Bigger isn’t always better; unless, of course, you’re Tony Stark. And taking the lead from their titular hero, director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) have crammed more explosions and stars into Iron Man 2 than is superhumanly possible. This suped-up sequel has an awful lot of fun gallivanting around with big guns and even bigger egos, as the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell and Don Cheadle join the party with Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Favreau himself.
The storyline follows on immediately from the first film, with Russian rival Ivan Vanko (Rourke) threatening Stark’s monopoly on privatised peace with his menacingly public display of iron man technology. Nursing a bruised ego on top of his already broken heart, Stark struggles to find a cure for his rising blood toxicity, alienating Pepper (Paltrow) and Rhodes (Cheadle) in the process. Meanwhile, a politically ambitious competitor, Justin Hammer (Rockwell), unites with Vanko to show Stark up at his own technology expo.
If all of that sounds like a lot to cram into two hours, then you’re absolutely right. After the relatively sedate origin story, Iron Man 2 cranks the dial up to 11, jumping around at an impressive click to work in the characters, and all but elbowing out the original cast in the process. Paltrow’s Pepper Pots may get bumped up to CEO of Stark Industries, but her role is woefully downgraded to mincing around in Louboutins and shrieking in distress. The sexually charged repartee between Pepper and Stark that invigorated the first film is barely present, though it is partially reassigned to Pepper’s replacement, the sultry provocateur Johnasson as the Black Widow.
With Downey Jr. getting a lot less screen time, Rockwell steps up to entertain, playing Hammer as a mealy-mouthed weasel who is abundantly generous with his fake tan. Rourke is suitably malevolent and Johansson impresses in her action scene, with Samuel L. Jackson on hand to deliver his trademark cheese. And for purists, Cheadle’s appropriation of Terrence Howard’s original role is reflexively dispatched in his opening line, “It’s me, I’m here. Deal with it. Move on”
As a sequel, Iron Man 2 delivers in scale, enthusiasm and a soundtrack of thumping base. Not all the amped up action works (the fight between Stark and Rhodes feels laboriously manufactured), but ultimately this is Robert Downey Jr.’s gig, and he effortlessly entertains as the narcissistic, nihilistic rascal you love to envy. The film’s standout scene is Stark’s opening senatorial address, where Downey Jr. sizzles in his character’s cocksure antics. If only Favreau had given us a bit more Stark to go with all that Iron Man.
Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 29 April 2010