The aggressive marketing campaign of Iron Man 2 displayed what looked to be a mediocre film. And, for once, the trailers have delivered upon what was promised. From the introduction to far too many new characters to the general lack of focus or cohesion, Iron Man 2 is delivers an overall sense of mediocrity. However, from moment to moment, the film spans from solid to shameful.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is caught up in a big political battle as he’s asked to hand over his futuristic Iron Man suit to the army as it poses a threat to national security. The politicians aren’t wrong as Tony has become more and more irresponsible and self-destructive with his high-tech toys. This is in part because Tony has discovered that the technology which is keeping him alive is also poisoning his blood and soon he will die.
If the film was just about this setup it could have been a interesting and thoughtful film. It could have been about Tony’s inner conflict instead of just dog piling him with mildly interesting opponents. We could have watched as his secretary Pepper Potts (Gweneth Platrow) and best friend, Lt. Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) tried to save him from himself.
Instead, the film packs in a cast of new characters to present Tony Stark with far less interesting problems. The first is Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a brilliant Russian physicist who has a grudge against Tony because of something his daddy did to Ivan’s daddy. He tries to show the world Tony can be hurt with technology he made, technology that is not unlike the Iron man technology.
This prompts Tony’s business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) to hire Ivan and get him to make technology for himself. This in itself is yet another interesting conflict that could have been its own movie. There could have been a privatized arms race here as the two are gripped in a power struggle. And Sam Rockwell and Robert Downey Jr. are the two best performers here and the scenes they have between each other are generally the best in the film.
But Tony has a little love problem as well. He makes Pepper Potts the CEO of the company and takes on Natalie Rushman (Scarlette Johansson) as his secretary. Turns out, she’s not a secretary at all but an Avenger who has been assigned to keep tabs on Iron Man. What is an Avenger? The film never clearly says. From what I could deduce they are a secret group of superheroes that do something. There’s an entire Avenger subplot in this film that is building towards the upcoming Avenger movie. However, it’s overplayed and only makes this already bloated film even more excessive. All this means that most of this film is spent talking, introducing characters and dropping all kinds of hints left and right about the Avengers. It makes for a dense and dull experience where there isn’t that many action sequences. In fact, it was brought to my attention that there are actually only three scenes.
There’s that one where Mickey Rourke cuts the car in half that doesn’t last that long and isn’t all that exciting. Then there’s a second scene where a drunken Iron Man fights Don Cheadle. It’s starts as a funny scene but ends up being more of a slow fist fight where every action is projected before it happens. And then there’s the last action scene of the film which is nearly incoherent. And the final climax proves to be even more anticlimactic than the final battle in the first Iron Man.
All we’re left with are the story, dialogue and performances. The story, as is apparent, is bloated and lacks any focus or cohesion. The dialogue is occasionally witty but also suffers from characters saying a lot of things that are glaringly obvious. The banter between Stark and Potts is funny as is the dialogue between Stark and Hammer, but the rest of the characters are reduced to bland and even sometimes stupid dialogue.
The performances are also as uneven, ranging from fantastic to appalling. It’s always fun to watch Robert Downey Jr. play his charming, self-absorbed persona. What makes him even better is the chemistry he has with Gwyneth Paltrow and Sam Rockwell. Anytime he’s in a conversation everything just clicks and the tempo is perfect.
Stuck in mediocrity are Don Cheadle and Scarlette Johansson as they are given absolutely nothing to do. Their lines are about as generic as they come and make what are already rather dry characters dull and lifeless. Even worse is that Johansson exists in this film purely as a sex object. From the skin tight suit she uses to flaunt every inch of her taut body to the constant exposure of midriff, she’s simply there to titillate.
But it gets even worse with Mickey Rourke and Samuel L. Jackson. Both are great actors when given the right material, but here they are given no material. Samuel L. Jackson plays generic angry black guy with no personality, but at least it’s somewhat amusing when he delivers his lines. In the case of Mickey Rourke, every time he opens his mouth the quality of the film takes a nose dive, even at its lowest points.
A lot of the film brings back memories of Spider-Man 3. From the attempt at a darker portrayal of its protagonist to the condensation of several full length stories into one feature, the film consistently misfires. Like Spider-Man 3 it still has its moments but you’ll be walking out of the theater unsatisfied, not entirely sure what this film was supposed to be about.
© 2010 James Blake Ewing