Two years after the beginning of the MCU, Marvel Studios released a follow-up to the first film in the franchise. Continuing the story of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, it follows the superhero as he must deal with his impending death (courtesy of his arc reactor’s palladium core), an alcohol problem, living up to his father’s legacy, recruitment for the Avengers Initiative, and two new foes: Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) and Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). Think that’s too much? That’s because it is. It’s no surprise the film’s a bit of a mess. None of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are horrible, per se, some are just ultimately forgettable, one of the prime examples being Iron Man 2.
Iron Man 2‘s main problem is that it suffers from sequel-itis. There are too many plot points, characters, and action scenes, which makes the movie overstuffed and uninteresting. One of the best parts of the first film was that it was smart in terms of how it handled its story and its characters. Iron Man 2 does the opposite, trying to go big or go home and falls flat in terms of its key elements. None of the characters are handled very well, and the action sequences feel over-the-top and meaningless, though still entertaining.
As mentioned, the characters are handled poorly. Tony Stark is kind of an asshole. He’s so obnoxious that you begin to wonder if he learned anything at all from his first bout. Scarlett Johansson’s debut appearance of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow is interesting, and her fight scene between an entire hallway’s worth of guards is fun, but there’s no real substance, and her character is kind of washed over thanks to the Avengers set-up subplot. Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as James Rhodes and is better suited for the role, but he doesn’t have much time to shine. Even Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) isn’t enough to save the film’s ensemble.
The villains are shoddy, with horrible writing and an overall campy feel. Ivan Vanko/Whiplash is never given enough development (while his motives are truly believable and fantastic) and Rourke’s Russian accent is laughable. Rockwell’s Justin Hammer is redeeming enough, with his overall charm, but yet again, has very little to do. His reasoning is jealousy and his overall stupidity drags the character down. Neither gets very good action sequences. Vanko’s racetrack showdown is sort of fun but isn’t very interesting. His death isn’t either. In all honesty, Whiplash isn’t a compelling villain: in fact, he’s the exact opposite.
The plot points don’t feel properly executed and are just clumped together. In a way, they make each other feel boring and it just ruins the experience. For instance, Tony’s blood toxicity and palladium poisoning was an interesting idea. However, after appointing Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) as CEO of Stark Industries, a lot of drama occurs. It just feels ridiculously out-of-place and not the way a subplot should be handled. Ultimately, some of the subplots are forgivable, there being special reasoning behind their placement, but there’s just not enough room for what made the first film so great.
The action sequences are forgettable, save for the fight between Tony & Rhodey and the HammerTech drones. What makes it great is that it’s simple and it’s effective. Then Whiplash enters the scene and it becomes boring. The other action scenes are just filled with an unnecessarily large amount of drama.
Iron Man 2 is ultimately a shadow of its predecessor. It becomes too much of a set-up for The Avengers and doesn’t have enough of what made the first film great. The action is lackluster, the characters are boring, and the writing is shoddy. However, it is still entertaining and suffices as an okay entry in the MCU.
Iron Man 2 stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by Jon Favreau.