheadle and Downey Jr. was smooth as well. Sam Rockwell was great, if a bit over the top in the goofiness category, but by the end of the film you see he’s not a man to be trifled with. I actually would have liked to have seen even even more Mickey Rourke in the film and Scarlett Johansson was very good in her role and kicked ass big time when the time came. Really. She did.

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Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff in 'Iron Man 2'

We get to learn a lot more about Tony’s father, Howard Stark, and their relationship through some old movie footage (which was a cool/retro way to do it). There is more than a hint of Avengers foundation-laying here through multiple appearances by Nick Fury and mentions of SHIELD, but it feels more like icing on the cake rather than a driver of the story.

The action sequences surpassed the first film in both quantity, quality and length. The initial battle between Whiplash and Iron Man (wearing the suitcase armor) was awesome (if a bit shorter than I would have liked), and a scene where Tony Stark gets drunk and is confronted by Rhodey was really great. There’s plenty more action than those two scenes and I enjoyed seeing some cool new weaponry from the Iron Man armor (one in particular during the final battle is super-cool).

Overall you shouldn’t be disappointed and Iron Man 2 is a great way to kick off the 2010 summer movie season. Oh, and do hang around to watch the full credits – I haven’t seen it yet but there WILL be a bonus scene at the end. :)

If you want to talk about the movie in-depth and without worrying about spoiling it for people who haven’t seen it yet, head over to our Iron Man 2 Spoilers Discussion.

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Our Rating:

3 out of 5